I love C-dramas; the cotton candy fluff often makes me feel all gooey inside. While some may cringe from all the sweet, sweet scenes, I can't help but completely fall for these often easy to watch, easy to binge series with sweet music and lots and lots of sweet clichés. Some C-dramas may, of course, also incorporate both depth and deal with a wide range of issues, but when I choose to watch a C-drama or as I like to call them - "C-fluff"- I often go for the fluff while the depth is an added bonus.
Screenshots from Moonlight
There is, of course, a downside to many of the oh so fluffy C-dramas since they often come with the bitter side of it, often portraying men in need of a lesson or two in consensual relations.
What is consent, and what defines consensual relationships?
"Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something" (Oxford Languages on google)
“Consensual Relationship means a mutually acceptable romantic, dating, or sexual relationship between individuals.” (https://www.lawinsider.com/dictionary/consensual-relationship)
The way I use it, consensual relationships are relationships and acts built on mutual agreement, not by contract but by interest and respect between people who are under no obligation and do not risk ramifications by refusing (or changing their mind midway) the relations and acts and are free to leave the relation at any time.
Asleep, passed out, drunk ❌ Awake ✔
Following someone without them knowing ❌ Asking may I walk you… ✔
Using force to touch, kiss… ❌ Checking for affirmation (words, gestures, mimics) before touching, kissing...✔
I can make your dreams come true if you only... ❌ How can I support you in achieving your dream ✔
Be with me and do not look at other people ❌ I'm here for you if you want me to ✔
In real life, there should be no shades to consent, but when I review C-dramas, I often find myself writing sentences such as:
"There is a bit of possessiveness… but other than that he is really sweet."
"The male lead only kisses the female lead once in her sleep and only forces a kiss on her once."
A while back, I asked people on MDL to help me vote for and list C-dramas where the male lead grasps the notion of consent. Later (several months later), I asked MDL for help listing C-dramas where the characters need to learn about consent, not really surprising as many of the dramas appeared on both lists showing us that it is hard to avoid seeing portrayals of non-consensual acts while watching C-dramas if not perpetrated by the leads then than they are often done by the side characters.
Why does this matter? Is it just a drama?
As I stated earlier, I love these dramas, so I have no intention of telling anyone to stop watching C-drams; I do, however, want to shed some light on this behavior, not letting it pass by unnoticed because that could actually be dangerous. Domestic violence is a global problem, mainly perpetrated by men, with mostly women and gay men as the victims.
"Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime."
(WHO June 16th 2021)
So though it may look all fluffy and sweet in a drama, I would like to point out some types of behavior that should be seen as cautionary tales instead of relationship goals, encouraging you to call out those types of behavior instead of accepting them as romantic.
If you have experienced any of the following behavior (not the fluff, the other parts) from someone in your vicinity, please contact your local authorities and/or seek help online or in your local area. You are not alone. There should be no shame in seeking help for any kind of non-consensual behavior. It is not your fault.
Screenshot from Addicted Heroin
Before you continue reading this, I must warn you about potential triggers as well as spoilers. So if you want forced kisses, abduction, and stalking to come as a surprise to you, then proceed with caution.
Oops, I kissed her while she was…
Made by me from here
For some reason, people in dramas have a tendency to get drunk or fall asleep in the most awkward positions. Leading the male lead to find the courage and finally kiss the female lead without having to ask or own up to their feelings. Besides the fact that it leads to the loss of that first kiss. A person who is too drunk to remember, passed out or asleep is in no condition to consent to anything, let alone kissing; it is actually a form of assault! (In many countries, you can finally be prosecuted for it.)
Screenshots from Moonlight
One of my all-time favorite C-dramas is A Love So Beautiful. It is sweet, it has great character development, and while the female lead, Chen Xiao Xi (Shen Yue), is almost obsessed with the male lead, Jiang Chen (Hu Yi Tian), he is this sweet introverted guy who just seems to lack communication skills. The drama follows the couple from their first year of high school (with a few childhood back flashes) all the way a few years into their working life. Seeing that Xiao Xi chases Jiang Chen first, it may come as a shock when he actually kisses her first, sounds all nice, but it is done while he is walking her home; she is so drunk she can barely see straight. Leaving me to wonder why, oh why did he have to kiss her when she was so drunk she had no chance of remembering it in the morning? She would clearly have loved to give her consent and be kissed sober; was he afraid of changing the dynamics of the couple? Or was it due to his icicle (cold) personality and lack of communication skills? I am guessing it was there to slow down the plot development, but I wish they could have found a different way to do it.
