Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Kdrama Kisses: A Field Guide

Korean dramas have turned me into a connoisseur of kisses.

Before my obsession began, I had probably seen tens of thousands of kisses on television and in movies. But those were mostly casual, American-style kisses, ones that fit into the plot but didn’t mean much of anything in the relationship being presented. They were usually understood to be the first step toward a more physical relationship, not the culmination of a love story.

Kdrama kisses are something else entirely: They’re serious, soul-stirring events that have real meaning and profound significance to the characters involved. They’re the main attraction, not a relationship stage to move beyond. They’re at the heart of every kdrama romance, the scene you eagerly anticipate for five, ten, or even twenty episodes. Kdrama kisses are never blasé or offhand. And they’re about as rare as unicorns, which makes them even more special.

They do, however, come in some standard varieties.

The swirlie 
(Kissus carsickus)

As seen in: Flower Boy Next Door, episode 16

Natural habitat: Shows in need of a ratings bump

Distinguishing features: Spinning camera work, surging strings, and open-mouthed intensity

In Korean dramas, a kiss is never just a kiss. It’s an opportunity for the show’s creators to indulge in all sorts of flashy cinematography—rapid cuts, slow-motion pans, and close ups so incredibly close you can actually count the pores on Lee Min Ho’s nose. The Swirlie is the king of all these showy techniques: complicated and time-consuming to film, it encourages maximum fangirl insanity by capturing the kiss at every possible angle.

The lip press
(Kissus immaturicus)

As seen in: Boys over Flowers, episode 9

Natural habitat: Dramas intended for younger audiences

Distinguishing features: Extreme brevity, closed mouths, utter stillness of both parties

In recent years, the Kdrama lip press has become an increasingly endangered species. Once the centerpiece of every love story on Korean television (see, for example, Autumn in My Heart), it is now primarily found in grown-up approved shows intended for tweens and teens.

The accidental kiss 
(Kissus oopsicus)

As seen in: You’re Beautiful, episode 1

Natural habitat: Trendy rom-coms

Distinguishing characteristics: Accident-prone heroines; utter lack of intent followed by absurd levels of seriousness

We’ve established that it’s impossible to fall in Korea without landing on someone else’s lips. This explains why dramas are always featuring accidental lip-brushes, but it doesn’t really address why these faux-pas are actually considered to be real kisses. I’m sure it would be pretty awkward to suddenly find yourself pressed face-to-face against your crush, but that’s a little different from deciding to kiss him or her.

The near-miss kiss 
(Kissus butyouwerethisfriggingclosus)

As seen in: I Miss You, episode 8

Natural habitat: Shows that like to tease (and/or torture)

Distinguishing characteristics: Exquisite buildup, lack of consummation, screaming viewers

The cruelest of all Kdrama kisses, the near-miss kiss is an excruciating study in frustration. More than any other kind of drama skinship, its success requires a perfectly established mood of intimacy and inevitability. And just when you’re sure the kiss is finally, finally, going to happen, just when your breath catches in the back of your throat with anticipation, the phone rings. Or the wacky sageuk headgear gets in the way. Or somebody backs out. Whatever their cause, there should be a law against these abortive kisses.

The light as a feather, stiff as a board kiss  
(Kissus awkwardus)

As seen in: Heartstrings, episode 15

Natural habitat: Any show starring youthful actors who have yet to figure out this whole “kissing” thing, possibly on either a professional or personal level

Distinguishing characteristics: pursed lips, stick-straight bodies, expressions tinged with fear and/or discomfort

While Kdrama males are generally the initiators of kisses, it takes two to tango. Even the most skilled on-screen kisser can be thwarted by a female lead who can’t drum up any enthusiasm for the proceedings, as is amply reflected in nearly every Park Shin Hye drama. (Although the final Flower Boy Next Door kiss saw improvement on this front, she still seems too terrified to move whenever she has the enviable task of being close to her male lead.)

