Evolution of K-drama female leads

Photo credits. Lee Da Hee in “WWW” as Cha Hyun

Cha Hyun works at “Baro”, a fashionable and trendy search engine/tech company (think “Google”).

She’s smart, talented, confident, diligent and is respected by her colleagues. She also has a good salary, drives a good car, and knows she’s pretty and competent.

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When she finds out her boyfriend has been two-timing, Hyun doesn’t hesitate to whack him on the head with her work iPad (ouch)

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When a pervert in the elevator touches her inappropriately, Hyun just beats him up to a pulp. (Ouchhhh)

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When her senior at work she respects the most makes questionable decisions, Hyun is not afraid to speak up.

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She smashes the car of the person who manipulated the search rankings of the search engine and caused her colleague to be sacked.

But at the same time, Cha Hyun isn’t afraid to express her soft side. She admits her mistakes, accepts Bae Ta Mi as a true colleague and friend despite the two of them having once been workers at rival companies.

She also adorably tears up when her boyfriend Sul Ji Hwan has to go to the army and openly fan girls over him when he appears on TV.

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Photo credits. Kim Da Mi as Jo Yi Seo in “Itaewon Class”

Jo Yi Seo’s smart, fashionable, clever, witty and hardworking. At the start of “Itaewon Class”, she’s a high school student who tops her class in grades, sports and music. She’s also a power blogger and Insta influencer.

When a group of girls in her class bully a girl, she takes a video of the incident and uploads it on her social media. (She’s also an influencer.)

When the irate mother of one of the bullies visits her and slaps her across her face, Yi Seo slaps her right back. When called out by a teacher for this slapping incident, Yi Seo remarks, “So I should have just stayed there doing nothing? Because she’s an adult?”

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When Yi Seo meets Park Saeroyi, she trusts her gut instinct telling her that he has potential to be a great success. With faith in herself, she decides not to go to uni despite being accepted into the most prestigious unis in Korea.

She boldly decides to work for him, to make him succeed, in exchange for a percentage of profits generated from his restaurant Dan Bam.

She’s not afraid to admit her mistakes and actively learns from the experience and insights of her Dan Bam colleagues. She also boldly, clearly confesses her feelings to her boss Saeroyi.

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She learns to sympathise, to care for those around her- but she’s no doormat. When Jang Geun Won, a man who killed her boss in a hit-and-run tries to scout her into his company, she records his confession about how he’d covered up the accident. (And pours hot coffee on his face when he tries to attack her). When a guy at a bar keeps chasing her and hits her, she hits back.

Photo credits. Shin Hye Sun as Lee Yeon Seo in “Angel’s Last Mission”

Yeon Seo’s been through one tragedy after another. She lost her parents in a car accident, lost her eyesight, and consequently lost her career as a successful ballerina. She also loses her secretary, the only person she trusts, to a suspicious accident.

She’s beautiful and ultra rich, but has a sharp tongue, overtly suspicious of everyone else, seemingly cold hearted, vicious and unforgiving.

Throughout the drama, she learns how to let down her guard, to forgive and accept others.

But she also makes sure that she gets back Fantasia Foundation, the ballet foundation that she rightfully has ownership of, and ensures that those who were responsible for her loved ones’ deaths are put behind the bars.

~ * ~

The trendy K drama female lead looks quite different from the trendy lead of just 5-10 years ago.

The present day’s female lead is strong, a person of her own who doesn’t wait for a rich heir (usually of a big conglomerate company) on a white horse. Rather than simply yielding to occasionally unreasonable requests and demands of others simply because they’re older, she stands up for herself.

She is kind and sympathetic but is no longer a doormat. She is not afraid to show her emotions and learn from her mistakes, but doesn’t just wait while the male lead navigates her through twists and turns of various obstacles to their love.

While not all of their methods of standing up for themselves (like slapping someone back or smashing someone on the head with an IPad or smashing someone’s car) may not exactly be desirable in reality (they’re illegal), this change in the trendy K- drama female lead has come about because it brings so much catharsis for the Korean and of course the international audience who are sick and tired of female leads who are just flowers in the dramas.

I’m relieved and happy that K-drama female leads are changing. This change both reflects and reinforces a change in the ideal/accepted type of woman in Korean society, and in the world, too. Women can be weak, can cry and can rely on others, but we can also very well stand up for ourselves, be smart, clever, funny and strong on our own too.

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