Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kdrama Makeovers: A Field Guide

Korean dramas hold sacred the magical powers of the makeover. In their world, fake eyelashes and a name-brand outfit are all it takes for an ugly duckling to be reborn as a swan. And these transformations are more than just skin deep—to Kdrama characters, they represent both new beginnings and opportunities to be seen in a different way by the world around them.

Here is a brief taxonomy of the principal makeover species that have been spotted in the Kdrama wild.

The Fairy Godfather
makeoverus oppaknowsbestus

As seen in: Personal Taste and Boys over Flowers

Natural habitat: Tony salons and upscale department stores

Distinguishing characteristics: Everyday guys who just happen to have a crack team of hairstylists, cosmetologists, and fashion consultants on staff; girls who mistakenly think there may be things in life that could be more important than looking good; Lee Min Ho

A single human body isn’t a canvas large enough to express the glorious and refined sense of style prized by Korea’s enormous population of flawlessly groomed flower boys. Having attained bodily perfection themselves, these extreme metrosexuals have been seen to develop symbiotic relationships with girls who have bad fashion sense. The flower boys step in and—with a cheery exclamation of “Project!”—remake their less chic companions into the ideal woman. (And then fall in love with them.)

The Fat Girl
makeoverus thighgapus

As seen in: Dream High and Prosecutor Princess

Natural habitat: Wherever food isn’t

Distinguishing characteristics: Cheap jokes about weight accompanied by even cheaper fat suits, a halo supporting characters obsessed with The Fat Girl’s BMI

No creature on planet earth loves an underdog as much as Human beingus spp. Kdramatis. This proclivity is most perfectly expressed in The Fat Girl makeover—whether by her own means or through the intervention of others, this female lead transforms from a lumpy, undateable caterpillar to a gorgeously slender butterfly, thereby rendering everything about her life completely and utterly perfect. This enviable transformation has not been substantiated outside of on-screen populations.

The Faustian Bargain
makeoverus soulsmirch

As seen in: What Happened in Bali and Que Sera Sera

Natural habitat: Matthew 4:1–11

Distinguishing characteristics: Girls who value brand name goods more than their souls; guys who are willing to buy love (or at least complacency)

Like a cat playing with a mouse, Kdrama males have been observed toying with their prey. They repeatedly offer their female counterparts expensive goods and services that would be otherwise unattainable, driving their quarry mad with desire. When her lust is at a true fever pitch and can no longer be contained, the male will begin the makeover process as a distraction. These dark Fairy Godfathers then consume the female, body and soul. Many researchers have philosophical objections to  the study of the Faustian Bargain, as a lack of intervention in such destructive relationships is tantamount to approval of their horrific techniques.

The Suicide Blonde
makeoverus masterbatorius

As seen in: Scent of a Woman and Cheongdamdong Alice

Natural habitat: Where honeys are makin’ money

Most Korean drama females who undergo makeovers do so at the insistence of a male. There is, however, a small subset of solo makeovers, many with resulting plumage just as fabulous as that of their bisexual counterparts. Whether hoping to acquire a mate or simply free herself from the fetters of everyday life (often in response to a terminal prognosis), females known to perform The Suicide Blonde are generally regarded to be rebellious and suffer from devil-may-care attitudes.

The From Bad to Worse
makeoverus doggicus

As seen in: Boys over Flowers and Coffee Prince

Natural habitat: Glamour Shots at the mall

While Human beingus spp. Kdramatis is remarkably susceptible to makeovers, the results are sometimes less than aesthetically pleasing to outsiders. Balancing every stunning metamorphosis is an epic fail, complete with bad hair, ugly dresses, and wraps that look like mummified Muppets. The exact cause for these monstrous anomalies is unclear, although some scholars suspect ulterior motives on the part of the makeovers’ instigators.

The Viola
makeoverus breastbindus

As seen in: Coffee Prince and Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Natural habitat: Any school, business, or institution that does not allow women

There comes a time in the life of every Korean drama female when it would be more convenient to be a Korean drama male. Makeovers of this family are so common that—according to some estimates—more than 50 percent of all “males” in any gender-specific organization are actually females. Naturally, a thriving industry has grown up around breast binding materials and innocuous tampon disposal devices, so the gender switch is as easy as getting a haircut and putting on a pair of baggy pants.

The Tootsie
makeoverus hiddensausagus

As seen in: Ma Boy and I Do, I Do

Natural habitat: Daehan and environs

Sightings of this makeover—a male counterpart to The Viola—are extremely rare. It has been hypothesized that the limited benefits associated with femaleness (Outside Seoul 2012) discourage its proliferation. The Tootsie has recently been added to Korean drama’s critically endangered species list. With the increased protections that come with this designation, the scientific community is guardedly optimistic that Tootsie populations will experience a resurgence.

