The Reinvention of the Second Lead: Two K-Dramas With a Fresh Perspective - K LIFESTYLE

After years of K-dramas portraying the second-lead female role as a one-note, evil character with no dimensions, two recent dramas have reinvented the trope.

Ahh, the second lead. Historically, the second-lead female role in a K-drama has been one of the most thankless ones to exist. The character is usually a conniving and simpering lovelorn woman who is out to defeat her rival (the first lead), with no hope of redemption in the end: second leads often ended up alone and embarrassed, or sometimes jailed (or dead).

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Happily, two recent dramas have reinvigorated the role, adding new layers to the archetype: sometimes it’s a backstory that justifies their behavior, or a personality trait that makes them more interesting than a soulless husk. I’m talking about So-hye in 100 Days My Prince and Seo Dan in Crash Landing on You

After watching these two dramas, I realized this is what every second female lead should be like. Less obsessed with the male lead, and more willing to look within themselves and learn their power as women in charge of their destiny, no matter how hard it can be (of course, it’s also a bonus when they experience their fulfilling relationships, despite the heartbreak in the end).

Kim So-hye in 100 Days My Prince

The Reinvention of the Second Lead: Two K-Dramas With a Fresh Perspective
Han So-hee as Kim So-hye in 100 Days My Prince

Han So-hee has lately grown into her own after roles in World of the Married and Nevertheless. I first noticed her in 100 Days My Prince, when she played Kim So-hye, a woman whose father’s evil machinations landed her the role as consort to Crown Prince Lee Yul (Do Kyungsoo).

Yul and So-hye hate each other because they both know this is an arranged marriage, and Yul has not gotten over the trauma of losing both his childhood love and his mother. He also knows that So-hye’s father has steadily been collecting power behind the scenes, putting himself closer and closer to the throne through his daughter. He despises So-hye and behaves coldly towards her, which is why in turn she treats him the same way.

The drama starts with So-hye’s father impressing on her the need to be pregnant and provide an heir to the throne, thereby consolidating his power. Because Yul and So-hye cannot stand to be in the same room, any future baby is a lost cause.

And then suddenly, So-hye is pregnant. Yul knows this cannot be his baby and is one step closer to finding out what truly happened when he is attacked in the countryside and loses his memory, becoming the town fool in a small town away from the capital.

So-hye believes her troubles are over because she is pregnant and the pesky matter of her husband has been dealt with. However, secrets don’t stay secrets for so long in the cutthroat world of the monarchy. It’s at this point where I truly started to pity So-hye.

Trapped between a husband who hated her and a father who only saw in her his means to power, I am not surprised that she is wicked in her own way, because it is the only way for a woman like her to survive. I am also not surprised she sought love elsewhere, from a man who truly loves her, and who she has her fraught history with: it’s a man who held his knife to her throat when she was a little girl, while her father stood by and watched, and calmly said her death didn’t matter.

I think that this relationship while secondary to the first leads’ relationships with each other holds up well and is not lacking. So-hye and her lover (who I won’t name because of spoilers) have just as much a great love story, full of dramatic gravitas, as Lee Yul and Hong-shim (Nam Ji-hyun) do.

In a previous article, I mentioned that while you root for the main leads to find their happiness, the delicious chemistry between Do and Han will have you wish for more scenes with them. Both actors play off extremely well with each other, and you can truly feel the burning hate between the both of them. It makes for compelling television.

After 100 Days My Prince, Han went on to play Yeo Da-kyung in the World of the Married, another role where she was, again, the other woman. Playing that role with charismatic aplomb, it is no surprise that she has graduated to being the first lead, allowing her looks to transcend the roles she has been given. Han truly deserves it, as one of the best young female actors today.

Watch 100 Days My Prince here

Seo Dan in Crash Landing on You

The Reinvention of the Second Lead: Two K-Dramas With a Fresh Perspective
Seo Ji-hye in Crash Landing on You

In the blockbuster hit drama Crash Landing on You, Seo Ji-hye plays Seo Dan, a North Korean woman who grew up with more advantages than most. Her uncle is part of the military, so she has connections, and her talent in the cello has allowed her to partake in music scholarships abroad. The envy of the young North Korean ladies in her cohort, she becomes the fiancée of Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), a connection that is less forged by love than by their parents who are eager to make a good match.

In their childhood, Dan was infatuated with Jeong-hyeok but as they grow up she understands that he only agreed to the arrangement out of loyalty to his parents. No attempt at working on their relationship allows them to see each other as more than a burden.

As Dan starts working through this predicament, she meets Gu Seung-jun (Kim Jung-hyun), whose complicated dealings in South Korea have landed him on the other side of the border in an attempt to escape his situation. Slowly, they start falling in love with each other; a thorny liaison compounded by the fact that Gu is a wanted man in the South and is beholden to his captors in the North.

At the end of the show, Dan is a very different woman from who she started as. Firmly in control of her own destiny and refusing to be tied down to her mother’s whims, she might not know what the future holds but is aware that only she can embark on a journey to find herself.

Watch Crash Landing on You here

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