The theme kiss 
(Kissus watercoolerus)

As seen in: That Winter, the Wind Blows, episode 4

Natural habitat: Romances that want press coverage

Distinguishing characteristics: A buzz-worthy hook, memorable props

Whether the game is over, the cola has hit the fan, or the damn cotton candy is in the way, these kisses are tailor-made for entertainment journalists looking for an easy score. They are to dramas what sound bites are to political campaigns: repeatable calling cards that stick in people’s minds.

The cable kiss 
(Kissus smuticus)

As seen in: I Need Romance 2012, episode 3

Natural habitat: Cable, where rules are bent and modesty goes out the window

Distinguishing characteristic: A clear awareness of the existence of sex

Some of Korea’s cable channels are using kisses to set themselves apart from the traditional networks. While sixteen episodes of a mainstream drama might pass by with nothing more than a peck, cable shows are prone to open with hot makeout sessions up against the front door in the female lead’s house. Thanks to steamy locales (finally, someone realized you can do more than just brood in the shower!), racy undercurrents, and mature execution, their kisses are raising the bar for Kdrama skinship.

The “I’ll eat you up” kiss
(Kissus cannibalicus)

As seen in: Me too, Flower, episode 6

Natural habitat: Rom coms that fancy themselves edgy

Distinguishing characteristics: Tongue, desperation verging on violence

Known for its ferocity and visceral passion, this kiss is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the lip press. Only a few specialist actors are able to channel the required degree of wild abandon on film—among the younger drama set, its official spokespeople are Yoon Si Yoon and Yoon Eun Hye, whose on-screen kisses are known for leaving viewers woozy and overheated. (Here’s hoping that they never star in a drama together; their kisses would probably be hot enough to unleash apocalyptic climate change.)

Bystanders wanting to avoid being splattered with slobber are encouraged to don rain gear.

The forehead kiss
(Kissus littlegirlus)

As seen in: Nice Guy, episode 5

Natural habitat: All dramas depicting relationships between men and women

Distinguishing characteristics: Tender adoration, take-charge guys

In the Western hemisphere this kiss is largely reserved for parent-child interactions. In the East, however, it’s a romantic gesture intended to convey how much a woman is cherished by her suitor. Sweet, but as far as I’m concerned it’s also the kiss equivalent of a Kdrama wrist grab: it’s fully initiated and controlled by one party, rather than being a mutual sign of affection.

(P.S.: I was thinking of including video clips of each kiss that I’ve scavenged from YouTube, but that’s a lot of work with Blogger. With Tumblr, on the other hand, it’s easy peasy. So I’ll be posting one clip per day there, if you want to check them out.)


  1. This was one of the most hilarious things I've ever read!My god how in the world did you come up with those names?Kissus cannibalicus!!Lmao...Awesome,awesome,awesome! :)

  2. ,if we're going by kisses named after stars, I have a bit of a list. To name a few, the Gu Hye Sun kiss which is a close cousin to the Park Shin Hye Kiss, Yoon Eun Hye kiss which is the sister of Yoon Si Yoon's kiss, the younger brother of the Kang Ji Wan kiss.. And something I've heard but not seen, the Rain kiss aka eat my partners lips of her face..

    1. So does that make Kang Ji Wan's kiss uncle to Yoon Eun Hye's kiss? That's creepy, because they've kissed ;)

  3. Kissus butyouwerethisfriggingclosus - Sheeeeeeer torture!! And sadly, they're usually predictable. Most of these I just know something is going to interrupt them well before the actual near-miss. When it's placed too early in a show, or you know they're not the OTP.. Still, they can turn a girl on 10x more than any lip press or accidental kiss. And at least some half of them include real acknowledgement of sexual tension. Might even be enough to get me another 5-10 eps waiting for the REAL one to happen.

    1. The near-miss kiss in I Miss You was literally the only reason I made it through to the end of the show. I wanted them to redeem Yoo Seung Ho so badly...

