Gwenchanoona Picks: K-drama Characters We Love to Hate
There are more than enough ghosts, zombies, and monsters in k-dramaland to have us believe that we should have a shaman on speed dial. By the end of these horror shows, we realize that we willingly suspend our disbelief for some thrills. But what about those horrible people that k-drama writers love to put in our favorite shows—those that are so well written and performed that we still get palpitations just thinking about them long after the main characters have forgiven them?
From horrible bosses and co-workers, to equally awful parents and parent figures, scandalous exes, and terrible friends, k-dramas are chockfull of wonderfully hate-able characters! MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!
Horrible Bosses and Co-workers
Office romance dramas would have us believe that workplaces are the best places to find the love of your life. That may be true, but in k-dramaland it is equally true that workplaces are the best places to find enemies.
In Kkondae Intern (2020), Ka Yeol-Chan (Park Hae-Jin) is constantly at the mercy of his old-school boss Lee Man-shik (Kim Eun-soo) who insists on doing things his way and as a result, causes tremendous stress to his subordinates. Although the relationship between the two does undergo some transformation, bosses like Man-shik still should have been sanctioned by human resources long ago.
Smooth-talking employee Han Se-kwon (Lee Sang-yeob) makes life difficult for Choi Ban-seok (Jung Jae-young) at Hanmyung Electronics in On the Verge of Insanity (2021). Unscrupulous and dishonest, Se-kwon sees nothing wrong with taking credit for ideas that are not his and in manipulating people. But with his boyish good looks, he definitely knows how to use his charm to get ahead.
Awful Parents/ Parent Figures
There are probably hundreds of these awful parents and parent figures in k-dramaland. In a culture that puts a premium on family, parents can become the most common devices for conflict or childhood trauma.
No Hwa-young (Oh Yeon-su) is a successful general in the military in MilItary Prosecutor Doberman (2022). She has proven to everyone around her that she will stop at nothing to climb the success ladder–even if it means railroading her son No Tae-nam (Kim Woo-seok) along the way. She leaves her child without any kind of psychological or emotional support, causing him to develop mental health issues and problematic behavior.
Choi Sang-eun (Park Min-young) is an orphan in Love in Contract (2022) adopted by a self-absorbed, emotionally distant woman named Yoo Mi-ho (Jin Kyung). As Mi-ho attempts to train Sang-eun to be chaebol-wife ready, she leads the young girl to believe that her only worth is to be someone’s wife. To Mi-ho, Sang-eun is not a child to be cared for but an investment to be used.
Every bit the unloving and business-trumps-family wealthy father, Ki Jung-do (Park Yeong-gyu) does everything in his power to stop his son Ki Seon-gyeom (Im Si-wan) from following his dreams in Run On (2021). Never mind that his son is a very successful national athlete or that his daughter is a top-notch golfer or that his wife is a multi-awarded actress. All Jung-do wants to do is to make sure his image remains untarnished and that his family sings the same tune. After all, much must be sacrificed to fulfill his own political ambitions.
We get that parents are supposed to keep us grounded and that their job is to help us think pragmatically. But helping someone get in touch with reality is light years away from beating down their dreams. That’s exactly what Sa Young-nam (Park Soo-young) does to Sa Hye-jun (Park Bo-gum), a working model who dreams of making it big as an actor, in Record of Youth (2020). Completely unsupportive of his son’s dreams, he constantly finds ways to belittle him and his career. It’s one of those situations where someone succeeds in spite of and not because of his dad.
Yoon Jin-a (Son Ye-jin) and Yoon Seung-ho (Wi Ha-joon, Little Women)’s mother Kim Mi-yon (Gil Hae-yoon) in Something in the Rain (2018) takes the overbearing Asian mother stereotype to the next level. She is so desperate for her daughter to get married that she’s willing to make excuses for abusive behavior. And when Jin-a finally does find love in her best friend’s younger brother Seo Joon-hee (Jung Hae-in, D.P.), this mom from hell is relentless in her attacks on their family background, as though she’s perfect herself!
Exes are supposed to remain that… Xs, but some of them just refuse to move on and wreak havoc on the lives of those around them, proving the old adage that misery loves company.
Ko Dong-man (Park Seo-joon) had his heart broken by his girlfriend Park Hye-ran (Lee Elijah) when she dumped him in Fight for My Way (2017). We don’t blame her for pursuing wealth and career over him, because everybody should have that choice. But when she returns after she gets divorced and expects him to still want her back, she ruins his chances of having something real and lasting with his BFF Choi Ae-ra (Kim Ji-won). Not cool, Hye-ran. Not cool.
Not everyone has the luxury of cutting a failed relationship clean, especially not those who met their significant others in the workplace. Such is the plight of Jin Ha-kyung (Park Min-young) in Forecasting Love and Weather (2022). As a rising official at the Korean Meteorological Administration, she has no choice but to tough it out while her entitled, cheating thief of an ex-fiancé Han Ki-jun (Yoon Park, You Are My Spring) gallivants around the office with his new wife, whom he also met on the job.
We automatically assume that the people we hang out with are our friends. Time, however, does not automatically ensure love, respect, nor loyalty.
It’s been almost two decades, but we still can’t get over how Han Ji-eun (Song Hye-kyo)’s “friends” in Full House (2004) tricked her into selling her father’s house and basically made her a housemaid for Lee Young-jae (Rain). They had absolutely no remorse and no solution for making their friend homeless. They really should have been cut off from her life.
In Yumi’s Cells Season 1 (2021), Goo Woong (Ahn Bo-hyun) works with his two other friends in a start-up company that develops games. Everything goes well until he starts falling for Kim Yumi (Kim Go-eun) and suddenly friend/co-worker Seo Sae-yi (Park Ji-hyun) decides she wants Woong for herself. Dropping subtle hints to cause Yumi to doubt, and staging questionable circumstances, Sae-yi creates trouble in lovers’ paradise. It’s women like her who make people conclude that men and women can’t be just friends.
Who needs enemies when you have passive- aggressive friends who secretly hate you, like Kim In-hee (Wang Ji-hye) in Personal Taste? In this 2010 rom-com, In-hee serves as the main antagonist to Park Gae-in (Son Ye-jin) despite being one of her oldest friends and former housemates. It turns out In-hee resents Gae-in for living what she perceives to be a privileged life, and is determined to make her life miserable.