In Defence of The K-drama Jerk

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A while back, I read an article by lovely Amanda at Outside Seoul on K-drama antiheroes, and I started thinking. Why do K-drama heroes tend to be such jerks? Why is is that the jerk always gets the girl? And why is that we always root for the said jerk?
I can't promise you'll find answers to these questions here today, but I'm hoping that this post will help to us understand the typical K-drama jerk more as we try put ourselves in his shoes for a bit.


The jerk is handsome. Let's get this out of the way first: the typical K-drama jerk is a handsome jerk. He is always played by an extremely good-looking actor who, considering the relatively small number of popular Korean actors, is very likely to be your favourite Korean actor of all time. So, how can you not root for him then?
Also, when I mean handsome, I'm not just talking about the gorgeous jawline and perfectly sculpted abs that the actor is genetically blessed with, I'm as much talking about the fact that the jerk always looks presentable and clean. He is dressed according to the latest trends and personal style is always important to him. Which is great because just who isn't attracted to a guy who knows how to dress themselves.
Having good looks is definitely a good start, though it doesn't mean that the man can get away with anything because of it. Yet there is absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating the beauty of a typical K-drama jerk in all his glory. 

F4 (Boys Over Flowers) - their personal style may be questionable at times, 
but at least they have a personal style.

The jerk is misunderstood. This is not always the case in the direct sense, but usually the jerk find his actions and words being misinterpreted. Not that anyone's to blame because, most of the time, the jerk doesn't make much effort to show his better side to others. But the point here is that the man has a lot of trouble expressing his emotions in a way that other's can understand him. Meanwhile, us viewers have been granted with a power to see it all. So when we watch him struggling to show his affection towards the people he cares about, we feel bad for him. And it's only human of us. 

Kang To (Gaksital) - classic case of bad guy turning into a good guy, 
but still being misunderstood as the bad guy.

The jerk is a lonely man. Loneliness is often one of the reasons why the jerk is the jerk that he is - he has nobody to connect with, nobody talk to, nobody to understand him. While the typical chaebol hero is living in the world of the rich and privileged, having money makes him feel unhappy and lonely. He is usually estranged from his family members because they're too involved in their work to care about him, and all his experiences with romance have been elaborate business deals disguised as an arranged marriage. So when he actually meets a girl that isn't after his money, the jerk doesn't know how to react, and it takes time before he learns to cherish a real relationship. But in the end, the poor fellow just wants to be loved.

Jun Pyo (Boys Over Flowers): "Baby I’m so lonely... 

 ...lonely lonely lonely lonely..."

 Tan (The Heirs): "Baby I’m so lonely... 

...lonely lonely lonely lonely..."

The jerk has a tragic past. Almost every K-drama jerk has a tragic background that has been the biggest factor in him becoming an insensitive prick. Perhaps it involves a car accident where his mom died (because let's be real, most K-drama jerks have BIG mommy issues), or a birth secret that reveals him to be an illegitimate child of a famous CEO, or maybe the loss of his first love. Whatever the case may be, his tragic past haunts him in his daily life and holds him back when trying to build new relationships. It's sad, and that's why this stuff just gets us. 

After being screwed over so majorly by his first love, 
I guess Maru's (Nice Guy) cold-heartedness is justified. Kinda.

The jerk is a passionate lover. Now this one depends on the particular K-drama jerk. There are usually two kinds of jerks: the hot-tempered kind and the icy-cold kind. The passionate ones usually tend to be the hot-tempered ones. But make no mistake, there is a passionate guy hidden deep within even the most cold jerk when it comes to love matters. And well, that's what counts in the end.
The reason why passion is important becomes apparent when we compare the jerk with the second-lead aka Mr. Perfect. While second leads are usually really passive in romance matters, the jerk acts upon his feelings that he cannot hold back. And even though the jerk tends to be misinformed about the ways to use to woo the heroine (seriously, bullying her just to get her attention is not the most effective way to get her to like you), it is much better than what the second lead does, which is simply longing her from afar and not making any effort to escape the dreaded friendzone. The jerk knows that if you have feelings, then show them however you possibly can.

Min Hyuk (Secret) - truly a passionate man. First passionate about making 
the heroine's life a living hell. Then passionate about loving her.

