Cinderella Trope Dramas (Rich Guy/ Poor Girl)
As a punishment to myself for abandoning this blog for so long, I challenged myself with coming up with the hardest recommendation list in Hallyu - Rich guy/ Poor girl tropes.
For people not familiar with K-dramas, this is the fuel on which drama land runs. The men are almost always rich. Almost always geniuses, or exceptionally good at whatever it is they do. They are always handsome. Always. Or we wouldn't be here.
So I had to create some rules for this list, otherwise, this list would be infinite.
The class difference has be essential to the plot. So dramas like Coffee Prince and Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, where yes, he is rich, but the plot would most likely work even if he wasn't, do not count.
Also, dramas like Rooftop Prince and Shopping King Louis, where he doesn't have access to his wealth for whatever reason, also do not count.
We want swoony, over the top, exaggerated expressions of love, ridiculous parents or grandparents that either want them apart or together and angsty pain because society does not want them together because of the difference in class.
*This is no particular order.
Boys Over Flowers (2009)
With that last description, the first drama to probably pop into your head was this one.
The quintessential Cinderella drama that K-drama has blessed (cursed?) us with.
Poor Girl accidentally finds her way into richest school in the country, A series of unfortunate events leads to her giving Rich boy a kick to the face. Rich boy with a questionable masochist kink falls for girl.
It is 25+ hours of swoony, over the top, angsty crack cocaine. And you either love it, or hate it, or if you're like me, you love to hate watch it.
Either way, there isn't a RB/PG list that does not recommend this drama, and for good reason. There's a private jet ride, a swoony helicopter ride confession, a literal ball, makeovers, the female lead works and dresses as a maid for a good bit (the latter episodes truly go off the rails, lol), a truly evil rich mother and the way the school reacted to their relationship? Sickening. Which is truly all you want from this genre.
Before there was Gu Jun-Pyo of Boys Over Flowers, there was His Royal Highness (and ass-ness), Crown Prince Lee Shin.
I actually re-watched this drama to see if it held up to the hype in my head. And it surprisingly did. Of course, it looks very dated now, especially if you're now used to the clean, crisp look of k-dramas, but remember, this was made in 2006. And remember to also leave all senses of feminism by the door, if you don't want to break your screen. This is a 2006 drama, about a conservative royal family.
Now that all those disclaimers are out of the way, this is a literal Cinderella drama. Many years ago, a poor man saved a King's life. In return, the King promises that his grandson would marry the man's granddaughter. After many years and tragedies pass, its time for the debt to be paid. Except the Crown Prince is in love with someone else. And the promised bride is the FARTHEST thing from Princess material. Let the hijinks ensue.
Prince Lee Shin wrote the book on how to be a royal douchebag. He is cold, aloof and outrightly mean for majority of the drama. But then he'd do something sweet, and your heart can't help but beat faster. And you start to see him the way Chae-Kyung (the lead female) sees him, and you can't help but pity him a little. And while your brain is telling you she's just suffering from Stockholm syndrome, you can't help but root for them because she loves him so much, and the way he holds her in the dead of the night when no one else can see, you know that deep, deep, deep, deep inside, he really loves her too.
Delightful Girl Choon Hyang (2005)
I know I am throwing some really old dramas at you guys, but you have to understand, these were the hey-days of the Cinderella tropes. With modern sensibilities, some of these plot lines just won't fly anymore. Which is definitely a good thing. These male leads need to start bringing more than just money, a fine face and a shitty attitude to the table.
Delightful girl has such a special place in my heart. It was written by my favorite writing pair, the Hong Sisters. They also wrote My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Hwayugi, Hotel Del Luna, Master's Sun, Greatest Love and You're beautiful. And this drama was their first drama.
The drama is a loose adaptation of a Korean folktale 'The Legend of ChoonHyang' which is about a girl who only loves one man, despite all the obstacles, mainly in the form of another man being obsessed with her. So we have Lee Mong Ryong who is known for his poor grades and constant fighting, and Sung Choon Hyang who is the top student in her school having to get married (yay! contract marriage trope) due to a wild misunderstanding. There are fights, and contracts, and noonas who would not go away despite the object of their affection being married and of course, the crazy, insane, obsessed second lead, Byun Hak Do, who would stop at no length to have Choon Hyang for himself.
Lee Mong-Ryong is not the richest male lead in k-drama land, infact the second lead is richer than him, but he is the son of the Chief of Police and he is much richer than our poor Cinderella. Her lack of wealth is important not only for the plot with Mong-Ryong, but also with the second lead, Byun Hak Do.