      Somehow those near-misses really are sexier than almost every other kind of Kdrama kiss. I think it's because they take their time with it and focus on building the mood. That Winter the Wind Blows is full of them. Who knew that there's nothing hotter than a near-sibiling, near-miss kiss? =X

    2. Has anyone watched the Naked Kitchen? The Ju Ji-hoon Kiss is right up there with Yoon Si Yoon's. the makeout session at the gallery has the not quite kiss thing going that really builds up the sexual tension between the two leads.

  4. hahahhah!

    Love the scientific names:
    Kissus carsickus
    Kissus immaturicus
    Kissus oopsicus
    Kissus butyouwerethisfriggingclosus
    Kissus awkwardus
    Kissus watercoolerus
    Kissus smuticus
    Kissus cannibalicus
    Kissus littlegirlus

    What a fun read. Thanks!

    1. In my experience, fake Latin names never fail to get a laugh ;)

      I'm glad you liked the post!

  5. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful! I laughed until I near 'bout cried reading this! All the "scientific" names, habitats, characteristics....I wish my brain could come up with something this funny :)

  6. Amanda, wonderful as usual. I saw it on Twitter before your weekly update of the blog and I wondered if you had more than one blog! Anyway, really laughed! Keep up the good work. We really appreciate it.

    Can't wait for the next episode of That Winter the Wind Blows. She HAS to know he isn't her brother, just HAS to. I'm also watching Level 7 Civil Servant and not all that excited about it. I finished up Lovers and it was so wonderful. Now I've started Lovers in Prague. Hope it's as good as Lovers and Lovers in Paris were.

    1. When I write something that's sort of general interest (as opposed to something that's insane, obscene, and/or contingent on Amanda-logic), I generally post it on the news site Soompi as well as here. That must be what you saw on Twitter—the Soompi version was ready before mine.

      I'm obsessed with That Winter the Wind Blows. For a while I thought she knew he wasn't her brother from the very beginning—when they first met after the deception started, the show cut to a clip of him talking to her as her brother's friend, as if she'd recognized his voice. But I guess that mustn't be the case, or she would have been looking for her real brother by now. All I know for sure is that I want some real kissing between those two, and stat ;)

  7. Excellent, excellent post!!! I enjoyed it thoroughly and had a good laugh. Your wit is impeccable!


    SO! MUCH!

    Fabulous, brilliant and super witty - I think you might've outdone yourself, Amanda!!! :D I can't even pick one thing that I like more than the rest, it's all equally spot-on and giggle-inducing. Love! :D

  9. Are there no Picusnicus kissus in drama land? (picnic kiss)

    1. I initially read this quickly and thought you said "piscine": having the characteristics of a fish. Now that I haven't seen yet. (A drama based on the movie Splash sounds like a great idea, though!)

  10. As always, excellent post! I was dying laughing! I was shocked when I first started watching KD and the most "action" I saw in a drama was a kiss (maybe two, if I was lucky). But then I started to pay attention to all the subtleties happening in the stories and it made every little hand hold, hug, "wrist grab" (hehe) so much sweeter! I love how you've broken them down. I laughed the hardest at the "Kissus Carsickus". Hilarious! You are right- if Yoon Si Yoon and Yoon Eun Hye ever filmed a drama together it had better be on cable and people had better brace themselves because it is going to be HOT! Although I must say, some of the scenes between her and Park Yoochun in I Miss You were pretty steamy. 。◕‿◕。 I wish I knew what was up with Park Shin Hye though. I love her acting so much but when it comes to kissing she's a total flop. It kills me. Ruins every scene. And she gets the CUTEST boys to kiss too! UGH! (>д<)

    1. It's funny how Kdrama kisses work—they're incredibly compelling because they're taken so seriously by the show.

      I think Yoon Si Yoon and Yoon Eun Hye should run kissing classes for their fellow actors. They're so good it puts everyone else to shame, and it's a pity they don't get to use their skills more often. (Wow. That's a fan fiction waiting to happen, isn't it?)