The Time Lapse
makeoverus offscreenicus

As seen in: Flower Boy Next Door and Coffee Prince

Natural habitat: The last ten minutes

Even the most dogged of observers have been stymied when attempting to obtain hard proof of this  covert subset of the makeover genus. As the Time Lapse has never been replicated in a lab environment, skeptics have called into question its very existence. While the actual physical metamorphosis has not been witnessed, most open-minded researchers believe its results speak for themselves: After a long separation, Kdrama lovers are seen to have experienced significant physical changes. Hair color, clothing styles, and even personal attitudes all undergo revolutionary transfigurations.


  1. Hahahah, "oppaknowsbestus", I love that! And "The Fat Girl" - What I liked about Prosecutor Princess was that a girl got a makeover and it wasn't the solution to her problems. She still had personality issues that a slim figure and new clothes couldn't fix. How many heroines have to work hard on their characters like she did? In "The Faustian Bargain" I was confused about Que Sera Sera. There was that one great upgrade when she went to a party with her boss in a black dress, good hair and makeup. After that she mostly just stayed the same with slightly better clothes she was wore for work. I thought her character was foolish for choosing the abusive guy, but I liked that she never became a beauty queen. At least the male leads didn't fall for her after a big appearance change.

    1. Que Sera Sera was definitely a temporary makeover. It's been a while since I watched that show, but I seem to recall that her makeover was the second lead's attempt to win her over, and that she went along with it even though she liked the other guy better. That definitely makes it a Faustian Bargain in my book ;)

      I liked who she picked in the end—by the last episode I really believed that he was older and wiser and had overcome his creepy ways.

  2. I also forgot to ask you, what does Suicide Blonde mean? I've heard it before but never knew what it meant. Is is a movie or song reference? Does it mean something like a bombshell? I feel kind of silly for asking but I've always wondered that. There's a Weepies song with that term and I always sing along even though I do't get it. :)

    1. I can tell you're a young whippersnapper ;)

      "Suicide Blonde" was the name of an 1980s song, but the phrase came from a 1940s expression about a woman who had dyed her own hair. (Get it..."died by her own hand"/"dyed by her own hand"?)

    2. I know, I love the scene where she watches him sleeping then he moves his hand all over the bed while his eyes are closed trying to find her. She gives him her hand then he instantly relaxes and sighs, eyes still closed... Despite all that happened prior to that, it's definitely one of the sweetest k drama scenes I've ever watched.

    3. Wow, thanks for explaining the suicide blonde thing! I was raised on films made in the 30s and 40s but I've never heard it in context before. And silly you-I bet we're about the same age. When I read what you write, it's like I'm hearing my sister. I haven't been able to turn her into a drama fan yet but all the literary references you make are the same ones we grew up loving. Didn't you make a ref to Emily of New Moon once? That killed me!

  3. Eun Chan's makeover for the art show party was the first one I had ever seen and I was astounded how beautiful and feminine she looked! Out of all the dramas I've seen since Coffee Prince hers is the makeover I remember and like the most!!! Wish I had an Oppa to do that for me.....

  4. "The From Bad to Worse" - this made me lol, your examples were so spot on. Jan Di, seriously, none of her make overs were attractive in the least! And Eun Chan dressed up for the gallery, I cringe whenever I see a photo of it! It always make me wonder who exactly was in charge of styling them because I would fire that person.

  5. I love these field guides of yours! Especially how you write them. And those Latin names are so funny! You're so smart and witty, I love reading your blog!

  6. I prefer to see more of the 'The Tootsie'. Ma Boy was such a fun show to watch although quite short. it is actually refreshing to see. I have heard that good looking guys makes awful looking females but not-so-good looking guys makes nice looking female, although I only have believe it.

    how about adding to the list the - prince turn to frog makeover? some rich guy turning into some poor and perhaps desperate-for-money guy - somehow it usually seems to happen to men, as least in the chinese and korean dramas that I have seen.

    thanks for the list. have a sweet day

  7. I personally always perk up for the boy makeovers. I guess Eun Chan's first makeover was one: to make her a hot enough "guy" for Han Gyul to be with. Heh. But there's been a couple here and there for guys to try on a new look and get their hairs did. Fashion King, Flower Boy Next Door, and Rooftop Prince all had pretty neat boy makeovers. :-)


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