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I Hate You Like I Love You: Exploring Relationships in K-dramas

The concept of love-hate relationships is prevalent in Korean dramas and is frequently appreciated by viewers

Debashree Dutta Jun 27, 2022

Photo: Courtesy of HanCinema

A majority of rom-com K-dramas focus on love-hate relationships, and most of us enjoy the trope. This makes me wonder: What is it about this genre that causes us to feel this way the most? Even someone like me, who typically avoids cringe melodrama, can devour a lot of content pertaining to this subject. For instance, a few days ago I just happened to come across Mary Balogh’s book, Slightly Dangerous. It is a story that explores what happens to Wulfric Bedwin, raised from his early years to become a duke, when he suddenly inherits the guardianship of five younger siblings, in addition to other obligations after losing both of his parents. At this point in his life, he runs into Christine Derrick, a boisterous woman who is apathetic to his exalted status. Even though Bedwin is aware that she is the last person on this planet he should desire, he is smitten by her. The book is a great read about a love-hate relationship deftly examined by the author, which kept me intrigued until I reached the epilogue.

It makes sense that this concept is prevalent in Korean dramas and is frequently appreciated by viewers. Studies suggest a love-hate relationship may have its roots in psychology. It has to do with how emotional instability develops during childhood due to parental alienation or the undeniable presence of egotistical conflicts with the object of one’s affection. It has been observed that narcissists are more vulnerable to hostile reactions in this regard. In extreme situations, hatred for the other person could be the only feeling experienced until love seeps in.

This is presumably the reason why Gu Jun-pyo (Lee Min-ho), the conceited rich brat in Boys Over Flowers (2009), falls for Geum Jan-di (Koo Hye-sun), a girl of average means. He develops into the petulant teenager he is as a result of his traumatic upbringing and loneliness. When Geum consistently rejects Gu’s bullying and disregards his famed status, his bruised ego turns to her even more, and what he initially thought of as hatred develops into love. The subtleties of their relationship remain a favorite among fans to this date.

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The idea of a love-hate connection, when two characters at first seem to “despise” one another but subsequently display sentiments of affection or interest, is one that is widely used in teen romance novels and dramas. The Japanese word “tsundere” is a combination of the words “tsuntsun” (aloof, irritable, cold) and “deredere” (lovestruck). Tsundere characters alternately adore and insult their partners. They often begin by disliking their love interest but eventually come to care for them. Does this remind you of Playful Kiss (2010)?

It’s a story in which bright but academically challenged Oh Ha-ni (Jung So-min) is hopelessly in love with Baek Seung-jo (Kim Hyun-joong), the smartest and most popular boy in school. Pressure mounts when Oh sends him a love letter, which he promptly rejects. Oh persuades Baek further but grows tired of his cold and callous behavior along the way. She decides to accept Bong Joon-gu’s (Lee Tae-sung) marriage proposal since he has had feelings for Oh for a long time. Baek becomes nervous at the prospect of losing Oh and begins pursuing her in order to win her back. Based on the Japanese manga Itazura Na Kiss, this romantic comedy was a massive global success. To the extent that following the series finale, a brief special edition was shown on YouTube.

A strong sense of competitiveness between individuals on equal footing can result in both attraction and animosity. To thrive in a fiercely competitive environment, two rivals may break apart anything that gets in their way. The intriguing aspect here is that competitiveness can often lead to a stronger affinity between two people.

In the legal K-drama television series Hyena (2020), two lawyers at Song & Kim represent only the wealthiest members of society. The slick attorney, Jung Geum-ja (Kim Hye-soo), straddles the line between wrong and right and the rule of law as she is a fierce hyena who chases material wealth no matter what it takes. Her toughest adversary is Yoon Hee-jae (Ju Ji-hoon), an accomplished lawyer with a sharp mind who lacks Jung’s guts and is regularly outwitted by her. As a result, there is an intense connection between the two characters that develops into a mutual attraction that is exhilarating to witness.

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The timeless classic Full House (2004), in my opinion, is one of the best representations of a love-hate relationship in a Korean drama. In the story, Han Ji-eun (Song Hye-kyo), a struggling screenwriter, is shown residing in the “Full House” that her late father built. One day, her best friends con her into thinking she has won a free vacation and sells her house while she is abroad. Meanwhile, Han encounters Lee Young-Jae (Jeong Ji-hoon aka Rain) on the plane, a renowned actor, and during her trip, they become acquainted through a turn of events. When Han gets back home, she discovers (much to her bewilderment) that the property has been sold to Lee. The characters agree to live together even though their contrasting habits make it very difficult for them to get along.

In an effort to repurchase her home, Han first works as his maid but, later, they sign a marriage contract as Lee wants to make his crush, Kang Hye-won (Han Eun-jung), jealous. Problems arise as Han and Lee begin to like each other. The reason why Full House represents the condition of love-hate in the most effective way is that both parties feel strongly about one another but are inconsistent in how they express those feelings. As a result, they occasionally act lovingly and occasionally act aggressively. They sometimes find it hard to stand each other and may want to end their relationship, yet they opt to stick together till the end.

If you have a taste for this genre and appreciate watching love-hate relationship-based content, check out a string of popular K-dramas here.

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