Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Woe-TP blues: Eun Sang and Young Do

As a denizen of the Internet, you’re probably familiar with the initialism OTP, which is usually translated as “one true pairing.” People use it when referring to the fandom couple they most desperately want to live happily ever after. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a clever alternative translation that has been making the rounds on Tumblr: “Only Tears and Pain.”

An OTP can give incredible delight if you’re lucky enough to be sucked in by the right one. For me, I Hear Your Voice was a good example: I instantly loved Park Soo Ha and Jang Hye Sung, and every step the show took toward bringing them together left me giddy with fangirl joy. Things could have taken a turn for the worse; unlike most Korean dramas, it wasn’t immediately clear who would actually be the show’s lead couple. (There were even rumors midway through that the writers intended to kill off Soo Ha, which would have also killed me.) But the pairing ultimately worked out, and I was left in a sublimely happy state of OTP realization.

But that’s not always the case. Falling in love with an OTP is like falling in love with a person—it’s unpredictable, and quite often regrettable. Sometimes you’re drawn to a second lead who will absolutely never get the girl, or maybe you even dream of the show’s villain triumphing in the end. And that’s when the tears and pain come into the picture. Thus, a Woe-TP is born.

I knew from the beginning that I was in trouble when it came to the pairing of Young Do and Eun Sang on Heirs. The show clearly has no intention of getting them together, and by rights I probably shouldn’t even want it to.

Young Do is manipulative and cruel, a brutal bully prone to torturing his classmates so horribly that they drop out of school. But I’ve been trained by years of watching Korean dramas to see this as a starting point: There’s lots of precedent out there for evil characters being rehabilitated in the course of a show. After all, Young Do isn’t so different from Joon Pyo in Boys over Flowers. That drama may not have been edgy enough to actually show Joon Pyo doing horrible things on screen, but it showed us the awful events he set into action—including an attempted suicide. In the end, that character got both redemption and the love of his female lead. So why shouldn’t I root for Young Do to get the same? 

It doesn’t help matters that Young Do is the most nuanced figure in the show’s cast of thousands, or that Kim Woo Bin is doing such a amazing job in the role. He’s dangerous and sexy, full of prickly bravado and sardonic comments. But in spite of Young Do’s wicked charm, neither the actor nor the script ever let us forget that there’s a lot going on behind his scowl.

Young Do is painfully lonely, taking his meals at a convenience store because it doesn’t look weird to eat there alone. This is another similarity between his character and BoF’s Joon Pyo, who was shown eating a solitary breakfast on Christmas morning, abandoned by his family and left with only the staff for company. While Joon Pyo always had his three best friends to keep him human, Young Do is estranged from more than just his family. He only hangs out with one person, the dim pretty-boy Myung Soo, and he mostly seems to do this out of habit, or maybe desperation. He sure doesn’t act as if he likes Myung Soo.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s no excuse for the awful things that Young Do has done to the people around him. But I can see his motivation, buried there in an awful past of parental abuse and abandonment: he’s a broken little boy pushing away the good things in life so they don’t have a chance to push him away first.

So why do I want Young Do and Eun Sang to fall in love? Because the actors who play them have great chemistry, for one thing. Kim Woo Bin manufactures sizzling heat in every scene he shares with Park Shin Hye, which isn’t the easiest task: She approaches her male leads with a brittle, standoffish chill that only a select few are capable of thawing out.

There’s also the fact that both the Drama Overlords and I both love stories of opposites attracting. Eun Sang is about as different from Young Do as it’s possible to be: she doesn’t have the material things he’s accustomed to, but she has a mother who loves her and friends who support her. She works hard; he slacks off. She’s kind and warm when he’s cruel and cold.

Eun Sang’s heart is so big that even Young Do’s worst behavior never quite manages to turn her against him. Young Do, in turn, is continually stunned that someone might actually care about him when he can’t manage to care about himself. As far as I’m concerned, the most heartbreaking scene in this show so far was when Eun Sang asked Young Do if he was okay with his dad’s remarriage during episode 11. Young Do was, for once, shocked into silence, left gaping at Eun Sang as if a unicorn had unexpectedly appeared before him. In her, he sees the possibility of unconditional love, something he’s never given or received.

