If a K-drama is categorized as a romantic comedy (even though it may fall in other genres), there is a very likely chance that the drama will make use of the classic ‘arrogant chaebol’ trope for the leading male character. It’s a tried and true formula evident in Secret Garden, Oh My Venus, 1% of Something and very recently, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon. However one of these drama’s execution of this trope is not like others. Enter Strong Woman, a rom-com about a supernaturally strong woman with a splash of crime and thriller. Park Bo-young plays the titular female lead and Park Hyung-sik plays the male lead opposite to her. And you guessed it, he too is a chaebol heir. But not in the traditional sense that many viewers have come to expect.
Warning: spoilers for Strong Woman lay ahead. If you’d like a more in-depth review of the series, be sure to check out the reviews we’ve done on the series.
The ‘arrogant chaebol’ trope has certain characteristics attached to it such as a troubled past that is supposed to explain his petty and rude treatment of others (even more so towards the female lead and used as a basis for the female character to show her spunk in order to further his characterization), cold demeanor yet a fiery temper when provoked, pride that borders on hubris, closed off with little to no sense of humour, and all in all, an exaggeration of epitomized masculinity.
Min-hyuk fits into the trope in a way that ends up subverting it that keeps the viewer interested. Let us consider his personality. Here are his good traits that I have observed: hard working, confident, funny, caring, loyal, honest, and trustworthy. On the flip side, these are his flaws: over dramatic, overbearing, pride that tips into hubris, arrogant, emotional, over-reactive, and selfish.
The first thing I noticed right away was that Min-hyuk has a warm personality, which is enhanced by the colour palette used and his casual dress in the first episode. There is nothing cold or closed-off about him — he is very reactive in his emotional expression and there is something candid in his honesty. Typical ‘chaebol’ tropes feature the character to be quite reserved in his emotions, save for some calculated displays as it’s useful to the story and serves to further the plot. But Min-hyuk has no such reservations — his face gives everything away and credit goes to where credit is due as Park Hyung-sik does an amazing job in his first lead role. Hyung-sik’s eyes are the focal point when it comes to his facial expressions.
Min-hyuk is also very silly — he comes off as humourous and very dramatic but in a way that doesn’t feel larger-than-life and unbelievable. It isn’t over-acted and it gives off the vibe that you can find someone in your life with those same tendencies. He has a penchant for the theatrics that is punctuated by his hands when he opens doors, windows, curtains, and all things modern (i.e. riding around on a hoverboard, or licking a lollipop as he casually enters his company). His sense of humour is never at the expense of another person, not to the extent of victimizing them to discomfort which is a fine line to walk. Compare this to the other chaebol characters who often don’t express humour in an overt way or have a very cruel sense of humour and it’s usually the ‘quirky’ female lead that brings it out of him.
There are also his mannerisms and actions that sets him apart – the major one is his respect for Bong-soon. This is a controversial statement to make but it’s one that bears a lot of insight. In the majority of dramas I’ve watched that has a male chaebol character, there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways the chaebol disrespects the female lead (i.e. disregarding what she says, undermining/belittling her, harassing her and invading personal space in a very threatening way placing unreasonable restrictions on the way she should conduct herself) but there is none of that in Strong Woman. There was a scene where Bong-soon tells Min-hyuk to wait in the lobby as she goes upstairs to get her purse. To my surprise, he does as he is told even though he wants to go after her. It’s an innocuous moment but one that holds a lot of weight considering what I’ve watched in the past and what I have come to expect in the present.
Min-hyuk is in no way perfect. His flaws are explored in unique ways through the course of the drama. His selfishness and emotionally impulsive nature often work in tandem with each other; for example, when Bong-soon is getting chased as the kidnapper’s last hurrah, Min-hyuk immediately takes the chance to tell her how much she means to him. The timing is not opportune and comes off as incredibly self-serving but when you consider that in the past, he has had abandonment issues stemming from his mother, you begin to understand his actions. There is also the issue of his arrogance towards authority, more specifically the police force and his desire to track his blackmailer on his own terms. The drama then reveals that Min-hyuk grew up watching his father bribe the police to do his bidding and thus his distrust of them took root. You may not agree with his actions but you get a glimpse of his rationale behind them.
Min-hyuk is one of the few characters that breaks the ‘arrogant chaebol’ trope with his warm personality and exuberant self-expression. The delivery of Min-hyuk and Bong-soon in Strong Woman Do Bong-soon is what kept the momentum of the show going, making up for it’s lacklustre writing and confusing and disjointed plots.
There are other dramas where the ‘arrogant chaebol’ trope manifests in different ways and with interesting twists. For example, the drama Weightlifting Kim Bok-joo features a main male lead who is kind, caring, sensitive yet playful and flirty who is not put off by the idea of physically strong women (much like Min-hyuk). There is also High Society where the chaebol lead is a woman instead — she is incredibly wealthy and shows that a privileged upbringing does not always mean a happy one. It’s characters like these who break the mould that keeps me interested and engaged as a viewer. It’s not to say that dramas that form their foundations on cliche tropes are all bad but rather it’s nothing that pushes boundaries. That’s the thrill of K-dramas — finding layered characters and unique stories, and all the more so if there is both.
(Images via JTBC)