Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Many Korean dramas are boiled down to romance regardless of genre or material. Every story is related to romance, and it ends with a pile of cliches. Despite people’s disappointment, production teams say that romance is essential for stable viewership. Then can’t a drama without romance never succeed? The answer is no. Some projects received much love than expected by highlighting the individuality rather than romance. This article introduces 5 dramas that fall in love with viewers with solid perfection, not lovers inside the play.
Hot Stove League
It is a rare Korean drama that follows a loser team that prepares for an extraordinary season upon the arrival of their new general manager during the off-season of professional baseball. The story begins as Baek Seung Soo is appointed as the new general manager of Dreams, a cellar-dwelling baseball team. He creates the wind of changes through his unconventional moves, including a trade of the team’s cleanup hitter, performance-based salary negotiation, and hiring a shirker who changed his nationality to avoid military service as the team’s foreign player. Lee Se Young, the youngest head of the management team of Dreams, gets off on a rough patch with Seung Soo over his sudden decisions, but the two gradually learn to have each other’s back working on several projects together. Of course, their relationship is more like a close fraternity than a romance. Hot Stove League was much loved for its realistic portrayal of competitions within the professional sports’ business, excluding romance.
Misaeng: Incomplete Life
Based on the webtoon of the same name, Misaeng: Incomplete Life tells the story of Jang Geu Rae, an intern at a large company called One International, and his officemates. The drama focuses on Jang Geu Rae and those who joined the company at the same time as him and depicts how they adjust to the company in their own way and pursue their dreams with laughter and touching stories. As the story revolved around diverse characters, there were certainly rooms for romance. In the case of Jang Baek Ki and Ahn Young Yi, a hint for romance was spotted here and there in the beginning, but as the drama progressed, the two became good friends who shared concerns. In the end, the drama gained much popularity by drawing sympathy about the joys and sorrows of office life from viewers.
Hwang Shi Mok, a prosecutor who can’t feel emotions, and Han Yeo Jin, a righteous and warm-hearted police officer, join hands to uncover the truth behind a corruption at the prosecutor’s office related to a serial murder case. Stranger received rave reviews for its solid ploy, actors’ passionate performances, and heavy themes. In particular, Jo Seung Woo, who played Hwang Shi Mok, left a deep impression by delicately expressing the character’s mental changes through breathing, speech, and facial expressions despite the difficulty of taking on an emotionless character. In addition, Hwang Shi Mok and Han Yeo Jin increased the level of immersion with their strong “investigation chemistry” that spotlights the strong partnership between them instead of romance.
The Fiery Priest
A Korean-style hero appeared on the small screen. The Fiery Priest is a delightful drama about a priest with anger control disorder chasing a mystery about his mentor’s death. Kim Nam Gil’s presence as a hot-blooded priest who personally chases after crime was terrific. He deftly portrayed the character who shows colorful actions and is quite voluble, and it is refreshing to see him face injustice with his two fists, even in the job of a Catholic priest, and take a jab at the absurdity of reality. The romance seemed to be in the air among Kim Hae Il, Park Kyung Sun, a prosecutor that helps him, and a police officer Seo Seung Ah, but it did not lead to a typical love triangle. Instead, the drama comically depicts the three bickering with each other, giving a big laugh.
Good Manager (aka Chief Kim)
While existing office dramas mainly depicted in-house romances or power struggles among executives, Good Manager shows ordinary employees solving the company’s irrationalities and corruptions, presenting a sense of exhilaration. In particular, Kim Sung Ryong’s performance is invigorating. Outside, he fairly and squarely confronts his superiors who are trying to dismantle the accounting department he works for, while inside, he provides support to his daunted officemates and helps them become a better person. He “flirts” with Yoon Ha Kyung during the process, but their romance does not develop into something that impacts the overall story. The drama comically depicts the main character’s performance and at the same time, satirizes the organization’s bitter side.