Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rec List: BFF Couples

Last week’s contrasting posts—one about the problem of consent in Asian dramas, the other about the coziest lead pairing of 2013 thus far—got me thinking about my favorite kind of Kdrama couple: the best friends.

Some dramas revolve around lovers who have exactly one thing in common: mutual attraction. Take Boys over Flowers. What do Jan Di and Jun Pyo talk about when they’re by themselves? Not much, beyond whatever obstacle is currently keeping them apart. Their union is based solely on a whim that’s heightened by the forbidden-fruit thrill of his mother’s objections to their relationship. The hardest work of their romance—building something lasting and real that can weather the difficulties of life—is still ahead of them.

But best friend couples, in life and in drama, already share a meaningful connection; they start out spending time together because they like and respect each other. When they fall in love, it’s with another human being, not just a fantasy of what someone would be like as a mate. And being best friends allows them to step outside the traditional roles that define the interactions between so many Kdrama lovers. BFF guys are hardly ever physically aggressive with BFF girls, and they don’t force kisses on them. In turn, BFF girls aren’t modest or retiring; they are simply themselves.

Here’s a brief catalog of the BFF couples I’ve enjoyed most.

Coffee Prince
As frequent readers of this blog know, my love for Coffee Prince knows no bounds. And that’s mostly thanks to the relationship of its leads: Choi Han Gyul and Go Eun Chan are the ultimate best friend couple. Even before their romance begins, they have long, candid conversations about their lives and dreams. They goof off together, work together, and share a common goal—the success of Han Gyul’s coffee shop. All this goodwill and kindness makes their eventual romance one of the most powerful I’ve ever seen. No other Kdrama couple is as connected this one—in every scene they share, their awareness of each other is like a crackling live wire. Pulled together by friendship, there’s no obstacle can keep them apart.

BFF-iest scene: Episode 3’s slumber party at Han Gyul’s house

Bestie level: Meat and salt

In Time with You
When this show begins, Chen You Qing and Li Da Ren have been best friends for over a decade, and their relationship has remained a key part of their lives even as they’ve dated other people. They’re together through the good and bad, whether that means picking a dress for a little sister who’s impossible to please or driving all night to provide a shoulder for crying on. They represent home to each other just as surely as their own families do, and when they finally admit their feelings they evolve into drama’s most gentle lovers.

BFF-iest scene: The knowing glances and silent understandings of the lead couple’s joint vacation in episode 5

Bestie level: Matt and Ben

Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Gender-bending shows are especially ripe for best-friend pairings. Instead of being separated by the old-fashioned roles ascribed to men and women, gender-bending leads meet on equal footing as peers and spend time together as people before they’re lovers. Sungkyunkwan Scandal’s OTP is among the most epic of these cross-dressing delights—he’s a rigidly principled scholar from powerful family; she’s a slightly smart-alecky poor girl who’s not afraid to break the rules to get what she wants, even if it means dressing as a boy. They form an unbreakable friendship as classmates at a prestigious university. And when the truth about the female lead’s gender is revealed, that friendship turns into one of the swooniest romances Korean drama has ever produced.

BFF-iest scene: The archery lessons in episode 4

Bestie level: Wedding dresses and Spanx

Answer Me 1997
Shi Won and Yoon Jae fit together so perfectly it actually took me a while to realize they weren’t brother and sister. Having grown up side by side, they know every detail about each other’s life—from first periods to family tragedies. Their shared history finally grows into a romantic relationship but never moves away from the casual intimacy they shared as children.

BFF-iest scene: Shi Won’s attempts to make Yoon Jae laugh at his parents’ funeral in episode 1

Bestie level: Dorothy and Rose

I Hear Your Voice
Who needs telepathy when your leads are as simpatico as these two? Their easy, drama-less camaraderie suffuses the show, filling all its voids with cozy, shared domestic rituals. When not dodging murderous bad guys, this pairing is building a strong friendship that seamlessly evolves into a cuddly romance.