  11. Hahaha, I love this!
    "Kissus carsickus" As seen in Romeo + Juliet, Bridget Jones's Diary
    "Only a few specialist actors are able to channel the required degree of wild abandon on film" LOLLLLLLLLL. I wanna add "The kiss that might be real" aka "Kissus Veritus" for kisses between co-stars who then start dating, like with City Hunter and Queen in Hyun's Man.


    Okay, so this is the best ever. You make the best lists.

  13. Amanda,

    I have a complaint! I love these posts where we get to respond about anything but I don't like that your side bar about episodes you are watching is all one-sided. I really wish there was a way we could respond and add our thoughts on them as well. I just love them! Don't get me wrong, I love all your posts. But is there a way?

    1. This bugs me too, and I've tried lots of different strategies to fix it. The only alternative I've come up with is moving the sidebar content to something like Tumblr or Twitter, but if it was on Tumblr it couldn't be here, and if it was on Twitter it would have to be short :b So I guess we're stuck as we are...

    2. I knew there had to be a reason or you would have already done it. Why did you have to tell me Jo In-Sung was in a smutty movie? Now, I HAVE to watch. His sexiness grows leaps and bounds (no smutty pun intended) with every episode of TWTWB!

  14. LOL!! LOVE THIS POST! Did you do a review on Baker King, are only random thoughts on them? I was curious whether the show is worth watching. I feel the same about PSH, though I was told it was because the character that she plays would naturally kiss the way she kisses on the scenes. I just don't buy it. She's a great actress, just the kiss... can we just say, awkwardus?

    1. Thanks :) I haven't finished watching Baker King yet, but when I'm done I'll post a real review of the show. So far I like it...it's cheesy but amusing, and you can't find a show with a hotter pair of male leads.

  15. oopss I meant.. or only did random thoughts on them...

  16. Hahahaha! I love this post! Your kisses break down are spot on!

  17. Oh my gosh! You had me laughing so hard. Thanks for this.

  18. Absolutely loved this. You nailed them all! And reminded me why I need to rewatch INR2012!

  19. Omg this list is so funny but yet so true. I can't even look at kissing especially in US shows the same. I'm like eww why are they kissing so much.
    Thank you Kdrama gods for turning me into a kindergardener!!!

  20. Hahahahaha... OMG,your theory of kissing in K-dramas is hilarious. I love this post sooooooooo much... Thank you.
    In my opinion, the best kiss is definitely from Flover Boy Ramyen Shop,episode 10 or 11 - Kissus fantasticus (The boy is so young but I felt tingling in my stomach) What do you think? What is the best kiss in K-dramas?

    1. YES! Totally agree! Flower Boy Ramyen Shop end of Ep10 & beginning of Ep11. Honey, that red-haired boy could slap some lips on that girl. Saw the kiss on you-tube, found out what drama & watched ep 1-3 then zoomed to 10&11 for that kiss. Check out Nice Guy too! Pure angst and delicious kissing in ep13/14. Shame on me. I'm watching tons of Kdrama... totally addicted to the romance, kisses, emotions, story, and camera work. Hey, My Love From Another Star is amazing too. (I'm Catlucker aka Cathy)

  21. Absolutely funny, I have to share this w/ my cousins who love K-drama ^_^

  22. Love this post, got me laughing hard. Will you please update your "latin" labels and add Doo Min Joon and Cheong Song Yi's out-of-this-world-alien-saliva-melts-in-the-mouth-kiss in YFAS, pretty please? I would love to hear how you describe it. :-D

  23. well written exposition on k- drama kisses with appropriate references and illustrations. an enjoyeable read. maybe you can do one on K drama hugs - the supreme one being the back hug? fighting!

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