Let’s talk Choi Young-do
Female writers who are bad at writing female characters and good at writing fantasy male ones: Kim Eun-sook.
Sexist fantasy: Choi Young-do.
Eight episodes in, the response to Kim Woobin’s Choi Young-do boils down to this: He’s so terrible … BUT I can’t help it. /whimper
I’m reading comments online across a bunch of forums to get the usual international viewer response and that’s how it can be summarized. The character discussions, if I had to guesstimate, skew heavier on the Choi Young-do side now and not as much for Kim Tan or Cha Eun-sang. Maybe four episodes into the drama’s premiere, things were more centered around Kim Tan, but discussion now has definitely shifted over to Choi Young-do.
Choi Young-do is the ultimate sexist female fantasy. His character is generating feverish discussion because of two additional factors: Kim Woobin is stealing Lee Minho’s thunder by killing it with the charisma, and he’s also second lead, which means by virtue of K-drama law, he won’t get the girl, which gets fangirls feeling extra sympathetic. The bad boy archetype is already a strong one, but once you brandish him into second lead territory, Second Lead Syndrome becomes a plague. Lee Minho who?
I can’t remember the last time I saw a second lead (or even first lead) who so strongly exhibited all the traits you kind of roll your eyes at: huge bully, has some serious daddy issues, is popular, is good-looking and tall, but sometimes gets lonely and has no one to share that with, and then gets shocked out of his mind when a girl comes and challenges his authority, becomes so distraught that there’s someone so earnest and pure that he can’t help but fall in love and want to change and become a better person.
There is still something about these traits in a male character that viewers really, really love, they can’t help it. People call Choi Young-do-esque characters a guilty pleasure, like they’ll just enjoy these people as a temporary respite from all the other respectable characters they’ll go back to liking later. But if the characters are repeatedly guilty pleasures for everyone, doesn’t that just mean it’s still a fantasy that’s very much embedded into how we consume pop, and not that much a deviant at all, but a default?
Characters like Choi Young-do are sexist, because they’re horrible people, but we think the magic fix is love, and the impetus is really on the female to do the fixing. That the males can continue to be terrible, but as long as it’s being driven by a desire to win over a female, it’s okay. Or, that he’s shitty to the girl, but it’s only because he’s interested. I think that one bothers me most: that a boy’s attention is so precious and reaffirming that it overrides all other things about his character.
Nobody has said any of that outright, but here’s a sampling of comments from the nets:
young do is seriously an asshole. i don’t see any redemption from him :/ but i still love his character…..fml
I feel bad about the relationship between Eun Sang and Young Do ㅠㅠ Young Do is finally liking Eun Sang for real… I hope even if they don’t end up together later, Eun Sang is able to change Young Do for the better…
I don’t get it, why are you guys hating Young Do, saying he’s an asshole and getting worse
Well, yes he is an asshole. But this asshole is about to falling in love.
And a fallen in love asshole is aways cute.
Because he becomes more human
Because he’s feeling something
Because it bothers him but he can’t help it
Because he’s so helpless when he sees the girl he likes is close to some other guy
Because he’s gonna try to get the girl in his own way, rough yet swooning
Because he’ll be a better person
I raise my hope on you, Young Do
I believe in you.
Choi Young Do is making me crazy. I am supposed to hate his character, right? Nope, not possible. His pshychotic behaviours are so fucking sexy.
the emotion i feel whenever choi young do shows up on screen is a mixture of extreme terror and arousal thank you kdrama writers and woo bin for making me question my psychological health thanks a lot
Choi Young Do is so good at playing with hearts ㅠㅠㅠ Cute but also a bad guy ㅋㅋㅋ
Choi Young-do is probably a much tamer iteration of reforming bad boy who changes because of love. There are other more extreme examples, but the point is, people are way more forgiving of male indecency and maliciousness, as long as it’s cloaked by romantic or sexual interest of a female.
And Kim Eun-sook writes a lot of these abrasive, not-easily-impressed males whose worlds are changed because of that One Girl, so Choi Young-do isn’t a one-off or a lapse in judgment. Kim Eun-sook is a pretty sexist writer. She doesn’t lavish nearly as much attention on her female leads as she does the male ones to either give them backstories or develop them. They’re bland Mary Sues from the first episode to the last. Her supporting female casts are always of the cunning, mean-spirited variety. Her world is one where girls aren’t friends with other girls. They compete and they tear each other down.
Her world is one where boys are possessive, aggressive, and vaguely rape-y in the you-said-no-but-you-really-mean-yes way (but that’s okay because it’s all done in the name of love). They’re demanding at best, violent at worst. At best, they crash cars to get you to stop talking to another man. At worst, they make you get on your knees to show you your place.
You can say that these problems in character development aren’t unique to Kim Eun-sook, and that they’re symptomatic of larger gender issues in Korea, in the world, whatever. But within Korea, Kim Eun-sook is hugely successful, and her success is a reflection of creating a product that appeals to the mainstream audience, which means that her work deserves analysis and criticism. And like I said with the Hong Sisters, Kim Eun-sook is prolific enough and her problems repetitive enough that it’s fair to assign blame to Kim Eun-sook for constantly neglecting their female characters.
And part of it is just my frustration that Kim Eun-sook is a hugely successful female screenwriter. Why are her male characters always treating her female ones so badly? Why doesn’t she see that they’re treating them so badly? Why does she write those problems in a romantic light? Why don’t her female characters have more agency? Why don’t they actually DO STUFF to attain what they want, instead of waiting for a man to do it for her?
I’ve always found the “minorities should be more sensitive to oppression” argument to be a little unfair because it’s placing a burden on the already oppressed when they are almost always never the root of the problem, but to see minorities perpetuate a problem the hegemony has imposed on them just makes me really angry at my fellow brethren.
Also making me really angry is Kim Woobin’s hair. That plastic encasing of an over-exaggerated cowlick. FUCKIN WASH YOUR HAIR SOMETIME AND JUST LET IT AIRDRY AND DON’T DO OR ADD ANYTHING TO IT.
So many things to be angry about these days.