What's a Korean drama without a nasty villain or two? Crime shows and thriller series, especially, give birth to the most ruthless and despicable antagonists. But even rom-coms and melodramas have introduced us to the most loathsome characters that keep us hooked and make us root for the heroes and heroines even more. Here's a rundown of the four most common villain tropes you'll encounter while watching K-dramas:
SPOILER ALERT: There will be lots of plot twists mentioned in this list!
1. The Power-Hungry Villain
It's impossible not to see this type of villain in historical and chaebol dramas. There's always that hanbok-wearing government official or royal family member who wants to take over the throne or oust the current ruler. In modern dramas, there's always that immaculate corporate director in a suit (who's usually a relative of the protagonist) who wishes to prevent the would-be CEO from succeeding.
Remember all the Game Of Thrones-esque royal blood characters in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)? There was Park Ji Young as Empress Dowager Yoo, the third queen of King Taejo who wanted one of her sons to be the next king. She pushed her eldest son, Third Prince Wang Yo (Hong Jong Hyun) to go to great lengths—even to go as far as killing his own brothers—just to take over the throne. There was also Kang Han Na as Princess Yeon Hwa who pushed her brother Eighth Prince Wang Wook (Kang Ha Neul) to do the same. Glad we're not part of any of those families!
Kim Byung Chul has played two power-hungry men in a couple of great Korean dramas. In Goblin (2016 to 2017), you'll know him as Park Joong Hoon, the cunning eunuch who brainwashed and drove King Wang Yeo (played by Kim Min Jae and Lee Dong Wook) to paranoia. In SKY Castle (2018 to 2019), on the other hand, Byung Chul played Cha Min Hyuk, a law professor who bullied his kids into getting to the "top of the pyramid" in terms academics—all this just so he can have the power to brag about them. Whew! What a father!
Another memorable villain who vied for power is Ryu Seung Ryong's Cho Hak Ju in Kingdom (2019). The minister aimed to seize power and hid the king's condition (of being a zombie-like creature) from the public and the crown prince so he can fulfill his plans. The scheming villain also didn't mind sacrificing a few lives for the sake of his plan. Yikes! What else could he have in store for the kingdom in the second season?
Other notable power-hungry villains: Kim Tan's older half-brother in The Heirs (2013), Cha Do Hyun's cousin in Kill Me, Heal Me (2015), and Do Min Ik's uncle in The Secret Life of My Secretary (2019).
2. The Scheming Ex/Aggressive Rival
She had a relationship with the lead male character…and now she wants him back. He finds the heroine adorable and thinks he's the one for her…but she's just not that into him. These are the clingy exes and rivals that make it impossible for the main pair to have a sweet, smooth-sailing relationship.
In The Heirs, Kim Ji Won plays the young (and annoying) fiancée of Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho). As a rich heiress, she's used to getting what she wants, so imagine how cross she feels when Kim Tan likes another girl who doesn't have a social status similar to theirs!
Lee Sung Kyung has played two rival roles that you definitely would love to hate. She was Jin Seo Woo, the archenemy of Park Shin Hye's Yoo Hye Jung in Doctors (2016). Aside from trying to get ahead of Hye Jung in their medical careers, she had a crush on Kim Rae Won's character and Hye Jung's main love interest, Dr. Hong Ji Hong. Seo Woo also fell for another doctor who liked Hye Jung, so there was plenty of agawan drama there. Sung Kyung was loads more entertaining and devious in Cheese In The Trap (2016) as the epic character, Baek In Ha. She was a violent, short-tempered bully (and a nasty freeloader) who didn't care about her public image and did whatever she could to get the attention of the male lead.
You probably know Park Hye Ran (Lee Elijah) and got irked by her in Fight for My Way (2017). She sure knew how to get in the way of the far-from-platonic relationship of Ko Dong Man and Choi Ae Ra (played by Park Seo Joon and Kim Ji Won). Hye Ran even used her fame as an announcer to steal the spotlight from Ae Ra and pursued Dong Man even if she was the one who dumped him in the first place.