On some level, Eun Sang and Young Do really do have a lot in common: they share an inner well of snark (see Eun Sang reminding Kim Tan of his lowest-in-class status when he screws up an attempt to barricade her in a room, and Young Do mocking Myung Soo for all his one-sided loves). They’re both clear-eyed and perceptive. They saw through each others’ mask almost immediately—Young Do knew Eun Sang wasn’t the new money she claimed to be, and Eun Sang knew Young Do wasn’t the unfeeling monster he wanted to project. They’ve both always seen the world around them for what it is instead of kidding themselves about its heartlessness. With unflinching honestly, Eun Sang told herself that she and Tan would never work out. And Young Do reminds us again and again how aware he is that the person he’s hurting most with his troublemaking behavior is himself.

I’m also aboard this sinking ship because I find the alternative so unpalatable—Kim Tan is reckless and self-centered, and his desire for Eun Sang never feels like a hunger for connection. Instead, it’s a crusade to dominate and possess her. Young Do would listen to Eun Sang in a way it’s clear Kim Tan never will—he genuinely wants to know what she thinks and how she feels, and is forever trying to find ways to make her talk to him. Kim Tan, on the other hand, only wants Eun Sang to listen. (Remember, if you will, the two liquid dumping scenes from last week’s episodes. Bratty Young Do poured his drink all over the floor Eun Sang was washing to get her to talk to him. In contrast, bratty Kim Tan flipped a table full of drinks to force her to shut up. Both boys spend most of their time making Eun Sang’s life harder, but somehow I always find Young Do’s motivation infinitely more appealing.)

If the show let it, I honestly believe the connection and innate understanding between Eun Sang and Young Do could grow into something beautiful. Eun Sang would bring out the best in Young Do, encouraging him to be brave and honest while finding ways to channel his rage. And Young Do would inspire Eun Sang to look beyond her responsibilities, taking her on breathless motorcycle rides and kissing her until she was dizzy. (See what these two do to me!?!?)

Of course Eun Sang and Young Do will never actually get together. Lee Min Ho is too big of a star to be usurped from his leading man position, and the character of Kim Tan has all the hallmarks of a classic Kim Eun Sook romantic hero (i.e., a small brain and an overdeveloped sense of self-importance). But all the logic in the world can’t stop my reaction to the doomed couple of Eun Sang and Young Do.

Blame it on Kim Woo Bin’s piercing gazes and knowing eyebrow quirks, and how believably Young Do is drawn to Eun Sang. They are my current and greatest Woe-TP, and I love them for it.


Woe-TP. Noun. A fandom couple that you want to be together, even though you’re sure it will never happen. Heartache inevitably ensues. Examples include:

—Geum Jan Di and Yoon Ji Hoo, Boys over Flowers. This is the cruelest of all my Woe-TP pairings. BoF was one of the first Korean dramas I ever watched, so I truly believed that Jan Di would eventually realize that kind, supportive Ji Hoo was the right boy for her. Alas, Lee Min Ho won the day, just as he will in Heirs.

—Shin Yoo Bok and Jeong Hyang. Painter of the Wind. These two love and respect each other like few other drama couples. Unfortunately, they were doomed to be subtext—they’re both girls, and Korea isn’t quite ready for that kind of happy ending.

—Lee Soon Yeon and Harry Borrison, I Miss You. This drama’s insane writer squandered cozy intimacy and deep affection in favor of improbable psycho-killer hijinks, doing both characters and actors a tremendous disservice.


  1. I don't agree with Shin Yoo Bok and Jeong Hyang. For me, they were way more than subtext. Subtext for me is something that is invisible for someone who is not looking for it. Those two were not invisible. I don't think anyone could have missed them. Anyway, I hope not.

  2. Kim Woo Bin is acting circles around Lee Min Ho, and even though I keep trying to remind myself that Young Do is a dangerous, violent bully, he is far and away the most interesting member of our central love square. He is breaking my heart with every slight change in facial expression.

