I’m dream-walking as I sip my Irish-cream-flavored coffee one February morning. I see Kang Tae-moo, the tall, dashing heir to conglomerate Geumhwa Group from the series Business Proposal. The new CEO of its subsidiary Go Food arrives from a business trip and makes a pit stop at Dairy Queen. After weeks of separation, we meet and exchange Valentine’s Day gifts: a bouquet of Blizzards for me and a posy of mandu for him.
I chuckle at the thought that the chances of my dream sequence playing out are higher than my schmoozing with some local tycoon. Anything is possible in K-drama, where the likes of Tae-moo, a chaebol heir, defy everything in the name of love. (Chaebol is Korean for a large family-run business or industrial conglomerate.)
For Valentine’s Day, I’m immersing myself in the “lavender haze”—borrowing a phrase from Taylor Swift’s new song—of K-drama, where the men make love ring with truth, passion, and beauty.
It’s conventional wisdom that one never gets involved or marries beneath one’s station, and that romance and social class share acrimonious relations. Well, K-drama has no room for that. There are tribulations that the mismatched chaebol scion and non-heiress endure, but love wins in the end.
And who wouldn’t have feelings for these chaebol heirs? They’re deep-pocketed, intelligent, and stylish. They combine love with the spirit of egalitarianism and, thus, they build up their partners, support their dreams and desires, and show them respect. Conversely, as it goes in K-drama, the women do the same.
Tae-moo, played by Ahn Hyo-seop, pulls out all the stops in banishing Shin Ha-ri‘s skepticism about having a relationship with him. He books an entire cinema for them and plays it to the hilt as a smitten “boyfriend,” showering her with lavish gifts in front of her backstabbing-friends. When his grandfather meddles by pushing him into an arranged marriage and threatening to end Ha-ri’s career in the company, the Harvard graduate doesn’t flinch in choosing Ha-ri over his position.
Following Tae-moo’s model is Lee Yeong-jun, vice chair of Yumyung Group, in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? Yeong-jun, portrayed by Park Seojun, falls for Kim Miso, his secretary of nine years. He discovers love for the first time, and pursues her with dogged determination: He books an entire amusement park for them, goes clam-digging with her and her family, and gives her the space and the time she needs to figure out what she wants in life.
Then there’s An Min-hyuk, CEO of the gaming company Ainsoft, in Strong Girl Do Bong-soon. Park Hyung-sik as Min-hyuk hires Bong-soon, who was born with superhuman strength, as his bodyguard. Overlooking her sketchy résumé, he mentors her in developing a video game with her as the main character, giving life to her long-standing dream. He takes it further: He risks his life by staying with her when her nemesis threatens to literally blow her up.
Falling for an alien isn’t a far-fetched idea
Love and logic may make strange bedfellows, but something as unsound as mythological creatures and humans in inter-species relationships is a rationalized norm in K-drama. Imbued with human traits, the supernatural creatures, ranging from alien to mage, personify altruism, commitment, love, and sartorial splendor.
Falling for an alien isn’t a far-fetched idea if the extraterrestrial is the introverted Do Min-joon in My Love From the Star. Played by crowd-favorite Kim Soo Hyun, Min-joon is a knockout college professor in his latest transformation. Forever young-looking, he’d taken on various identities to avoid detection through his four centuries of “imprisonment” on Earth. He throws caution to the wind when a deranged chaebol heir-apparent tries to kill the actress he falls for.
Undying love is raised to meteoric levels by a fox with nine tails in Tale of the Nine Tailed. Personified by actor-model Lee Dong Wook, the century-old gumiho named Lee Yeon was once a guardian mountain deity of Baekdudaegan. He relinquishes his position to look for his first love, who sacrificed herself to save him from death. Now a city dweller, he hunts down rogue gumiho while continuing to search for her.
A European goblin would have scared the bejesus out of viewers, but not its South Korean counterpart Kim Shim in Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, who’s good-looking and impeccably dressed. Portrayed by the reclusive Gong Yoo, the cursed dokkaebi waits for an eternity for the reincarnation of the love of his life.