BFF-iest scene: All those homey, shared dinners

Bestie level: Macaroni and cheese

Personal Taste
In a novel spin on the cross-dressing drama, Personal Taste’s male lead pretends to be gay so he can move into a woman’s house and learn its architectural secrets. (This is less kinky than it sounds, unfortunately.) Even as Kae In struggles with a massive crush on her tenant, the cohabitans grow to understand and appreciate each other for what they are—a fussily well-dressed guy and an over-eager girl with a penchant for power tools.

BFF-iest scene: Lounging on the couch in episode 4

Bestie level: Lane and Rory

I Need Romance 2012
Friends with benefits Yeol Mae and Suk Hyun lived together since they were teenagers, back when their moms built a conjoined house. They constantly bicker and battle but can never bring themselves to split up or get together for real. As a viewer, I never wanted them to do either—they were more like family members than lovers and their relationship was so incredibly important to their happiness that a romance seemed risky.

BFF-iest scene: When Yeol Mae leaves Suk Hyun alone to recover from his stormy mood, just as he wants her to

Bestie level: Willow and Zander

Painter of the Wind
When Shin Yoon Bok is forced to hide her gender to attend the Joseon era’s greatest academy for painters, the man who starts off as her mentor ends up as something more—her greatest companion, guide, and friend. Together, they risk their lives to learn more about art and the world around them. As far as I’m concerned, their romance didn’t work as well as their friendship. They just weren’t compatible on a physical level (he’s huge and she’s tiny), and Shin Yoon Bok’s amazing chemistry with her gisaeng counterpart left me convinced she was too into girls to need a male lead. (That doesn’t make the show any less of a joy to watch, though.)

BFF-iest scene: Episode 6’s painting adventures

Bestie level: Timmy and Lassie

(P.S.: I don't have a Thursday post this week, as I’m only partway through Can We Get Married and am too meh about Monstar to bother watching its ending.)


  1. Admit it Amanda, you just wanted an excuse to write about Coffee Prince again isn't it ;P? I think Eun Chan & Han Kyul are the all-time best pair in dramaland. And I feel like re-watching episodes of the Golden Girls now!

    1. But who needs an excuse to write about Coffee Prince? ;) It's like a compulsion for me at this point.

      I could always go for some Golden Girls. Even all these years later, it's still so funny.

  2. Definitely a Coffee Prince excuse! Not that any of us mind ;) After that one though, In Time With You was very nearly perfect - all because of that friendship. I never could finish INR2012 but maybe sometime I'll give it a try once more.

    1. I can see how INR2012 would be hard to get through. The leads' relationship seemed the most friend-y of all the ones I've listed here—which is probably why I had a case of second lead syndrome that was so bad it almost proved fatal.

      I've been thinking about you in the run-up to Kcon. Have fun...and when you get back, you better write multiple, epic posts about the trip and everything you do there.

  3. Hey, another Coffee Prince reference? Bring it on! I love all the new posts and insights but I'm just as happy to open this blog on any Tuesday morning and be treated to another scene of Han Gyul and Eun Chan. They always inspire such happy memories. And if it happens to be just Han Gyul... I can suffer through that, too. ;) Gong Yoo is perfection but I always go back to his mop top days of CP.

    1. Thank you for the post. I've often wondered about In Time With You. The description has never covinced me to start watching but something I can't put my finger on has always kept it in the back of my mind when choosing my next drama. It's high priority now. :)

    2. Definitely watch In Time With You. It's fantastic, one of the best dramas I've seen.

  4. This is something I've always felt about these dramas, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Your example of Boys over Flowers is spot-on. In fact, we KNOW that they have nothing to talk about because when they're together, they always either stare at each other in silence or talk about their relationship. You can't do that for 50 years of marriage!

    What bothered me most about Personal Taste was that they almost completely abandoned that comfortable friendship once they entered the romance phase of the show. Why raise our hopes if you're just going to sit in silence and cry anyway?

    And, as usual, you make me wonder why I'm not watching Coffee Prince again RIGHT NOW.