    Even though Heirs is improving as a whole (and Kim Tan FINALLY listened to Eun Sang after the whole table-tipping incident), there were two scenes this week that really put the nail in the Kim Tan coffin for me (as if all hope wasn't already gone weeks ago). The first was the scene where he kicked open the door like a rampaging bull, and the second was when he tipped the table. In both cases, it was a self-gratifying act masquerading as "protection" for Eun Sang.

  3. I completely agree with everything you said! I probably would have dropped this show by now if not for Kim Woo Bin. He may be benefitting from the only decent writing on the show, but he's also doing the most with it. He makes everyone around him more interesting. When Park Shin Hye and Lee Min Ho are on screen, I zone out, but both of them seem to develop a personality when they're acting against KWB. And though I've felt that Woe-TP in other dramas, I at least have been somewhat okay with the eventual OTP. But in this case seeing Kim Tan and Eun Sang end up together stirs me about as much as watching paint dry, whereas a Young Do/Eun Sang endgame would make the whole show worthwhile. Too bad it will never happen.

  4. Ugh, I agree with you, and I hate myself for it. I've never had a show make me question my own morals and sanity as much as this one. I'm mad the whole time it's on, but I watch it every damn week. Both guys are unappealing -- Young Do acts like a psychotic bully and Kim Tan is just an a-hole. But Kim Woo Bin..... *sigh* Kim Woo Bin plays the hell out of Young Do. As awful as Young Do is, all his vulnerable moments make me feel bad. The one that stood out for me more than the one from Episode 11 you mentioned is when he told Eun Sang to wait for him while he went off and looked for her mother. She finally came back to see him waiting at the corner and kept asking what he was going to do to her after he found out her secret, then he had that little meltdown/tantrum and lost his appetite. I think I actually let out an "aawwwwww, he's gonna cry!!!"

  5. So true! I don't think that Heirs is that good. I honestly keep watching it just for Young Do and Eun Sang. I really like Lee Min Ho and Park Shin Hye but there is no chemistry between them or I sadly don't feel it.

  6. Kim Woo Bin could conjure up chemistry with a potato! Such is his devastating ability to be... devastating :D

  7. Woe-TP. Love it. Using it.
    I just think it's really interesting how many of us are like WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? There is no good reason why I should like this character. If this were a real person, I would loath him with the fire of a thousand suns. What I think is making all of the difference is Kim Woo Bin's kick ass skills with his eyes. He really knows how to use them to subtly express emotion. He's been using his eyes since the first episode to say one thing even while his mouth says another. Things like "I'm super hopeful right now and really want you to like me. Please like me." His eyes express such hopefulness that we're hopeful right along with him. Lee Min Ho doesn't use his eyes to that effect so I'm not feeling that connection.

  8. I don't completely ship Young Do and Eun Sang. But I do ship your fanfic. I just want Young Do to find happiness someday with a Woman who will be able to hold her own against him and make him into the person we all know is hiding deep (or not so deep now) inside him.

  9. How can you see chemistry between two people when the girl has only fear or pity for the guy???

    I think LMH and PSH are very cute together...and the last scene of ep 14 was so awesome... :)
    Tan is writer's typical male lead but more decent than the previous ones...and his aggressive behaviour comes only when he reacts to certain situations...otherwise he is thoughtful and caring...plus Tan and ES have interacted so much, while YD and ES have never had any decent conversations. So how can we call them compatible???? And the simple answer is: ES loves Tan.

  10. Young Do is too cruel. He's a brute and it seems unfair for Eun Sang to have to tame him. He's been emotionally and physically violent towards her so I just can't go there for the sake of chemistry. IDK. I really like Kim Woo Bin, but Young Do frightens me. I can't handle that kind of character being normalized into a romantic lead and this is something kdramas do all the time and it drives me batty. I mean Young Do shouldn't be with anybody till he gets some help. Nobody stops being a violent bully because they start liking a girl.

