The Villains of Kdrama: Dare I Say...Boring?

The Villains of Kdrama: 

Dare I Say… Boring?

It’s no secret that the vast majority of TV/Movie lovers love a good villain.  They drive the story, fuel the angst, and drive us positively bats*** crazy wondering what they’re going to do next - what deviltry will they induce, how many lives will they ruin, how many good people will die – all the while waiting to see what inevitable end they will come to.  The hero will get them in the end, right?  We’ll cheer and clap, and grin because we knew it would happen eventually.  The End.  Next drama.  Ohh, a new baddie. 

Does anyone else ever get tired of the same kind of bad dude, every other drama? The kind that’s completely without scruples, who murders without a thought, doesn’t give a care to his own goons, and will gleefully murder small children if it’s a means to his own success.  In real life, I would happily see them behind bars and or just plain dead.  But in dramas, they kind of bore me.  Why?  Because these types of characters exist for basically two reasons: to create a backdrop of black and white, and to make the viewers sick with emotional angst.  

Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy a good comic book style villain every now and then. And when a good sicko is created by some genius writer, I enjoy the thrill of seeing them put down a notch (or a 100 notches).  
But there’s something else I enjoy watching –something that’s almost more terrifying to see on screen – and that’s a villain that looks like real human being.  A thug that feels real, a boss who cares about his lackeys, a villain with a 3-dimensional character, and maybe even some feelings to go along with it. 

Do they need a full redemption story? Not necessarily, because that’s almost as boring as a bad guy getting his just deserts.  But a villain that’s recognizable, or even – dare I say it – relatable? Now there’s a story that’s interesting to watch. Sadly, they’re a whole lot lacking in the Kdrama landscape. 

*In the interest of time, I am here defining ‘Kdrama villain’ as a man or woman in a thriller or thriller-esque drama or melodrama. I am excluding all characters who are played up for laughs, or those who simply act mean out of jealousy, or as a means of tough love (aka most love rivals and chaebol parents, etc.).  Those characters will have to be saved for another day. 

**I also haven't completed a lot of dramas from this year or last, so please offer up some other villains you think might belong in any of the following categories.

Some deductive spoilers may follow, but I took care to be non-explicit with plot details and endings. Peruse at your own leisure and shame on you if you didn't read the cast line up correctly.

Bring on the Yawns (Totally Boring)

John Mayer, King2Hearts
Played by: Yoon Je Moon
A psycho with a heart of a card-loving trickster. His villainy was so predictably bad, without even a shred of decency. It’s a shame his antics were the basis for most of the drama’s plotline. He was therefore indispensable, and yet his perversion sent me into fast-forward mode every time he came onscreen. 

Moon Il Seok, Two Weeks
Played by: Jo Min Ki
This man’s not above using every trick in the blackmail handbook, including murder and the manipulation of sweet and precious children. Every time he got away for some momentary lapse on the part of the good guys’ part, or cruel twist of fate, I wanted to go through the TV screen, or turn it off.

Choi Jin Chul, Can You Hear My Heart?
Played by: Song Seung Hwan
Technically a chaebol parent, Choi is still cut from another cloth of man. With his sneering face, and shrewd business policies (translate: emotionless purveyor of ruin), he’s not against second-hand murder. This baddie left a sour taste in my mouth with every glimpse. 

Jo Kwan Woong, Gu Family Book
Played by: Lee Sung Jae
He lies, he schemes, he rapes, he murders.  Uhm, he does nothing else… By the time jump, the continuation of this villain’s actions for generation two made it nearly impossible to keep watching. 

Well, At Least the Writers Tried (A little More Interesting)

Min Joon Kook, I Hear Your Voice
Played by: Jung Woong In
This character had all the makings of a non-redemptive villain.  He’s an outright bastard, and one of the creepiest stalkers I’ve ever seen in a drama. Creepy, but boring.  What’s he got that those guys above don’t have though? A back story that’s at least sad and a little bit believable. 

Lee Jin Pyo, City Hunter
Played by: Kim Sang Joong
If he wasn’t a halfway nice dude for raising a kid (even if he had other motives), Jin Pyo wouldn’t even factor as an interesting villain. Yet the drama creators gave this revenge-driven soldier enough of a pitiable history to make you not hate his guts, and made you a little excited to follow all his schemes.