    1. But without all the sitting in silence and crying, most Dramas would be like three episodes long. So let's hope they never get rid of it altogether ;)

      Oh, Coffee Prince. I wish I knew how to quit you. (But not really, because I love you too much for that business.)

  5. Amanda,

    I agree about Coffee Prince being the absolute best friends first K-Drama. I absolutely adore it. But I also love the ones (Coffee Prince still included) that once they are in love they are in sync with each other no matter what happens. Like in My Lovely Kim Sam Soon when he goes away and doesn't come back for a long time (one version has it 2 months, another has it being 2 years). Another one with Yoon Eun Hye that I really love is Goong (Princess Hours). Even though the last episode was completely out of sync with the rest of the drama it showed their love stood the test of time. I also loved Sungkyunkwan Scandal and King 2 Hearts for some of the same reasons.

    1. I definitely agree—separation doesn't phase these couples, which is one of the things that make them so great. (Have you ever watched Australian TV? Tess and Nick from McLeod's Daughters are my favorite BFF couples. As the show is crazy soap opera-y, they go through all sorts of drama but never lose that easy camaraderie.)

  6. The friendships in dramas are often better than the romances. In In Time With You, and 9 Ends 2 Outs as well, they were such good friends that I half wanted them to just stay that way, because once the romance comes into it, there's a chance of losing that easy friendship. Ah, now I feel like watching In Time With You again.

    The Boys Over Flowers comment is so accurate. If his Mum had just left them alone, they would have broken up on their own.

  7. I've been a lurker of your blog for a while now and thoroughly enjoy it! So first, many thanks.

    I couldn't resist this thread because I'm now in the middle of The Innocent Man and believe the life long friendship between Cho Ko and Jae Gil should be considered. Though neither portray the protagonist, their interaction is refreshing in the middle of the amnesia-ridden slow-moving angst. I find myself looking for them as the episodes continue. It's a bit predictable, but they do the under-developed characters well.

    1. You're right—those two are a great BFF couple. (I was always a little weirded out by the age difference between them, which is probably whey they didn't occur to me for this list.) Nice Guy is a good show... I hope you enjoy the rest!

  8. ,the ultimate k drama best friend/couple for me would be the LJJ and Soo Ae from 9 ends 2 out..watching that drama made me wish very much to have a boy-friend like Hyuntae.. :)

    It didn't help that he was played by LJJ...

    1. I totally agree and that's exactly how I felt when I finished watching it!

      Amanda, you should really check out 9 End 2 Outs. Lee Jung Jin and Soo Ae have great chemistry and maturity. I think this drama's right up your alley. :)

  9. I love this post! But as soon as I saw the Coffee Prince pictured I kind of squealed, so I am biased too.

  10. Great post! I would however say regarding Jun Pyo and JanDi's relationship: What would they talk about? There are plenty of strong relationships between couples that do not feel the need to hash out the meaning of life. Just because some of us think that we have to have a partner to discuss the meaning of life with, not everyone is like that. Jun Pyo and JanDi, they are doers, not thinkers, obviously lol. They are not going to hash over crit theory of a book or film. They will have plenty to talk about between their careers, families and friends, because that is what is important to them. And they will bicker. Actually some of the strongest relationships I have ever seen are with couples that bicker like those two do-and those coupleshave the most long lasting relationships I know of. What people like me see as confrontation and stressful bickering, other people see as open dialogue and, well, they get off on it too. That's my 2 cents anyway.

  11. How do you write such amazing posts?? Like seriously, I could read your blog all day long! I have so much fun reading your posts! I wish I could write like you... Anyway, thanks for the amazing blog! :D

  12. This is my first time reading your blog, but I love best friend couples so let me be bold enough to suggest watching 9 End 2 out. Oh what an amazing drama it was, the friendship is just amazing. This little drama passed under the radar for many, I only got the chance to indulge in this amazingness because dramabeans did an overview of it and when I read best friends, I knew I had to check it out. And I wasn't disappointed, made me wish I had a best friend for 30 years.