    Kim Tan has lots of flaws, but his way of trying to keep Eun Sang is by facing his father and the challenges to their relationship head on even when he is glaringly lacking in solving them. For all his faults I can at least appreciate that when it comes down to it, he wants the world to know him and hopefully accept him as he is, Jeguk's illegitimate second son who is in love with Eun Sang, the daughter of their maid. He may not be shouting it from the rooftops himself, but he doesn't deny it when faced with it. He acknowledges Eun Sang and his mother in ways that really matter to those two women. He acknowledges Eun Sang in front of the whole school, and he's acknowledged his real mother in front of his father, step-mother, and his supposed in-laws. And for all his faults I appreciate that and I think Eun Sang does too because she has had times when she's been ashamed of her own mother, her mother's disability, and her own poverty. And then felt ashamed and guilty for having those feelings in the first place.

    The foundations of Eun Sang and Kim Tan's relationship were really important. She met him after abandoning her mother in Korea and after having been abandoned herself by her sister. She meets Kim Tan who is basically exiled from his family and she sees it for herself when his brother is so harsh to him at the vineyard. She really felt for him then and connected with him then. Kim Tan was as lonely as Young Do, maybe moreso since he was sent off by himself to a different country. Later Eun Sang learns he's an illegitimate child and sees just how hellish his family life is. They do have a strong connection even if they don't have as much on screen chemistry. He always chooses her openly and she always chooses him.

    So yeah LMH is not as good of an actor as KWB, but there is depth in his relationship with Eun Sang too. Also, I kind of dislike this show, but I can't seem to stop watching it. ugh. Half the time I think 'this is so dumb,' but then I keep watching. I already watched ep. 15 and 16 and I was practically pulling out my hair.


    1. My feelings exactly. I continue to watch this show because I enjoy some scenes and characters but overall I find myself yelling and shaking my fist and otherwise wondering why anyone would choose to write a drama this way when there are thousands of interesting things that could be done with these characters.

      I can't really root for Young Do because he has gone too far for me to think that he should be with anyone right now. On the other hand, I find myself incredibly frustrated with Kim Tan at least 50% of the time and at least once in every scene with Eun Sang he does something to annoy me. Are the writers are trying to say that Tan is so bossy because he knows that Eun Sang is in constant danger because of him and he can only protect her if she does what he says (since she is not familiar with their world)? The problem is, it frequently comes off as nothing more than controlling and I get the sense that even after the immediate problem is solved he would continue to be the wrist-grabbing-dragging-away-boyfriend (boooooo). I deeply wish for a scene where Eun Sang says "I understand you care and I will listen to what you have to say, but this 'you go where I tell you' BS is going to stop right now or you won't have a girlfriend anymore."

      On another note, JanDi/JiHoo continue to be my most painful Woe-TP (despite the fact that I had already seen Meteor Garden and knew the ultimate OTP - strangely I never felt this way about Rui or Lei). I actively try not to ship the second lead anymore because I was so sad about that one. I even made up an alternative ending (or I guess I should say an epilogue) to fix the problem because it pained me so much.

    2. Hmm. I agree that Kim Tan always chooses Eun Sang, but the reverse is hardly true. In fact, she spends most of her time hiding things from him, running away from him, and being stiff and suspicious about what he does and why. She was only really relaxed around him when a) she was drunk or b) when she was busy salting away a few fun times before hitting the road again.
      I also think she works better with Young-do: like him, she can be quite calculating, tends to think of things in terms of her own interests and advantage, and is a quite private and solitary person at heart, although pleasant to friends. If she had had his life, I bet she could have been a mean girl with the best of them.

  11. Oh, Amanda, you are genius... I agree with every word you wrote... ES and YD really are so different, but so good for each other. KT and ES are kinda cute, but their "love" simply is not convincing. Because of that I am so sad for YD - he loves, passionately, but he is and will be a loner.Otoke!?! Poor baby...

  12. Seriously, i get overly excited whenever i am talking Eun Sang and Young Do.
    lately i don't even watch tan's scene...
    how about you writing story for them, Amanda?
    i am sure lots of people also want that >.<

    and i also agree with your other couple. especially the third one, i miss you.
    though i am obsessed with childhood love, but Lee soon youn seemed like ungrateful by leaving henry after years of his kindness, even though herny was mean enough to frame her. but still....