Talking about Byun Hak Do makes my blood BOIL, so I'm not going to. I'd just say, he's the father of all stalkerish, constantly crosses the line, can't take no for an answer, needs to be in a mental institution, second leads.
So we'd talk about Mong Ryong instead, who starts out as a jerky little shit who spends way too much pursuing another woman, but grows up into the one of the best men there ever were. (Yes, there is a time skip in this drama.) Watching him go from being a spoilt, pompous little brat into an hero of a lawyer who fights for his love, SWOON.
Truly love this show.
The Heirs (2013)
Nobody does tortured angsty poor little rich boy better than Lee Min Ho. Nobody.
Most people know I have a complicated relationship with this drama (I tend to have a complicated relationship with most Kim Eun Sook dramas). But I would never deny that the woman has unlocked the secret on how to inject crack into her dramas. It's addictive, sugary, compelling... and it's usually bad for you.
Heirs has a simple (?) plot: A series of very unfortunate events leads to a maid's daughter going to school with the boss's son.
There are tragic back stories, there are secret birth plots, there are angsty bromances, there are horrible parental figures, there are flashy gifts and threats of being cut off financially, there are arrogant and pompous second leads, the entire school is filled with chaebols and there are a migraine-inducing amount of wrist-grabbing.
All in all, this makes for a very addictive watch. You might roll your eyes a couple of times, and question every parental decision made in the drama, but you would most likely be compelled to see this to the end, once you start (assuming you get past the English speaking scenes in the beginning).
Secret Garden (2010)
This is probably my favorite Kim Eun Sook drama.
This is actually a body switching drama. Yes, the main leads spend a considerable amount of time in each other's bodies (but not enough, if you ask me).
But Kim Joo Won NEVER lets you forget that he is rich. Not even for a second. he was rude, and aloof, and cold, and so used to getting his way there were moments I seriously wanted to knock his head because of how jerky he was.
But the thing about these aloof, cold male leads, is that it only makes it more delicious and humbling when they end up falling in love. Because boy, do they fall.
The girl is a poor uneducated orphan, who works as a Stunt woman. Kim Joo Won is so affronted at the idea of falling for her, that he blames her for bewitching him. That's how ridiculous it is.
But the drama is definitely a good watch. Also, there's baby Lee Jong Suk who is acting as a gay musical genius. He's so cute! There are the hilarious body-switiching hijinks, usual RB/PG scenes especially the dreaded wrist grabbing (Answer me this, Writer Kim Eun Sook-nim, why is the female lead a trained taekwando expert who could fight off multiple men, but she had problems when this weakling Kim Joo Won grabbed her wrists. Hmmmn? Just answer this one question, Writer-nim? -_-)
Shining Inheritance (2009)
Another actor that does the spoilt, rude, aggravating, rich jerk well? Lee Seung Gi. While Lee Min Ho plays his rich boy with angst from the start, that you never really hate his character, more like pity him, Lee Seung Gi goes all out on the jerky side that you find yourself truly hating him. But then he plays the redemption so earnestly, and he falls so completely, and matures so beautifully, you find yourself forgiving him and rooting for him. It's that same magic he brings to Shining Inheritance.
Disclaimer: This is a makjang.
Eun Sung and her brother find themselves losing everything, after yet another series of unfortunate events (seriously, Kdrama land has A LOT of these). But then she gets a second chance when a grandmother that she saved makes her the heir of her company, over the spoilt bratty grandson.
Nosy grandparent? Check. Spoilt, bratty, rude male lead? Check. Evil mother and step-sister? Check? Completely down on her luck female lead with a heart of gold? Check? Weird death mystery? Plot. Parents who have no right being parents? Check. Pitiful second male lead who truly deserved the girl and was there for her from the very beginning and went above and behind to make her happy and did not deserve to be friend zoned? Check.
Seriously, the male lead's redemption took way too long to happen and I was firmly in the second lead's camp by the time it did happen. But it's Lee Seung Gi, so I guess at the end of the day, Eun Sung would have come out as a winner.
My Lovely Kim Sam Soon (2005)
Here's a weird fact about me: I have a DVD box set of this drama. This drama was an absolute trailblazer. Having a 'chubby', usually unkempt looking woman as the lead female character was almost unheard of. If we're being honest, it's still almost unheard of. I just want female characters that don't make me want to go to the gym, Dramaland. Is that so hard?
Sam Soon is old (the dreaded 30), chubby (Kim Sun A put on 10kg for this role) and supposedly ugly (she was called moon face and bloated racoon at some point) and she is broke. But she is tough and brave and upright and fights for what she wants and what she believes in. She is my favorite kind of heroine and I have no idea why more female leads are not characterized after her.
