[One True Parings] From subordinate to friend to brother to lover
by Guest Beanie
My all-time-favorite OTPs all start out as boys attracted to supposed boys. Truthfully, I’m at a loss as to why that is. I’m not homosexual myself, and have never been attracted to the same sex (except for Lee El, but you’re not alive if you don’t think that woman is gorgeous). However, the OTPs that my heart beats for are both gender-benders and played convincingly at that. And since javabeans asked, and since it has been bugging me a bit, I sat down and analyzed just why this was.
I’ve only seen two K-dramas that fit into this category: Coffee Prince and Moonlight Drawn by Clouds. Both were riveting and the OTPs were so convincing that there was no second lead syndrome, even as our second leads both knew the actual gender of the girl-boy and liked them as the correct sex. I think what makes same sex relationships in K-dramas so compelling is the fact that they are forbidden, so our leads have to figure out a way to love each other, first in a socially acceptable way, then just throwing all societal pressures out the window and just love for love’s sake. And, in doing so, their love is actually deeper and more meaningful than it would have been otherwise. Denial sometimes makes the heart grow fonder.
Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
Our cross-dressing heroines both start out on a much lower power level than their clueless-about-their-gender counterparts. They are subordinates in social standing, wealth, education, and even physically smaller. Our heroes are condescending towards them, becoming almost verbally and even physically abusive at times. But just enough for us viewers to say, “Hey, wait, you wouldn’t do that if you knew they were female!” And not enough to actually hurt our strong women, used to being “one of the boys.” However, very cleverly, the hate-hate relationship they have at the beginning of their love stories serve as a purposeful set up to how far they will come to love and respect one another, especially on the part of the heroes, who have the most growth coming.
When we meet Choi Han-gyul in Coffee Prince, he’s a playboy who is pressured to marry, so pretends to be gay to delay the inevitable, which is a suitable power match between prominent families. Coincidentally, he meets someone who is willing to play the lover part, in a girl who is pretending to be male to support her own family, Go Eun-chan. Even after he’s found out to be lying, he has already grown fond of her, and she’s of course already attracted to him (Hello! It’s Gong Yoo!). Both characters go through the complex and convoluted maze that is falling in love from then on. But, for me, it was all about Han-gyul and the inner struggle he has for the rest of the drama.
In Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, the set up is similar, but in a very different time and the stakes are even higher, as death besets anyone who is lying (or protecting that liar) to the royal court. That’s where we find Hong Ra-on who has been forced by her mother to be a boy, to protect herself and her family, literally thrown into the role of eunuch to the royal family. And to continue to live, she has to continue to play this part, but catches the eye of a very adorable, very available Crown Prince Yeong in the process. (Hello, it’s Bo-gum!)
Our OTPs then mature into helping each other out navigating life, the palace, or otherwise. And because our heroines are already seen as male, our heroes can be themselves, not the best version of themselves that you would be trying to woo a potential mate. And even as the girls are deceptive, our leading men are honest to a fault, and a true friendship emerges.
Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
Throughout both cases of mistaken identities, our heroines have to act the part, and the more convincingly, the better. Our heroes have no idea what type of feelings they have for them, how much they actually care for them, and because they are sure they are the same sex, they first mistakenly feel that they love them as younger brothers, wanting to protect them as the older brother or as a prince to a favorite servant. However, that change in intimacy also serves as excuse for more skinship.
One of the most poignant scenes for me was the playful scene in Coffee Prince, when both Eun-chan and Han-gyul state that they just need to be with each other in voiceovers, and if it is as brothers, then so be it. They’ve gone from friends to something more, but since Han-gyul is still struggling with loving another male romantically, he settles on brothers. And it works to allow more flirting between the two of them.
It was the lantern scene in Moonlight Drawn by Clouds where Prince Yeong pulls Ra-on next to him, declaring she was “his person,” that we see that he loves her, more than just as a friend or confidant. Both these couples did an amazing job turning up the heat with just standing next to each other, so we all knew that a platonic relationship would never work out. You start giving each other permission to be in that privacy bubble and, well, we know what happens when there are already sparks between you. Let’s just say something is bound to catch fire.
Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
And playing with fire is exactly what our heroes end up doing, both to the point where they declare that society be damned, their powerful positions be damned, men, women, and aliens all be damned, even death be damned! Love is love and that’s all that matters. By this point, our heroes know what these heroines are capable of, how much pain they can and do endure, how hard working and industrious they are, and how much they genuinely care about others and can charm their way into everyone’s hearts around them.
But what makes these loves the most compelling are how organic they feel. The attraction is early, but acting on it is late, so it makes us anticipate every look, every touch, every kiss, and it doesn’t hurt that the actors have talent oozing out of every pore of their being and it’s easy to believe them. What makes me keep rewatching both of these dramas is how much our heroes grow in the process, from boys playing at life, to caring deeply for another human being, no matter the social standing, class, education, family ties, or even gender. Would we all have that kind of unconditional love.