The jerk has flaws. Perfection is overrated. Which is why second leads, most of the time (because we've all, at some point, still had to suffer from the terrible Second Lead Syndrome), never seem to capture our hearts like the jerk. Although, Mr. Perfect always says the right things, always supports the female lead, always comforts her, and always looks good while doing all that - he is so ideal that it gets awfully boring. Meanwhile, the jerk has flaws like a real person, and so, it is much easier to root for him as the guy who has selfish needs like every other person. Also, every good character needs to have some flaws (though I guess you could argue that perfection is the Fatal Flaw of our typical second lead).   

Tae Kyung (You're Beautiful): "Sorry for being a jerk, but I'm not perfect. 
I have flaws. For instance, my hair."

The jerk redeems himself in the end. Perhaps the reason why we are so fond of our K-drama jerk is that no matter how much of an ass he is at first, he will redeem himself in the end (more or less). And there is a sense of satisfaction when the moment comes for the male lead to grovel in order to win back the affection of the heroine. And I swear, this is the best part. 

Jae Min (Something Happened in Bali): "Redemption? Pfft. Not for me."

The jerk makes for an interesting character. To me, this is of most importance. If we put all of the above together, it becomes obvious that there are a lot of layers to the typical K-drama jerk. The jerk isn't just a handsome guy with an awful temper, he's got his own insecurities, flaws and worries, and there is always a hidden reason for why he is such a douche at times. It may not always be a good reason, but at least he has one.
And again, if I compare the jerk with Mr. Perfect, it makes sense to be in Team Jerk and not in Team Perfect. The jerk is always more developed as a character than the second lead. He is interesting, while Mr. Perfect is just standing there, looking pretty and secretly longing for heroine's love. Mr. Perfect may have better chances of getting the girl if it was real life, but in the dramaworld his niceness isn't enough to provide us viewers with what matters for us - a conflict.  
While not all K-drama jerks are entirely intriguing and well-layered, in most cases they do make for fairly compelling characters. And the personal journey of our typical hero from a assy rich guy into a caring and mature man is, after all, what makes us root for the ever lovable jerk.

Tae Joo (Que Sera Sera): "Let's be honest. 
If I was a nice guy, there would be no drama for you."

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  1. This is a post I desperately needed in light of my fixation on Young Do in Heirs. What a jerk...why can't I get enough of him?!? (Especially when I find the also-jerky male lead completely unappealing.)

    Very insightful :)

    1. AGREE!! Young Do is so much more better than boring grandpa Kim Tan

    2. HAHAHA! I was thinking of Young Do the whole time I was reading this post too! XD As 2nd lead (he's still 2nd lead, right?), he's definitely way more charismatic & appealing than Kim Tan. And now with this timely post, we have a handy list of reasons to explain our Young Do fixation ;D Not the intention of the post per se, but then again, whaddya do with BOTH male leads are painted as jerks, eh? :P

    3. I totally understand what you guys mean. In Heirs, both guys are obviously big jerks. At first, I thought that Tan was going to be more thoughtful and sweet, but now I'm convinced he's just a typical jerk in disguise. And while Young Do has been a big ass, at least I can see where his behaviour comes from, so I might be rooting for him a bit more now.

  2. Ahh the typical jerk - Everything you say is true. That's indeed why we keep watching these all too formulaic dramas; Indeed, it's that 'human' element that makes them more interesting, if not entirely realistic.

    Here's the other reason: "He is always played by an extremely good-looking actor who, considering the relatively small number of popular Korean actors, is very likely to be your favourite Korean actor of all time."
    *nods* I try to remain unbiased, but it's hard not to let an actor I like or dislike color it all. If I don't have a bias at the start of drama time, then it's easier to make a more objective analysis of whether or not this type of lead jerk is one I'll love or not. But when I come into a drama knowing my least favorite actor (or at least someone I dislike more than the rest) is going to be acting the jerk this time, I am less pleased.

    Guess we're none of us immune to a pretty and recognizable face :D

    1. Totally true. It is impossible to be unbiased when it's one of your favourite actors playing the said jerk. And it's even harder when he plays the role so well that you can't help but be impressed by the actor's acting abilities, even if he's playing a character who's such an ass.

  3. Kim tan for the win,Young Do was just bully plain and simple

    1. Honestly, they both were bullies and emotionally abusive towards the girl. She should've just stayed single, I think.


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