Time and time again a friend will ask me, why do you like all there Korean dramas? They’re all the same thing. Seeing one is enough. I then sigh, it’s true, you can’t separate cliches from k-drama – taking them away will just strip them off their identity. Think cars. Why do they all have the same basic shape, why don’t we have globular cars? And seeing one drama is definitely NOT enough. Especially if you choose and pick carefully, taste a few craps (me thinks that is necessary), and enjoy some rare gems, you will be richly rewarded. Besides, there’s something fun about taking a tried and tested formula, twisting it into something creative and fresh. The use of old tired recycled cliches then becomes a true measure whether a drama is worth watching or not. So I decided to make this list, to lovingly remind me of those damn cliches, it’s not even limited to Korean dramas. In alphabetical order.

Stairway to Heaven

Amnesia. The type where he / she completely change into a different person, usually an old meanie turning into a nice softie. A popular pattern is the 1-2-1, or mean-nice-mean, or the forget-remember-forget. Insert true love in the nice stage, and lots of wailing after. Totally got me the first time in The Prince Who Turns Into a Frog (a Taiwanese drama). A second amnesia project is where rich heroine loses her memory, her privileged identity, the kid who liked her since age 4 (hello Stairway to Heaven!). Fear not, she’s turning into our optimistic plucky heroine. She will get the identity and the kid (now a dashing man) back from the clutches of second evil girl (or, will she die of cancer?).

The Airport chase. The second one realise their feelings towards one’s true love, usually when there’s not much time left and this is the final episode, dammit! He will dash to the airport, or the train station, or bus station, or wherever, to stop her from leaving. Sometimes he’s too late but she ends up not leaving anyway. Sometimes he stops the her from leaving and all ends well with an epic kiss. Sometime they still kiss but she still leaves town (then… dum dum dum… a few years later…..) Some other time, he chases her to the next train station (hehe).

Birth Secrets. They’re filthy. They’re stinky. Don’t be fooled by fish-lip kisses, you’ll be surprised by how these people (or their parents, actually) do without you seeing. It’s what creates the angst of faux incest… of falling in love with your blood brother! Half brother! Step brother!  I’m wondering though, is there a k-drama that actually goes that far to create a real incest

Chaebol. Is Korea a country of chaebols? Is it like Monaco?

Cute kid alert! Hmmm, maybe the hero / heroine is a single parent? Or ward to an impossibly cute kid? Sometimes the kid will be a hurdle to love, but more often an enabler. Please don’t tell me the kid has an incurable sickness!

Evil chaebols bully and suck the life out of poor heroes, usually involving death of family members, jail, bankruptcy, or a combination of everything). Then our poor heroes shall have a sweet revenge.

Fainting fathers / grandfathers. At the most important moment the male elderly will develop some sort of a fainting spell, can be a mild stroke, or a mild heatstroke. Sometimes, this will influence the decision of the OTP not to be together.

Full House

Forced close proximity – can be in the form of cohabitation, contract relationship, employer-employee relations. How can they not fall in love to the only person they see on a daily basis? And, is it possible to have a contract relationship other than the kind to be a permanent resident to some first world country?

Four leads: the OTP, and annoying second leads (one male, one female). Someone tell me why does it have to be four? I have to give credit to many dramas or actors, though, that successfully create wonderful second leads.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal: damn I want to be her!!

Heroine cross-dresses and plunge into male-dominated environment. If we’re lucky, they room together! This is growing in popularity, as amnesia starts to get outdated (thank God!). I like this concept, it’s fun and I’ve seen it done well with different and creative variations – even though I think Hana Kimi’s premise is just ridiculous. Also, a certain scandalous youthful Joseon drama pulls this off really really well. What I’m so dying to see is a gender reversal of this cliche! Those flower boys with beautiful complexion can definitely pull it off! Kim Hye-sung, or Song Joong-ki! Quick before you get older!

I hate you then I love you. But why? Must be Jane Austen’s fault. In reality we humans are prejudiced beings it’s so hard to change an initial hate – well, unless you are forced to interact with your hated one every single minute of your life. Refer to Forced close proximity.

Impossibly evil and clingy second leads. Especially of the female species. The type who rather dies than see the OTP get together. I effing hate them.

Evil Mother-in-law from I Am Legend

Impossibly evil mother in laws. I’m wondering, are they even human?

The Near Misses: They were so close! In the elevator, on the buss, they’re so forlorn and lonely and lovesick. But they didn’t even see each other as the camera goes slow-mo and they pass by each other (sometimes on a revolving door).

Noble idiots (credit to dramabeans) So, you can’t be together because for some illogically stupid and inexplicable reason, the other person will hurt so you rather sacrifice yourself? Oh boohoo!

What's Up Fox (or an excuse to insert a pic of CUTIE Chun Jung-myung!!!)

Noona love – Unlikely love story between a younger guy who woos an older girl tirelessly. I love this set up!! I love a cute charming younger guy who’s actually more mature than her in some ways.

Noraebang!! Usually to sing out all sorrows, love woes, to bring out personality after getting drunk, or just for fun. The point is… Noraebang!

Optimistic plucky heroine melts the cold heart of the rude, or bad attitude, or misunderstood hero (but we all know he has a soft gooey centre, like a chocolate fondant). Yeah, a classic Mr. Darcy. Noteworthy reversal to this is a very complex hero who appears to be Mr. Perfect but is a mess and a jerk inside.

Stars Falling from the Sky: haven't watched this drama but OMG looks like such a textbook example of the cliche below

Optimistic plucky heroine is the backbone of the family because of non-present or incapable parents. Sometimes siblings who are too young, sickly, or equally incapable are involved. She will do odd jobs to get money. She will remain optimistic and strong. She will need to run away from unscrupulous debt collectors.

Oops I tripped and we accidentally kiss! Noteworthy variation is: oops accidental kiss then I puke into your mouth. That is classic.

Oops I tripped and we have an unintentional bed scene! Noteworthy variation is: oops I taser myself and fall unconscious on top of your beautiful sleeping body. The same offering from the puke kiss.

Parental disapproval. Because the OTP just can’t happen. Because it is just soo unacceptable to the society, sort of like leprosy. Which inevitably will result in impossibly evil mother in laws.

Piggyback-ing in Personal Taste

The Piggy Back. This typically happens twice. Once in the I hate you stage (usually involving one too many bottles of soju), and once in the I love you stage, where they will be grinning happily. I really love the Piggy Back scene between Seo Woo and Lee Mi-sook in Cinderella Unni though. It is beautiful.

Poor girl meets rich boy (or the other way round). Usually in concurrent with optimistic plucky heroine melts the cold heart of the often rude, or bad attitude hero. Yes, the rich one is undeniable a chaebol.

The study abroad trick. Because our romance fails / I don’t want to hurt you any further / I am ashamed of ruining your OTP – totally unplanned – I am going to study abroad next week.

Terminal diseases. What a cheap trick!

Unnecessary CPR (or lame excuse for a kiss) I’m no medical expert but I know this much: when you do CPR you compress the chest repeatedly, pry the mouth open and blow air decisively into it. Not shyly and gingerly touching the lips of the fainting person with yours! Don’t even get me started on the underwater kind.

What else?  I will keep updating as I find more.


About toopai
part time couch potato, full time movie and drama enthusiast.

One Response to K-cliches

  1. I love this compilation! I also observe tons of cliches but I always forget to jot them down or what so they always escape my mind. Was planning to make a post like this before. Heehee. XD

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