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…