When it comes to any medium that requires an author, tropes are normally applicable and there’s more out there than you think. Tropes, in short, as TV Tropes defines it is
…devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. […]Tropes transcend television. They reflect life. Since a lot of art, especially the popular arts, does its best to reflect life, tropes are likely to show up everywhere.
Scholar Who Walks the Night finished airing September 10th, 2015 on MBC. Set in the historical times of the Joseon Dynasty, a vampire secretly governs over the land. A timeline of Crown Princes and kings have either let the vampire rule behind the scenes or compiled a plan and tried to execute it without avail. It’s up to Kim Sung-yeol (Lee Joon-gi) to find the hidden memorandum of Crown Prince Junghyun (Lee Hyun-woo) to take down Gwi (Lee Soo-hyuk) who has reigned for centuries behind the mask of the kings who have served him. Jo Yang-sun (Lee Yu-bi) and Lee Yoon (Shim Chang-min) are involved seeing they play the bookseller who finds the secret plan and the current Crown Prince, respectively. If the series sounds familiar, it should because there’s a manhwa with the same name in which the twenty-episode drama is based off of.
Applying tropes might be easier for the show’s writers than it is for the audience to pick up on. I will be focusing not on the generic Korean drama tropes such as the ones talked about here, but more so on drama tropes that can be attached to the main characters. All tropes won’t be named (there are way too many to count), but some of the not so obvious and interesting ones will be mentioned and/or explained.
It’s not hard to tell that Yang-sun is Raised as the Opposite Gender and is a Justified Criminal behind the reasoning of Healthcare Motivation. She sells books illegally on the street to support her poor family. Her father is retired, her sister disabled, and the mother sticks with doing housework. Yang-sun masquerades around as a male to sell books, which in turn might be because it is socially acceptable at that time for a male to be educated. But that’s not the only reason why she’s female posing as a male. It was by a monk’s advisement for her to uphold a male identity in public. Although she doesn’t remember the reasoning behind it, the truth (or the trope) lying within her is Trauma-Induced Amnesia.
Even though she comes off as a strong willed and firm female, she is also the Determinator. Anyone can tell her, “don’t go here,” “don’t do that,” or “stay put,” and she refuses to listen. Because of this, she becomes a main target for Gwi to attack since he knows Sung-yeol keeps protecting and saving her or a Scapegoat for royalty to use in order to protect themselves.
Sadly, her mother, Kkot-boon (Oh Yoon-hong), is the Wicked Stepmother. Dam-yi (Park So-young) is her only child in the marriage. Her father, Jo-saeng (Jeong Gyu-su) adopted and brought Yang-sun into their family. This is because of a promise her real father made with Jo-saeng to take care of her. Kkot-boon later blames the death of her husband on Yang-sun, going as far enough to say “You Should have Died Instead.”
During a year’s time, I Will Wait For You comes into play. Kim Sung-yeol returns from who knows where and takes Yang-sun away to some magical place. Guess no one thought about the part where she goes missing or whether there might be a search or rumors of a kidnapping.
Other tropes the character contains: Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending, Parental Favoritism, Please I Will Do Anything!, Forgotten First Meeting, Childhood Friends, Bad Dreams, Plucky Girl, Protectorate, MacGuffin, Targeted Human Sacrifice
The Crown Prince Junghyun wanting to bring about the plan to destroy Gwi unintentionally serves as a Traumatic Superpower Awakening for Kim Sung-yeol. He is bitten by a guardian vampire, Hae-soo (Yang Ik-june), to give him powers to stand against Gwi. It could be understood that he had the potential, thus Hae-soo passing along his powers, but there could have been no one else to get the job done.
As much as no one likes it, when it comes to Yang-sun, he is the Ignored Expert. He constantly tells her to not go after him or to stay put because he knows how dangerous the situation will be/get but, somehow, she continues to get involved and be in harm’s way. He outright told her to run away because Gwi will be looking for her since she’s the mother’s relation in the secret plan. But of course she doesn’t listen because she’s too worried about her sunbaenim and shows up anyway.
Because of this, he’s also subjected to Always Save the Girl. While his role in life went from protecting Crown Prince Junghyun to finding the memorandum to rid the world of Gwi, he tries to save Yang-sun from multiple situations she decides to self-insert herself into. Thankfully, 90% of the time, Sung-yeol upholds wanting to protect Yang-sun and The Needs of The Many.
In contrast, Yang-sun and Yoon give Don’t Say Such Stupid Things and You are Better than You Think You Are speeches to Sung-yeol constantly. The vampire will repeatedly say he is a being that should not exist after his role is fulfilled, is willing to die if it means Yang-sun will live, or that he will do something alone because only he can take it on. Yang-sun will remind him that even though he’s a vampire, he has a human heart. Yoon will tell him to choose to live and not make Yang-sun unhappy by dying.
Other tropes the character contains: Daywalking Vampire, Unfamiliar Ceiling, Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending, Not Blood Siblings, These Hands Have Killed, The First Cut is the Deepest, Second Love, If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her, Mental World, If I Do Not Return, Older Than They Look
Crown Prince Lee Yoon
Crown Prince Yoon is next in line to be king. Unlike most of the kings who came before him, he refuses to become a Puppet King. His path of fate leads him to re-meet Yang-sun accidentally. These two run into the Forgotten First Meeting and Childhood Friends. During the course of the series, they meet many times, but Yang-sun is unable to identify Lee Soon for her case of amnesia which is rectified later.
