Every good K-drama deserves a few tropes. Y’know, those familiar moments and plot twists that show up time and again in different dramas. It’s fun, rewarding, and even comforting to see certain tropes play out. We know they will push our buttons in a certain way, and it’s enjoyable seeing new actors put their own spin on old tropes. Yeah, you’ve seen Lee Jong Suk with amnesia, but have you ever seen Hyun Bin with amnesia? Whole different story!
Not all tropes are created equal, though. Some tropes may have worked in the past, but in late 2019, they’re outdated and tired, exemplifying old-fashioned cultural values people don’t believe in anymore. Other tropes have shown up so often that there’s just no way to make them seem fresh, and they just come off as lazy writing.
Which tropes do we need to kill off? Here are six of the worst offenders!
Warning: spoilers ahead!
1. The Jerk Male Lead
Ah, this old chestnut. Somewhere along the line, K-drama writers got it into their heads that women love terrible men. Maybe it’s something to do with the tsundere anime archetype, where a character is cold on the outside but warm and caring on the inside. It’s true, it can be satisfying to see an arrogant jerk get his comeuppance, learn from his mistakes, and treat his lady right in the end.
BUT. Just because he feels bad about it now, does that mean he really deserves her? Is that the kind of message we want to get behind? “Just hold out ladies, and give that horrible dude a second chance. He’ll probably change, we hope!”
A truly good guy would be able to work out his issues without taking them out on other people. He would treat everyone with respect, whether he was attracted to them or not. In real life, jerks pretend to be nice guys so they can lure you in. Guys who don’t hide their jerkiness just end up alone or dating other jerks.
Check out the first episode of “Master’s Sun”:
2. The Disapproving Parents
I understand why this trope comes up a lot. Your parents are the people who know you best and who love you the most – or at least, they’re supposed to. Parental approval means a lot to anyone, and sometimes it’s one of the hardest things to achieve. Our parents are a whole different generation of people, and often they have very different values.
The thing that makes this trope somewhat realistic is also its biggest problem. When parents disapprove of your life or relationship, it’s all about them. They are the ones who have to learn, grow, and change in order to solve the problem. It’s rare that the lead characters themselves can actually do anything about it, which just leaves them sobbing, hand-wringing, and making stupid decisions like breaking up for the greater good.
When a boss or a friend or a stranger dislikes you, you can get to know them and show them who you are to win them round. Parents, on the other hand, know you already, yet they still disapprove. A problem like that takes a long time to solve, piece by piece. Dramas get around this by having the parents dig their heels in, then suddenly having a change of heart right at the end. Which means angst, more angst, then sudden Surprised Pikachu face for us viewers.
Check out the first episode of “Secret Garden”:
3. The Stalker Second Lead
Have you ever been rejected by someone and decided the only logical next step is to relentlessly pursue them until they’re exhausted and give in to you? If you answered “NO” to this question then congratulations, you are not a psycho stalker second lead!
For every sweet second lead who has us making heart eyes, there’s a disturbing second lead who just refuses to get out of the picture. Sometimes they’re a possessive childhood friend. Other times, they’re a new acquaintance with a superiority complex. They’re so convinced that the object of their affection belongs to them that they turn creepy and terrifying for the sake of so-called love.
The problem with this trope is that it turns potentially interesting characters into cardboard cut-outs whose sole reason for existence is to cause trouble. It’s boring when someone has no backstory except being evil. We know they’re not going to succeed because they don’t deserve to, so watching them plot is like watching a hamster in a wheel. This trope also does a disservice to its audience. Many of us know from real life that one-sided love is no picnic. I, for one, would rather see that relatable topic explored with nuance and sensitivity.
Check out the first episode of “Absolute Boyfriend”:
4. The Destined Connection
AKA “We Knew Each Other As Kids” or “My Dad Killed Your Dad (Or Did He?)” You know the type. Two people meet for (seemingly) the first time. They fall in love, things are going great and then… dun dun DUN! They discover they have some kind of fateful connection from the past. Maybe they were raised at the same orphanage, or maybe their parents used to be friends, or maybe one of them saved the other’s life.
This trope shows up everywhere, and usually late in the game. Sometimes, it’s thrown in at the last minute to create a source of tension, because things are going too well for our lovers. At other times, it’s brought in to reinforce that their romance is truly special and out of the ordinary – it was always meant to be, you guys!
Guess who these two grow up to become in “What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim“?
In all cases, it feels forced. It’s more beautiful and relatable if two people fall in love for no particular reason. Destiny doesn’t have to be involved to make romance mean something. If a couple has a conflict to overcome together, it’s more gripping if it involves the here and now, not some long-ago past they can’t really remember or that has nothing to do with who they are as people.
Check out the first episode of “Suspicious Partner”:
5. The Fish Kiss
Let’s be real, any K-drama kiss where the two participants look remotely like they’re enjoying themselves immediately goes into the Great Kiss Hall of Fame. Why has the bar been set so low? Because of the dreaded scourge they call The Fish Kiss.
During your average Fish Kiss, our leads stare at each other like stunned sloths for approximately 10 years before the male lead oh-so-slowly approaches the female lead, mouth first, while she stands statue-like, wide-eyed, looking as if she’d rather be anywhere else. Eventually their lips make contact and… that’s it. All the camera angles, swelling music, and blur filters in the world couldn’t make this look like a hot, sexy moment, let alone a romantic one.
Why are Fish Kisses a thing? The only thing I can think of is that it’s seen as “unbecoming” if a woman is too enthusiastic about physical affection. Perhaps some directors think that takes away from her cuteness? Well, newsflash: real women don’t need to be cute and innocent to be dateable, and anyone who deserves to kiss them should be just fine with that.
Check out the first episode of “Heartstrings”:
6. The Wrist Grab
Let’s close this list with the mother of all groan-inducing tropes: The Wrist Grab. Wrist grabs are for those moments when words can’t convey the intensity of your emotion. Except, wait, words will do just fine when the alternative is physical restraint with the threat of injury. Imagine if you were storming off IRL and someone grabbed your wrist. There’s a good chance they’d dislocate your shoulder!
What a wrist grab says to someone is: “My arguments couldn’t convince you, so instead I will assert physical dominance over you. This will convince you of my strength and sincerity, so instead of having to make sense and be right for you, I can win you over by uninvited touch alone.”
A three-way wrist grab in “Heirs”
Forget wrist grabs. What’s truly attractive is when two leads actually try to talk to each other. They ask each other how they’re feeling. They make themselves vulnerable. They ask for permission before they touch each other! It’s not groundbreaking, it’s just being nice. And being nice is a trope I wish would live forever.
Check out the first episode of “Hyde, Jekyll, Me”:
Which trope drives you crazy every time? Let us know in the comments below!
Azra_A spends most of her waking hours waiting patiently for 2PM’s next comeback (roll on 2021!). She relies on sheet masks and weird ice cream flavors to see her through (cucumber is great, ceylon is better). When she’s not watching the comeback clock, you’ll find her on Instagram.