Other remarkable aggressive rivals: Han Tae Seok (Won Bin) in Autumn In My Heart (2000), Emperor Ta Hwan (Ji Chang Wook) in Empress Ki (2013 to 2014), and Shin Se Gi, Cha Do Hyun's alter-ego, in Kill Me, Heal Me (2015).
3. The Psychopathic Criminals
These are the villains who are so evil, you would like to think that people like them are just figments of the writers' imaginations. They kill for revenge, money, or power; they torture people; and they lie for survival.
Remember Jang Mi Kwan as Kim Jang Hyun in Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (2017)? He was the masked creep who kidnapped women, starved them, and intended to marry them (like in the play, Bluebeard And His Seven Wives). Thank goodness he was stopped before he could terrorize more victims!
There was also a band of psychopaths in While You Were Sleeping (2017). There was the writer who murdered his student to cover up his abuse of power. There was the chicken shop owner who killed his brother for insurance money. And the most chilling of them all: the female serial killer who murdered 19 victims. Of course, there's also Lee Sang Yeob as the cunning Atty. Lee Yoo Beom. He was so corrupt that he would go as far as fabricating evidence just so he could solve his cases and defend his clients successfully. He even let them get away with murder. Where did his conscience go?!
Other scary psycho criminals: The serial killer in Suspicious Partner (2017), the disturbing culprit in Missing 9 (2017), Kim Jae Wook in Voice (2017), and the "reaper" Kim Won Hae in the Korean adaptation of Criminal Minds (2017).
4. The Meddling Moms
It's the Korean drama cliché we're sure you're familiar with. They slap female protagonists, throw water at those who aren't good enough for their sons, and bribe their way into scaring other people off or shutting them up. Honestly, if it weren't for that contrastingly adorable eomma and loving ajumma characters in our fave rom-coms, we'd be afraid and wary of Korean mothers.
We know there are so many epic evil moms that deserve to be mentioned here, but perhaps the drama with the most memorable one is SKY Castle (2018 to 2019). Yum Jung Ah played Han Seo Jin (or Kwak Mi Hyang), the woman who would do anything to get her daughter into Seoul National University. The top-rated series had plenty of meddlesome moms, dads, and kids, but Seo Jin was THE QUEEN.
She begged her high-and-mighty mother-in-law (who was another meddling mom!) for billions of won to pay for her daughter's college admissions coordinator. She disregarded her initial hesitations of hiring the said coordinator who may have been the cause of a family getting torn apart by revenge and suicide. She looked down on other moms and manipulated them for her goals. She hid the fact that she knew about her husband's illegitimate daughter just so her daughter could concentrate on studying (and not worry about her dad forming a relationship with her half-sister). She paid off a convenience store owner to turn a blind eye on her other daughter's shoplifting. She even let another teenager get accused of murder to protect her eldest daughter. Han Seo Jin deserves a trophy in meddling, we tell you!
Other unforgettable meddling moms: Gu Jun Pyo's mom in Boys Over Flowers (2009), Joo Won's mom in Secret Garden (2010), the mom of Kim Tan's half-brother in The Heirs, In Ha's estranged mother and Beom Jo's mom in Pinocchio (2015), Do Min Ik's fake mom in The Secret Life of My Secretary.
Special Mention: Coach Kim Ju Young
This SKY Castle villain is in a league of her own. Played by veteran actress Kim Seo Hyung, Coach Kim was a toxic combination of a meddling mom—or in this case, a meddling coordinator—and a psychopathic criminal. She looked so stern and creepy, too, that at one point, the actress even found herself scary.
Coach Kim devised a plan to kill her husband (and got away with it). In the process, she harmed her precious prodigy daughter. Since she couldn't accept this tragic fate, she dealt with it like a totally sane person: by destroying other families with genius kids. The way she messed with the minds of her students, manipulated their parents (while getting paid ridiculous sums of money), and got away with abetting suicides was so chilling, it will be difficult to find another villain as awful as her.
Who are the other K-drama villains that gave you chills and annoyed the hell out of you?
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