Forever Love (another great drama)starts with Xia Lin Xi (Xiang Han Zhi) and Jiang Zheng Han's (Wang An Yu) wedding and reflects back on the couple's journey towards marriage. This is also a very sweet and fluffy love story. Lin Xi is not fully as obsessed with Zheng Han as Xiao Xi is with Jiang Chen in A Love So Beautiful. She does show clear signs of interest and courtship before Zheng Han suddenly had to leave. Just to show up and kiss Xia Lin Xi on her way home from their graduation party (where he was not present) and disappear without a trace again. She was much like Chen Xiao Xi, too drunk to remember, so she actually thought her first kiss was a very good dream. Ironically enough, this couple is celebrated as a healthy relationship in "Exploring Healthy Relationship in Forever Love". Except for this one non-consensual kiss, it is actually one of the healthiest relationships I have seen in a C-drama, making it even more important for me to remind you not to kiss people who are not in the right mindset to give their consent but do watch the drama, it is indeed very good.
Another drama worth watching is Moonlight which tells the love story between Chu Li / Monkey (Esther Yu), an editor, and her best internet friend (but she does not know that in the beginning) Zhou Chuan / Mr. Fox (Ryan Ding). Their first kiss is actually initiated by Chu Li (very rare) while she is drunk and leads to this very enlightened conversation between Zhou Chuan and his best friend, Yu Cheng (Yang Shi Ze), the following morning for him kissing her back:
Screenshots from Moonlight
While some choose to use drunkenness as a shield, others take the opportunity to kiss (or do other stuff) when the object of their desire is asleep. One of those is Ling Xiao (Song Wei Long). In Go Ahead, a drama that follows the story of three children (without any biological connection) who, after either being abandoned by or losing their biological mothers, grow up together as siblings. Ling Xiao has longed to become a lover instead of brother to the female lead, Li Jian Jian (Seven Tan), for a long time, seeing that she is the only person that truly matters to him. So, while alone next to her in her sleep, one could say he falls for the temptation to kiss her, others would way he gently pets and just nearly kisses her, and some may just say he forces himself upon her very gently while she is sleeping (see picture on the top of this segment) to the sound of the romantic song of the song "My Everything" playing in the background. Whatever you call it, it was done without her consent (a sleeping person can not give their consent), followed by her waking up to see his face right above hers; her reaction said it all (my words, her face):
Made by me from here
If I trick you, will you be mine?
Some people will choose to play tricks, tease and play pretty stunts to get close to the person they love, but only a few can possibly beat the trickery done by Ling Yi Zhou (Xu Kai Cheng) in (not so) Well Intended Love. He tricks the object of his obsession into thinking she has cancer and needs to marry him for treatment. Giving the term 'contract marriage' a whole new meaning.
Screenshot from Well Intended Love
I'll just follow you around till you surrender your love to me, me and only me!
Screenshot from Love Scenery (she is not the one saying those words)
Love Scenery portrays the story of a genius gamer who falls in love with a popular singer. Their relationship is mostly sweet and fluffy, with lots and lots of fun and exciting moments, both in an online world and out in the flesh world. The drama also has not only one but two extremely persistent men obsessing over their so-called "love interests", following around, waiting, and waiting and waiting for them to finally give in to their obsession.
One of them is the second male lead who, while being disguised as a good friend and superior at work, helps her out quietly (about that type of behavior, read the next segment: Light stalking in the name of philanthropy). He waits in the shadows, persistently shows up where she is, waits outside her apartment and follows her secretly observing almost every move from his car (he actually admits to it in the drama). The other is Sun Bin Yu (Harry Hu), a common friend of the main couple who has fallen for the female lead's old friend (she has quite a few friends). A singer-songwriter who has closed herself off from most people and therefore is portrayed as being in need of someone to drag her out of her shell. But this guy just will not get out of the poor woman's sight and manages to force his way into her life.
Screenshots from Love Scenery
The trope of persistently following (stalking) to get someone to get out of their shell is a common excuse in C-dramas that is also used for the second couple in My Little Happiness, where the very persistent Cheng Cheng (the female lead's best friend, Huang Yi Lin) keeps following the broken introverted Wen Rang (the male lead's uncle/best friend, Leon Li) until he finally surrenders to her charms. But since I am focusing on violence by men, I will just mention it here to settle those with aching fingers dying to tell me that women in C-dramas stalk too. So there I said it, it happens, and it is not good either, but a different type of problem and definitely something I would love to write a follow-up article about someday. Just not here.
