Confession: I really like strong female characters in television shows. When I’m not watching K-dramas (shocker, I know), I occasionally tune in to a few American TV teen dramas. One of the shows that I used to follow my freshman and sophomore year was CW‘s popular Monday night drama, Gossip Girl. I watched that show religiously until this year, actually, when I gave up out of disgust because I felt like the female characters on that show, Blair and Serena, weren’t strong enough for my liking. On the other hand, I did pick up an ABC Family show this year (another shocker, I’m usually very anti-ABC Family): Make It or Break It. The drama chronicles the lives of four teenage female gymnasts who have Olympic dreams. Sure, there’s a lot of boy drama involved and a lot of unnecessary conflicts, but I really liked how “strong” the female characters were on that show… enough for me to swallow my overall distaste for ABC Family and add it to my weekly to-watch American television show list.
So I guess it wasn’t really a surprise when I found myself enjoying K-dramas with strong, dynamic female leads with a touch of badass more than K-dramas with female leads who always seemed to be crying and perpetually asking the viewers: “What should I do about this ridiculously hot jerk who just broke my heart for the umpteenth time?” I was more interested in watching girls who picked their butts off the floor of their rooftop flats and actually did something about their unrealistically tragic dilemmas than watching girls walk around Seoul aimlessly, tears dripping down their faces in an overdramatic fashion.
My favorite badass female character in a drama today also happens to be the first badass female character I ever encountered in a drama. Up until last year, the K-dramas I chose to spend my time watching were mostly all fluffy rom-coms. However, my then-boyfriend managed to coax me into watching IRIS, an epic action-romance drama starring Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-hee, with him over Christmas break. Although I think Kim Tae Hee is a gorgeous actress, my favorite female actress in IRIS was Kim So-yeon as Kim Seon-hwa, the only female member of the North Korean security team with a tough streak. Seon-hwa started out as the right-hand woman of Park Cheol-young and was sent on a mission to kill Kim Hyun-jun, the South Korean intelligence agent that the drama focuses on. Eventually, a few plot twists emerge and the two of them join forces halfway through the drama to bring down the villains. Kim So Yeon did a great job bringing out the toughness of her character and her action sequences were intense and riveting. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen during a scene at the beginning of the drama when she led the North Korean security team on a mission to find Hyun-jun in Hungary after an assassination.
Don’t get me wrong: Kim Tae-hee did well, a passable job in IRIS, but her character spent way too much time moping and being depressed about Hyun-jun for my liking.
Actress-wise, no one does a better job carrying out the role of a badass female character than Ha Ji-won. I fell in love with her portrayal of Gil Ra-im in Secret Garden when it first came out. Ra-im worked as a stuntwoman, but she was tough on the outside and a sweetheart on the inside, which made the drama super fun to watch since she was determined at first not to fall for Joo Won, the quirky CEO played by Hyun Bin. He definitely did not have an easy time winning over her affections. In King 2 Hearts, Ha Ji-won is taking on the role of Hang-ah, a female officer from North Korea who has more than just a tough streak. Seriously, the girl ran on a treadmill for hours while a bomb was taken apart right under her feet with a sprained ankle. What I love about Ha Ji-won is how good she is at conveying the vulnerability of the strong female characters she plays and not just the “badass” sides. Her versatility as an actress has earned her a place on my list of favorite South Korean actresses.
I have yet to watch Protect the Boss but it has a solid place on my to-watch list of K-dramas now. Salima, our resident K-drama expert here at Seoulbeats, suggested that I look up the character of No Eun Seol from that drama after she saw that I was working on an article about strong female characters in K-dramas. I found a few YouTube clips from the drama, read a few recaps, and swooned over some yummy pictures of Jaejoong in a suit, before deciding to add her to my article. In Protect the Boss, No Eun Seol is played by Choi Kang Hee. The drama basically starts with clips of Eun Seol fighting a gang in high school, leading a protest in college, and rejecting a boy to study (LOL!). Eventually she lands a job… and then gets fired promptly after beating up her sleazy boss in a bathroom for trying to make a move on her. But luckily for her (and us), Jaejoong likes her fighting spirit and fiery personality and hires her for his company. I’m physically restraining myself from starting this drama because I know that if I do, I’ll probably hole up for three days in my room and I don’t want to be dragged to school on Tuesday kicking and screaming for my daily dose of K-drama.
Lee Min Ho as Lee Yoon-sung totally made City Hunter one of my favorite K-dramas ever (sorry, fangirl moment), but Park Min Young actually won me over as an actress with her character, Kim Nana, after twenty episodes of nonstop action and romance. Compared with the other female characters in dramas I’ve mentioned so far in this article, I’d say that Nana had a milder tough streak. However, she did play a bodyguard in the drama, which came with its fair share of heart-stopping action sequences. Nana actually threw Kim Young-ju, the determined prosecutor in City Hunter, on the ground in the first episode for invading her clients’ privacy. It was a great moment in the drama, Park Min Young standing in her sparkly pink dress and heels over Lee Joon-hyuk. Hee. Anyways, Nana definitely had a sassy side in City Hunter, which made for some really cute bickering sessions with Yoon-sung. If you like your female leads headstrong but with an adorable side, I’m sure that Park Min Young’s Nana Bear won’t disappoint.
I love watching girls with real personalities take center stage in K-dramas because I like rooting for them. Whether it be taking down some assassins, kicking Lee Min Ho’s ass in judo (hey, can I join in?), or standing up for what they believe for with tears on their faces, strong female characters in Korean dramas impress me to no end. They inspire me too (well, as much as a fictional character can anyways) and make me say, “Wow, I wish I had the guts to do what they just did.” I’m sure that I’ll be devouring more K-dramas starring female characters who are fearless and daring in the future!
Who are your favorite female characters from K-dramas with a tough streak? I’m looking for some K-drama recommendations here, guys!
(KBS2, SBS, MBC)