Yoon achieves Royals Who Actually do Something (along with the previous Crown Princes Junghyun and Sadong) by searching for the secret plan and when that doesn’t work, finds an alternative. Also by the end of the series he becomes the leader that the country needs and restores it to its currently glory (can’t say past because that entire time involved Gwi).
In the end, sadly, he’s subjected to the Dower Ending because he has no queen to rule by his side for she gave her life up for him. Not to say his ending was completely negative, but everything he sought to protect, he lost at one point. The only thing he didn’t regain was his best friend and his wife.
Other tropes the character contains: If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her, Sidekick, We Used to be Friends, Foreshadowing, Badass Crew, The Leader, No One Gets Left Behind, Rightful King Returns
Hye-ryeong (Kim So-eun) is a character you shouldn’t feel sorry for, but wind up doing so once you know her backstory. She is subjected to a Deal With the Devil thanks to her father, Choi Cheol-joon (Son Jong-Hak). Because of this, it makes her qualified for the Virgin or Human Sacrifice. He basically gives up his only daughter to Gwi to secure his own life and hopefully the throne in the future (which never happens).
Because of the ill-treatment by her father, she becomes a Politically Active Princess, playing both sides of the board, Gwi’s and Yoon’s. She works for Gwi, stealing Kim Sung-yeol’s black robe via Dead Person Impersonation. But shows loyalty to the Crown Prince by bringing said robe to him.
Hye-ryeong wants to become queen, a title that would put her in a position of power over her father. But the reason why she wants this power isn’t for her own greed, but to be able to protect her mother who has become disillusioned by the ‘sudden loss’ of her daughter and calls out to her even though in her mind, she’s dead. Plainly, she’s a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
Other tropes the character contains: Died in Your Arms Tonight, There are No Therapists, Dysfunction Junction, You Said You Would Let Them Go, Doppelgänger, You Remind Me of X, Bad Dreams, Talking in Your Sleep
Gwi is an Evil Overlord who controls the Puppet King(s). He has Controlled His Minions Through Fear and isn’t afraid to let someone know You Have Failed Me and will meet their proper end with it. This results in Authority Equal Asskicking because Gwi, being a vampire, is faster and stronger than any of the humans who serve him. Anyone who dare defies him better be ready to pay the price.
Gwi plays the Villain with Good Publicity until it is shattered by Sung-yeol and Yoon. When he overtakes the throne, he plants vampires in towns to strike at night. Conveniently, he knows where they will appear and take them down accordingly, making himself look like the good guy. The town praises The Usurper and spreads the word about how awesome he is and how he looks out for his people, except Yoon and Sung-yeol catch wave of what he’s doing and crash the party.
Gwi’s background suffers from a combination of tropes strung together as Evil Cannot Comprehend Good for reasons of What is This Thing You Call Love? because Virtue is a Weakness. Gwi had a First Love; she had a child without his knowledge, he saw that as betrayal and thus killed her. From there, he went down the line, killing any person with any sort of relation to him, but missing one: Yang-sun.
After Hye-ryeon’s death is the point where you might start to feel sorry for Gwi. He admits he actually loved and wanted her to stay by his side. Her departure triggers a Villainous Breakdown where the vampire drinks the blood of the entire royal cabinet. He resolves himself to be taken down by Kim Sung-yeol, his Arch-Enemy. And as Gwi’s Last Words leaves his lips, there is a subtle I Regret Nothing with Dramatic Irony. He failed to understand ‘the power of humans’ that had been brought up to him times before. But had he understood this, there would have been no reason for his passion to rule.
Other tropes the character contains: Evil is Sexy, Vampires are Sex Gods, Jerkass, Love is a Weakness, Even Evil Has Loved Ones, Mysterious Past, Really 700 Years Old, The Villain Makes the Plot, My God What Have I Done?
Fridge Logic, which really isn’t a trope, comes after a series is done and you think about an event that occurred or a person that showed up. Wait, hold on…What Happened to the Mouse? In this case, what happened to her step-mother and half-sister? The only information revealed was that they left for Tamra, but Yang-sun never seeks them out, leaving the viewer with endless possibilities. Did they make it to Tamra Island? Were they killed along the way? Or even did Yang-sung and Sung-yeol leave at the end to reunite with them? Plainly, no one knows or if you do, please share!
When it comes to inserting tropes into an artistic medium, some may be intentional, others not. Even in researching, there were some tropes I had never heard of, but applied to the drama. Tropes are definitely not a crutch and are there to be used. The only challenge is when tropes are constantly repeated; not in the same project but within the same timeline. Think about it this way, the current obsession seems to be vampires. But remember when vampires used to be a thing with the rise of Twilight? How many other blood sucking media related subjects were released after that? How many situations could you possible throw vampires in? It might have been enough to never want to hear the v word ever again.
Despite going into this series without any prior knowledge, except… you know the v word, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. Yang-sun is a typical girl that will get on your nerves and I found myself feeling horrible for everyone except her. I would definitely read the manhwa to compare the two and hopefully learn more about Gwi’s past, which wasn’t revealed too much.
Next time, if you want to do some Fridge Logic after a drama, take a stroll down trope lane and see how many you can find that applies.
Readers, what did you find interesting about the series? Which are your favorite tropes? What are some that I missed?
(MBC, TV Tropes, eDramaClouds)