Shafted, shafted, shafted: A Story of Female Second Leads
This is Janine Zhang, who plays Lan Xiying in Black & White (she’s basically an expert on everything having to do with the law, medicine, and a damned good sharpshooter into the bargain). I would love to be her, but yeah. I’m not that awesome.
A long time ago Thundie wrote an article-essay on the treatment of male secondary leads in kdrama, and I felt inspired enough that I promised myself that I would write up a similar one about the female ones.
This is just something I’ve noticed, but the amount of hate towards female characters almost always beats the hate for male ones. And while on one hand it’s seriously not cool, on the other hand I think the tired old tropes women keep being thrust into have something to do with it.
Without further ado:
1. Axe-crazy Girl: she may not be with the man she ‘loves’, but god help you if you get near him. Fire, acid, beatings with actual sticks and stones and girl-on-girl violence all apply.
- Examples: Sakurako/Min-ji in Boys Over Flowers, Qingmei from MARS, Anzai Manami from Life
2. Jealous Jellyfish Girl: Yeah, the heroine is dating the male lead, but this girl just will. Not. Let. Them. Alone. This may happen for weeks, months or in more drastic cases, until she kills herself.
- Examples: He-yi from You’re Beautiful, Min Hyo-rin from Goong
3. The Puppet Mistress: this is actually my personal pet peeve, because OF COURSE she’s going to spend the rest of her life trying to screw you and your new boyfriend over. OF COURSE. She obviously has no life outside of plotting.
- Examples: Eun Hee-won from My Love Patzzi, He-yi from You’re Beautiful, Hongo Shiori from Mei-chan no Shitsuji
- Honourable mentions: Baek Sung-hee from Shining Inheritance (largely enabled by stupid honourable protagonists, but hey).
4. Evil For Love: She loves him, he leaves her, she decides that the only way to satisfy herself is to make sure he suffers for it. Whatever it is, it’s her fault the ex is killed.
- Examples: Kiha from Legend, Seo Eun-hye from Hong Gil Dong
5. So Shallow She’s Her Own Puddle: granted, she’s not viewed as a serious threat, because why would the male lead end up with a woman who talks only to hear her own voice, right? Still, it would be nice to add some humanity to a tired tropey cardboard character.
- Example: Kang Su-ah from My Fair Lady
6. The Shrinking Violet: once her relationship is revealed to be broken, she just folds up and collapses on herself, like she’s nothing without the boyfriend. Which, okay, I understand, but not if she does this for the entire duration of the drama. D:
- Example: Hee-jin from My Name is Kim Sam-soon
7. The Girl Next Door: Okay, you say, this girl isn’t evil, she’s got interests of her own, she’s often spunky and resourceful, what’s not to like? Sometimes she’s more likeable than the lead female! Well, obviously there’s something wrong, because she ends up not being able to interest the male lead after all.
- Example: Yoo Hee-jin from MNIKSS, Eui-joo from My Fair Lady,
8. There isn’t a second female lead: and then sometimes the narrative simply doesn’t have other important women. Geez, people. We only make up 51% of the world.
- Examples: Chuno, Beethoven Virus, Time Between Dog and Wolf
- This is actually why I love Black & White so much. Every single one of the women in the show is strong, has her own agency and never steps down when the menfolk are around. Arguably, they are even better at their jobs than the men. (The fact that they can all kick ass and use guns is just a beautiful plus side.)
- And this isn’t to say there aren’t excellent shows about women out there, it’s just that ‘mainstream romance’ tends to abuse its second female leads.
Sometimes it’s like two (unrelated) women are incapable of being in the same drama and being nice to each other. Ladies! You can be awesome and love the same man! You can also just ignore the waffling, cheating idiot and find other pastures, but I guess then we’d have no TV show.
Over and out.