Choi Jin Cheol, Nine
Played by: Jeong Dong Hwan
As he’s known in the present day timeline, this guy’s pretty awful.  However it’s nice to know that once upon a time he wasn’t a top notch scumbag; he was just a lowlife scumbag.  There’s not much nice about this villain or relatable about this villain. It’s the masterful way of Nine’s storytelling that saves Choi Jin Cheol from complete abomination. 

Kimura Shunji, Bridal Mask
Played by: Park Ki Woong
If ever a second lead will make you cry, there is Shunji.  Far from being a villain, he’s a product of his times.  It’s that fact though that makes his transformation all the more outrageous and practically unforgivable. From friend to enemy, here’s the prime example of a villain who should’ve known better.

Something To Sink Your Teeth Into (Is That A Real Person?)

Han Jae Hee, Innocent Man
Played by: Park Shi Yeon
Hooray, a woman! I love how the story used her character to make you seethe through your teeth. How she used the love of an innocent man to her advantage, and then kept on going... Oooh, how cruel! But I loved to watch her squirm and that’s because the drama did a good turn showing with her own raging guilt complex, whether or not that ever motivated her to do good. 

Kang Min Ho, 49 Days
Played by: Bae Su Bin
This poster boy and handsome devil made my heart hurt. Portrayed as one of those guys who’s addicted to ‘staying the course’ because, you know, he’s already made a mess of peoples’ lives, he then had the nerve to go and fall in love with the person he unknowingly wronged. Now that’s the kind of torture this not-quite-a-villain deserves. 

Jo Moo Cheol, That Winter the Wind Blows
Played by: Kim Tae Woo
He’s everyone’s favorite gangster for a reason, and that’s because he comes with a heart of gold. Actually, that sounds kind of cliché too, but the actor needs all credit for making his character work. It’s kind of hard to root for a guy who early on sticks a knife in your hero’s chest, but hey – he wasn’t aiming to kill. It was just a warning message.  Moo Cheol comes as a very fleshed out character, though. Motivations and backstory; and he’s still the same old person dealing with the games life throws at him in his own way. 

Mao, Time Between Dog and Wolf
Played by: Choi Jae Sung
My favorite villain: hands down. He’s a mob boss, he deals in drugs, and thousands of people probably die as a result of his career decisions. But you know what? He freakin’ loves his employees, and he understands the concept of loyalty like no one’s business, which is why I adored him as a person – drug dealer thing aside… Okay, drug dealer thing majorly aside – and I was honestly more invested in the nearly father-adopted-son relationship of him and the hero than in anything else about this drama.

An open letter to Kdrama villains:

Throw everything you’ve got at me. I can take it. But unless you can incite my intellect into glorifying the theories and plot twists dealt by a back story as great as Lord Voldemort’s, I prefer when you come with all the trappings of a real human being. 

Remember, sometimes the main distinction between a well-turned bad guy and a hero, is the order of billing. Why else would we have a whole genre of heroes with dark, brooding pasts? But that’s a rant for another day…

Comments (104)

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  • Reply
    Elbert Feb 17, 2015

    You should watch punch, the antagonist of punch is a character like no other. He can't be hated or nt from my point of view.

  • Reply
    fiflydramalover Dec 29, 2014
    Reveal Spoiler »
  • Reply
    Mary28 Dec 26, 2014

    Even though Empress Ki was filled with villains, the handsome devilish old man, that kicked the door every time he made an entrance made mr skin crawl

  • Reply
    AgelessPharaoh Aug 23, 2014

    Except for one drama I've watched them all , but all I can say is that all these ' bad guys ' are just perfect for their roles even if sometimes they are a bit cleche'ish and boring .

  • Reply
    Camwicks Jul 30, 2014

    What i hate about so many "evil" characters is that they are pure evil, or really mean all the time, and still towards the end they suddenly try to make you like them! Like wtf?? i dont care about this and that, this person is EVIL i dont want them mains to just forgive and forget... sorry... i am not that forgiving :P

  • Reply
    Muhani Jul 13, 2014

    Ooh I have to disagree, Kimura Shunji and Min Joong Gook were absolutely amazing for me. I hated them so much. And John Mayer was boring but so mad and evil you just had to hate him. With others, I agree.