  13. I have to agree the Young Do switch would be fun. What they should do is split the drama now and write it both ways with two outcomes. Still, I think the Young Do - ex sister combo could be fun and really wicked to watch.

    As an aside, DramaFever has been very choppy lately. I just found out that logging off the premium account and suffering through the commercial is the way to have decent quality again.

  14. Young-Do always made me shit my pants whenever he was on screen at the first few episodes of this show because he was so effective at playing that bully. But he's also the only reason I keep watching this show. He and Eun Sang understand each other and I can actually see the motivation behind why he likes her. I can't remember why ES and KT are even together. I can't remember what they like about each other. So much time was spent about justifying why they are struggling to be together but not really on the part why they even make a good match. So I am totally down with you on this.

    And I don't know why every time I see YD now, I keep yelling "Duckling!! I love you!!!" He broke my heart in that scene with ES's mom. I'm going to have to watch all his other dramas now.

    And I have your Four Kisses fanfic practically memorized by now, it's so awesome.

  15. The male lead characters are intentionally subverted. The writer has given the k drama audience exactly what they keep asking for-the second lead to get the girl. Kim Tan is really a second lead. The reason YD is the biggest personality is because while technically the second lead, he has first lead tropes. I've watched this show and the viewer comments with amusement thinking if YD WAS the first lead people would be shipping Kim Tan as the second lead.

    So now all the second lead shippers be careful what you wish for lol.

    The whole point of the k drama 'triangles' is that either choice would be a good choice for the character, there is not just one right person in the universe. That is actually one of the good messages from k drama.

    I think the difference between Gu Jun Pyo and Young-do is huge. Gu Jun Pyo AND all of the F4 were at best distant and mean to the other kids because if they weren't the other kids would never ever leave them alone, like rabid stalker fans, give an inch they take a mile. The F4 never sanctioned the really bad stuff, but they just generally left it alone, that was the cruelest part about them. Gu Jun Pyo never changed his attitude toward other people-only people he cared about mattered and screw everyone else. Jan-di and her family just became his people, and he cared about his people.

    Young-do was intentionally sadistic, such a jolly sadist, raised by a jolly sadist. He liked torturing people. Personally, I find the character change does not compute. He no longer bullies people because of Eun-sang? Yeah okay.

    1. He stopped bullying people because he's finally becoming more humane as a result of his feelings for Eun sang. And "love" is magic fix for this guy because this is something he has never been given since his mother left.

  16. Of all the commentaries that I have read on line yours capture my feelings EXACTLY!!! It's like you read my mind. BOF was also one of the first KDramas I ever watched and I was super disappointed that LMH ended up with the girl. Now after dedicating years to watching KDramas, I know better. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really enjoyed reading them.

  17. I really enjoyed reading this. feeling the same way you did I have googled my sentiment and your piece came up :) agree with whatever you said. but I also admire k-drama writers for handing over to us and the girl/boy concerned two love options with different merits. I think it makes the drama more realistic and more thought provoking about relationships, love, chemistry etc.

  18. ahhh i love young do why cant they just be together and have load of babies arghhhhh

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  21. Oh my goodness. I know I'm late to the party, but I'm so glad I found this. I concur with your thoughts. This pairing has more chemistry and is more relatable, for one. Young Do is at least honest in his character and intentions. He is what and who he says he is and doesn't pretend to anything else, whereas Tan, though I had sympathy for him at first, turned into Jun-Pyo lite. Seriously, once he got back to Korea he became a shadow of the self he tried to be in the states. It was like watching a puppet take him over. In fact, I kept talking to my husband, complaining about his character and bemoaning how much like Boys Over Flowers the show had become. The power imbalance, the controlling personality, the push over the strong girl became...it was a disaster. Young Do is being compared to Jun Pyo a lot for his bullying, but in reality the more insidious character traits belong to Tan and I am NOT HERE FOR IT. The whole thing has just become a gross train wreck I'm unable to look away from, like BOF, while I root for a character who is not going to get the love he needs and deserves and a girl who is too stupid to put her foot down and MEAN IT with the ML, AGAIN. UGH.

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