"I was only trying to help": Light stalking in the name of philanthropy
A very common trope is strong, potentially rich male leads wanting to do all in their power to help and protect their love/obsession interest.
You Are My Hero tells the story of the poor doctor Mi Ka (Sandra Ma) and the rich (family money) S.W.A.T officer Xing Ke Lei (Bai Jing Ting), who meets her for the first time (and they fall for each other) during a hostage situation where Ke Lei is masked (so Mi Ka does not actually know what he looks like). They meet again several years later in an awkward situation filled with misunderstandings, where Ke Lei recognizes Mi Ka and gets his previous feelings enhanced while Mi Ka is kept in the dark about his identity in the name of "I want her to fall for me, not her hero" (my words).
Pic from You Are My Hero
Two pretty similar stalking portrayals are found in Moonlight, and You Are My Hero.
Ke Lei in You Are My Hero (while also hiding his identity) asks his friend (and colleague to Mi ka) to keep an eye on Mi Ka and find out what she may need; after that, Ke Lei secretly arranges for her to get both a room in his apartment as well as sanitary products and food. This is very typical light stalking in the sense of "I want to help you without you knowing about it", and not I want to monitor your every move so I can own you" kind of way.
In Moonlight, Zhou Chuan hides the fact that he is Mr. Fox from Chu Li to get close to her and find out information that he otherwise should not have access to. This information gives him the opportunity to both influence her to his favor and lets him stay one step ahead to be able to offer her things she may need but would not ask for.
What was great about both dramas was that even this little light stalking was called out once it came to light, teaching viewers about acceptable and not acceptable behavior while getting close to another person in a very entertaining way.
You will probably find helping one's object of affection passed off as romance without being called out in most cohabitation/becoming neighbors' dramas. Two that come to mind are Love Is Sweet and Way Back Into Love, where the male leads trick the female leads into renting the apartment next door (that they just happen to own, simply amazing). In Love Is Sweet, the male lead, Yuan Shuai (Leo Luo), even decorates the apartment to suit the female lead, Jiang Ju's (Bai Lu) taste, if that is not deception, I mean devotion, I do not know what is...
Addicted Heroin tells the story of an extroverted rich bad boy who (unknowingly) falls for his stepbrother, an introverted poor yet super smart good boy icicle, and does all in his power to own him while still having a girlfriend and denying his sexuality. The drama actually started with very light stalking. When Gu Hai (Johnny Huang) met Bai Luo Yin (Timmy Xu) in school, he could not help but look at him, falling for him at first sight; his instincts were to snatch his homework and follow him home to see where he lives. During this incident, he gets to see Luo Yin's poor living conditions and lack of underwear. So he secretly bought a pair and put them on Luo Yin's desk. If Gu Hai had stopped his secrecy and stalking there, this could have been classed as a drama with light stalking tendencies, but this was just the beginning, much like reality. In reality, stalking seldom ends with a pair of unasked-for underwear.
Screenshot from Addicted Heroin
If I just keep watching (stalking), eventually, they will give in
Gu Hai in Addicted Heroin did not stop with the light stalking and is actually rated on the top of the list of dramas where the characters need to learn about consent (right after Meteor Garden), and will probably be the drama to show up under the most captions here. Seeing it is probably one of the most interesting C-dramas to watch if you are looking for a drama that shows lack of consent but does not have nearly as much fluff as other dramas do. Gu Hai kept on persistently following, nagging and tricking Bai Luo Yin, renting an apartment in his neighborhood and keeps close until he somehow managed to get Bai Luo Yin's father to invite him not only for dinner but to live with them as well as share a bed with Gu Hai, "we are all men here so...".
While Yuan Shuai in Love Is Sweet only has mild stalking tendencies, his rival, the second male lead Du Lei (Kido Gao), falls for the FL Xu Li's kindness at first sight while knowing she is currently unavailable, he gets close to her as a friend and colleague and confidant. He is both persistent and flat out dangerous once he realizes Xu Li is about to marry Yuan Shuai. He tries to hold on to her and forces himself on her while crying out his undying love for her.
Screenshot from Love Is Sweet
If trickery, lying, deceit, waiting and watching don't help, then there is always abduction
“Didn't you want to leave me, didn't you want to sever your ties with me? I'll lock you up in here, you can’t escape me even if you want to.” (Gu Hai in Addicted Heroin)
The star of this article, Gu Hai in Addicted Heroin, gets extremely desperate when Luo Yin cuts him off. He then takes his obsession to a whole new level, actually hiring gangsters to kidnap and then ties Luo Yin to a bed. Stating his so-called love and addiction towards him. Showing clearly that the most dangerous time in a destructive relationship is trying to leave it.