K-drama writers rewrote angel history when they came up with the character of a glacial, drop-dead grim reaper Park Joong Gil in Tomorrow. Personified by model-actor Lee Sook Hyuk, Joong Gil, reeling from a painful past despite numerous reincarnations, hides behind a facade of stoic indifference. His emotional side isn’t revealed until the series’ end where, forsaking everything, he chooses to endure hell to save his wife’s soul. Tellingly, the grim reaper’s hot appeal is shored up by lingering camera shots of Sook Hyuk—always dressed to the nines—walking in all his scenes as if he were on a runway in Paris.
Jang Uk struts his way to the hearts of women in Alchemy of Souls. Lee Jae Wook plays the adorable magus who falls in love with his servant, shaking up the traditional master-servant setup in season one. Devastated by her passing in season two, he constantly wishes for death so he can be reunited with her. By then, he has become powerful, skilled, and feared, a far cry from his old bumbling ways. Undeniably, Jae Wook looking dishy in a customized hanbok (traditional Korean garb), adds to Jang Uk’s charm, alongside his model-like gait and dexterity in the sword fight sequences.
Love and commitment work hand in glove, with the latter used as a litmus test for a relationship’s strength. Will absence sway his heart to stray? Or will he remain steadfast? Naturally, in K-drama, the men—royalty or commoner—pass with flying colors, making finding their doppelgängers an achievement to unlock in the real world.
Ri Jeong-hyeok embodies commitment. Portrayed by Hyun Bin in Crash Landing on You, the captain of the North Korean People’s Army shows constancy from the start. First, he helps Yoon Se-ri climb down from a tree after her paraglider crashes into North Korea. Next, he puts her up in his house because she has nowhere else to stay and, later, gets her back safely to South Korea. Her absence isn’t a hindrance to their relationship: He schedules text messages to be sent to her to ease her loneliness and separation anxiety.
He takes commitment to even greater heights when he risks his life by returning to South Korea through a treacherous underground tunnel to stop a traitorous compatriot, Cho Cheol-gang, from harming her.
Emperor Lee Gon does the soldier one better in The King: Eternal Monarch by criss-crossing parallel worlds to get back to Jeong Tae-eul. The ruler of Corea, played by Lee Min Ho, does all this while defending his kingdom from a power-obsessed uncle who isn’t above committing murder to get the crown. Despite being reticent and skeptical of people, he’s a man of substance—a mathematician, an athlete, an excellent statesman, a skilled chef.
Lee Gon’s debonair appeal turns swoon-worthy when, in the series’ episode 11, he bursts into the scene on a powerful white steed galloping swiftly through the streets of Corea to rescue Tae-eul. The grand entrance is matched by a heart-fluttering edict when he shouts, “Protect her! She’s the future queen of Corea!” To finish the gallant rescue, he dismounts from the horse in a calm and collected manner, subdues the rebels with his sword on foot, and runs to the injured Tae-eul who collapses in his arms.
Meanwhile, a commoner like Cha Eun-ho, editor in chief in a book publishing firm in Romance is a Bonus Book, fans the embers of hope that faithful men do exist. Eun Ho, played by Lee Jong Suk, has been secretly in love with his childhood pal, Kang Dan-i, but has never pressed the issue, instead remaining a dedicated friend. His unwavering devotion is heartwarming as he’s there for her when she faces the collapse of her marriage, navigates a divorce and financial difficulties, and overcomes the biases faced by women seeking employment after a long absence from the work force. He’s unfazed by the age gap—Dan-i is older—and lets nature take its course in making their platonic relationship turn amorous.
Stepping out of K-drama, Flowers by Miley Cyrus floats through the air like an overture of what’s to come. The world is drab and gray. Love’s truth and beauty seem to have disappeared along with men who are charming, educated, gorgeous, and steadfast. Could they have been just mere figments of the imagination?
I hear Cyrus loud and clear. Like her, I can buy myself flowers and all that, but I want to stay in Swift’s lavender haze even for a brief spell. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a COO sending flowers (or a Blizzard bouquet), talking to you for hours, writing your name on the sand, and taking you dancing?