Like I said about this time period, all the male leads were rich jerks with an enormous attitude and ego problem, and this one is no different. He cannot accept the fact that he's attracted to Sam Soon, and spends too much time pursuing the skinnier, more feminine second lead. But Cupid has a wicked sense of humor, and though he fought every step of the way, he ends up where he belongs, with the lovely Sam Soon.
The story is simple. Sam Soon is down on her luck, a cheating boyfriend and a family on the brink of ruins. She ends up working as a chef for Ji Hun and the drama ensues. My favorite part of this drama is probably the fact that I do not want to kill the second leads. Do you know how rarely that happens? Also, Sam Soon is so human. So flawed, but so real. And wears her heart on her sleeve. Jerky male's redemption arc aside, Sam Soon is the real jewel of this drama from start to finish.
Cinderella and the Four Knights (2016)
There is no way to talk about the Cinderella trope without talking about this drama, is there? Even though I don't really want to?
Full disclosure. I think this was a very silly drama. I just could never take it seriously, no matter how I tried. And this post is the only reason I finished this drama, with help from my favorite bottle of wine.
That being said, this drama does have one of my favorite tropes: the reverse harem, where a woman has a wide array of men to choose from, and who are all vying for her affection. (SIGN ME THE FUCK UP). I wish the drama had stayed within this premise and just had fun with it, because then it would have been a much better outcome. It was when the drama tried to take itself too seriously and started including secret birth plots, office machinations and company take over plots and absolutely unnecessary 'fated since childhood' plotlines that my eyes started to roll into my skull.
But we do get lots of angsty poor little rich boys (FOUR of them, or maybe 3 and a half?), evil step mother and sister (who do not get enough comeuppance, if you ask me) and a nosy grandfather (the fuel on which the Cinderella trope runs).
This is not a perfect drama in anyway, infact, it's far from it. But it's cute when it wants to be. And the actors are powerhouses - which again raises the question as to why they signed up for this drama. There are also so many plotlines that never get resolved. And the ending just felt so rushed... let me just end this here, or I would end up in a full blown rant.
Watch it if you want to.
Something About 1% (2016)
This drama is a remake of a similarly named drama from 2003. I tried watching the older version to have something to compare it... and... could not. So I watched this on its own, and it's actually very good. So. Many. Kisses.
Let me immediately get out my only grouse with the show. The male lead is so horribly dressed. I mean, horribly cut suits, the worst pattern combinations. It was a freaking nightmare. And it's so hard to take a male lead seriously, when it looks like he was dressed by a blind bat with arthritis.
Now that I'm over with that, this drama was so cute, in it's own way. It didn't really have a lot in terms of plotlines (contract relationship!), it just concentrated on the romance. Which is a sure bet in my opinion. The leads also had such a cute, easy chemistry, I'm SHOCKED they didn't announce they were dating in real life.
The story is simple: Spoiled rude chaebol finds himself in a contract relationship with an elementary school teacher. It's cute, it's easy, it's simple and it's devoid of all the usual drama machinations to make a drama longer. It simply concentrates on its best asset: the couple.
There really isn't a lot to say, except I left this drama with a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart, a pep in my step and barely any reason to pull out my hair in frustration. (except those suits of course).
My Secret Romance (2017)
If you watch Kdramas on Netflix, you've probably seen this show. It's one of their most marketed titles.
I've been a fan of Sung Hoon since I saw him in 'Oh My Venus', so I was quite pleased to watch him flex his abs across my screen for 13 episodes. His character was the typical rich, spoilt jerk archetype, which he played well. And when he fell... well, he fell hard as well.
I could not actually care less for the female character. Especially because for someone who had a one night stand on the beach which a total stranger (apparently without protection), she was pretty judgmental and harsh on her mother. Sure, having a mother who did porn must have been hard growing up... but also, don't throw stones if you live in a glass house? And she was a little too dismissive and ashamed of her younger brother for me, I did NOT like that.
Which probably leads to my own disclaimer about this show: You would probably end up watching for the male lead. The female character was a little too selfish and small minded for me. But Sung Hoon's butt in those tight pants, and his abs in those tight white shirts would make up for everything. I promise.
The Second Leads from High Society (2015)
High Society was a mess of a drama, okay? A mess.
But it had one redeeming quality: the second leads. Park Hyung Sik and Lim Ji Yeon's romance truly carried the show, and they were the only reason I walked through the valley of the show that is called High Society.
It was cute, and refreshing, and earnest and honest and raw and affectionate and I wanted to watch them get married and have little babies and be happy forever.
Could someone edit High Society, so it's just these two's scenes and I do not have to suffer through the rest of the drama? Pretty please?