Where’s the Older Woman/Younger Man K-drama Trend Coming From?
Recent casting news for Faith confirmed that the flip in age gap — or the older woman/young man pairing — is here to stay. I personally cannot imagine Lee Min-ho and Kim Hee-sun working out but then again, I didn’t think Kim Soo-hyun & Han Ga-in (The Moon Embraces the Sun) nor Lee Seung-gi and Ha Ji-won (The King 2 Heart) pairing would work either.
So what’s causing this casting trend? Is it a change in societal values? Is it circumstantial? Or is it a little bit of both? And most importantly, do we like this new trend?
Before we dive deeply into analysis, it should be noted that that while some dramas actually emphasize the reverse age gap by using it as part of the plot, others do not allude to this age gap at all. The age difference is only mentioned and discussed to describe the surprise of the casting news — which by now, shouldn’t be.
Dramas from a couple of years back, such as My Lovely Kim Sam-soon (2005), What’s Up, Fox? (2006), Oh My Lady (2010), used the age gap or the noona-dongsang relationship as a central theme within the story. So it made sense that Hyunbin was younger than Kim Sun-ah, or that Chun Jung-mung was way younger (and cuter) than his co-star Go Hyun-jung, or that Siwon was not only way immature but also younger than Chaerim in Oh My Lady.
These dramas were for the most part, very popular with high ratings and that suggest that the plots resonated with the viewing audience, implying these dramas did a good job depicting changing views about older woman/younger man couples.
While dramas about noona-dongsang relationships were popular in the late 2000’s, that’s no longer the case. Even though the casting is performed in that fashion, the dramas do not use the reverse age gap as part of the plot. In fact, it appears that the age gap is only important when reporters are breaking the casting news and when the drama actually airs, it’s as if the older female lead is not even an issue.
For instance, Lee Seung-gi and Ha Ji-won act as equals in The King 2 Heart, same with Lee Dong-wook and Kim Sun-ah in Women’s Scent. Han Ga-in was Kim Soo-hyun’s six year junior in The Moon Embraces the Sun, which was a stretch, and even now, Lee Min-ho and Kim Hee-sun’s age gap doesn’t seem to be influencing the confusing fusion-saeguk storyline of Faith.
I’ve read some reporters that cite the “young face” of these female co-stars as one of the reasons of this trend, but this only scratches the surface. It definitely helps that these female leads do not look a decade older than their co-stars, but I don’t think their face is the only reason for this trend.
It may be more circumstantial than that. It appears that the trend first started when big named actors were fulfilling their mandatory military duties, such as Lee Dong-wook, Song Seung-hun, Kim Rae-won, and because a lot of established actors were turning to the big screen, instead of staying within the small screen, such as Lee Byung-hyun, Jang Dong-gun, Won Bin, etc.
It appears that the current trend of older actress and younger actors are here to stay, especially with a lot of talented younger actors dominating the K-drama scene (Lee Min-ho, Kim Soo-hyun, Yoo Ah-in, Jang Geung-Suk, etc) and while I’m not complaining, I’m looking forward to more mature actors returning to the drama scene to even out the age gap, even if slightly.
In fact, my K-drama partner-in-crime Amy and I are ecstatic to see Song Seung-hoon (Time Slip Dr. Jin) and Jang Dong-gun (A Gentleman’s Dignity) duke it out in their respective dramas. While I fall in and out of love with Kim Soo-hyun and Lee Min-ho from time to time, they are just boys compared to these men.