  • Reply
    Mari Jul 6, 2014

    I could feel for Lee Jin Pyo in the first half of City Hunter, but by the middle I just wanted him gone.

  • Reply
    Rtee May 31, 2014

    after watching Gap dong ,, best villain ever .. ugh god

  • Reply
    Zounder May 21, 2014

    I would add in the perfect category "is that a real person?" because of (but not only) their strong charisma and highly smart brains:
    Kim Kang Woo as Chae Do Woo in "A Man's story" and Uhm Ki Joon as Jo Hyunh Min in "Ghost". I loved these dramas, they made me love those two actors and made me want to watch everything they've done or are planning to do in the future.

  • Reply
    Nyai May 8, 2014

    How is Min Joon Kook boring? for me he was the best one in the serie by far (and they wer all pretty good). About Han Jae Hee, for me Park Shi Yeon best role without any doubt she is just fantastic.

  • Reply
    Panda-Sama Apr 30, 2014 - edited

    Anyone else remembers the villain from When A Man's in Love? Hahaha! His crappy dye job and affinity for baseball attire was comedic gold.

    • Reply
      Mary28 Dec 26, 2014

      Yes, every time I saw him I want to dig his eyes and barf. So damn annoying!

  • Reply
    mesuzuITA Apr 30, 2014 - edited

    You forgot Queen of villains Lady Mishil. She was perfect.

    • Reply
      Leona Jun 2, 2014

      and Bidam... my favorite anti-hero

  • Reply
    notsolittlej Apr 28, 2014

    Han Jae Hee is one of the most interesting Kdrama characters, period. And she is definitely the biggest reason why Innocent Man - a melodrama with many plotholes and incosistent characters- was such a delightful watch.

  • Reply
    PickyMcpickleton Apr 27, 2014

    I think me and the writer of this article have the same taste. From the ones I've watched, I also thought those villains were totally boring and wasn't as enamored with some of these folks as a lot of other people are. Min Jong Gook was totally uninteresting to me too. I have ranted about the vapidness that I think is IHYV but also ranted about him and that incompetent system that allowed his villainy to continue. I mean my gosh, never has a murderer had such an easy time ever! Plus, it's like Forensics doesn't exist...

    Nonetheless, as many have pointed, you missed out on Mishil! She was just so so good. Everything about her. As I like to say, she pretty much had a manly role as a female character. She had many lovers but none controlled her. She was powerful, strong, ACTUALLY intelligent, evil and awesome. A feminist's dream if you will.

    • Reply
      dapinaymrs Apr 28, 2014

      She hasn't seen QSD...yet. :)

    • Reply
      SeRose Apr 28, 2014

      I have GOT to watch QSD! After writing this article, I've never been more convinced Lol

  • Reply
    PickyMcpickleton Apr 27, 2014

    My favorite villain is Yoon Je Mun's character in a Tree With Deep Roots, Owada (Hanzawa Naoki) and Mishil (Queen Seon Deok). Villains who aren't quite villains yet are. They are both interesting, powerful and stand for something. They stole or matched the spot light of the heroes. Oh and White Christmas. Not a drama but movie: I really like Prince Sunyang in The Face Reader. Though that is due to Lee Jung Jae.

    Worst villains
    Gu Family Book (A despicable bastard who is so terribly written, I couldn't)
    I hear Your Voice (I found all the characters to be vapid and he had potential but I stopped caring about his evil laughs and forced villainy half way through. I didn't even care why he was a villain.
    Empress Ki - All weird arseholes who are just so 2 dimensional.
    A Were Wolf Boy - Another boring arsehole.

    • Reply
      conan Apr 28, 2014

      I loved Ga Ri-on in Tree with Deep Roots! When he turned out to be the bad guy in the end, I just couldn't believe it. I keep on second guessing myself whether or not he's a bad guy or not. Which is a good sign! He's good in his own world, but not in the story.

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