Screenshot from Addicted Heroin
Let's get physical
If there is one thing I want us to let go of almost as much as non-consensual relationships, it is the idea that men are animals who can't help themselves and always want to get physical. Guys, you are not animals; you are responsible human beings with feelings and not always in the mood for a grab. I truly believe that most men are competent enough to control their need to force themselves on another person.
Women should be able to take the initiative without being shamed for it. The "one room" left trick should not exist in the first place; a woman should be able to choose to share a room. And, if left with no choice, she should feel safe enough to lie naked in the room without fearing for her virtue (if there's even such a thing) or the man in the room losing control (yes, this goes for all genders).
I, like many others, loved the dynamics in Professional Single; the main couple is extremely adorable with a huge difference in height. In this drama, we meet the Icicle Male Lead, Quin Shen (Aaron Deng), who is studying sculpting and is actually a really nice guy and Yuan Qian (Ireine Song), a fellow student who is studying sculpting but wishes to study painting instead. He starts off really nice, but as the story progresses, we notice that he does not really seem to have respect for her boundaries and/or has fallen in the trap of no means yes (it does not). He tricks her into sharing a bed with him at a hotel when she clearly says no and then cannot control himself and actually rapes her; however, the next day, she is just as in love with him as always? And they go back to their not so consensual relationship.
The notion of what is to be acceptable and what is not is also shown in Addicted Heroin, but instead of protecting one's virtue as a woman, Luo Yin's lack of interest in physical contact is explained with internalized homophobia, seeing he spends most of the series in denial of his sexuality. Gu Hai, on the other hand, doesn't really seem to label himself as gay, thinking, "what is a little sexual content: whacking off, groping, forced kissing, nudity, and sex among men?". I lost count of the number of times Gu Hai forced kissed Luo Yin (and did other stuff) but did count ONE physical interaction initiated by Luo Yin. These forced interactions were, of course, not done all at once, starting with light peeping, groping, kissing, etc. As in many relationships, the level of (forced) physical contact (rape) gradually grew.
Screenshot from Addicted Heroin
Nothing says I love you as much as being pinned up against a wall
If the female lead does not end up pinned up against a wall, are you sure you are watching a C-drama?
For some reason, even the most innocent C-dramas have at least one scene where the male lead pins his love interest against a wall for one reason or another. I was about to ask you if you ever have been pinned up against a wall to show the absurdity of it as part of a romance drama (there are, of course, those who enjoy this behavior as long as both parts truly are in it, I am not going to judge, go for it your body your pleasure). But then I came to my senses and decided to rephrase this part. Don't Disturb My Study is a sweet drama that takes place in a high school setting, where the female lead Nan Xiang Wan (Landy Li), truly just wants to concentrate on her studies but seems to find herself interacting with the male lead Lin Xiao Ran (Edward Lai) more than actually getting to study. I am not sure if we get to witness the main couple kiss, but we do get to see Xiao Ran hold Xiang Wan up against a wall at least once during this otherwise very sweet and innocent drama.
The main couple in You Are So Sweet, an otherwise very sweet love story (as the name entails) between a CEO (as well as a voice actor) and an aspiring voice actress, share this scene when the male lead Gu Chen Yu (Eden Zhao) loses control and just has to have his girlfriend Xia Xiao Ning (Amy Sun) as seen in the scene below.
Screenshot from You Are So Sweet
They are mine all mine - About jealousy
A common trope in C-dramas is the men being overprotective and insecure in their relationships that they will throw fits, punch other men, or just try to isolate their love interest from getting anywhere near anyone who they see as a potential rival.
Go Go Squid 2: Dt. Appledog's Time is a spin-off/sequel to Go Go Squid and tells the story of DT / Wou Bai (Hu Yi Tian), who has been in love with and is a fan of Appledog / Ai Qing (Li Yi Tong), a professional robot fighter, for many years. I love the dynamics, dialogue and relationship development between this couple. This couple is described to have an age gap (a full 6 years); they are nothing but adorable together 99% of the drama.
This relationship is not Appledog's first relationship (also pretty rare for a C-drama). Her ex-boyfriend is also a known name in the robot fighting scene and comes back to declare interest in getting back together with Appledog. DT finds out about these intentions, which turn him into this jealous monster. When Appledog is invited to a setup dinner, not knowing it is with the intention of getting her back together with her ex, DT barges in and drags Appledog out before the dinner even starts. Of course, forcefully by the arm and against her will, because why talk when you have an arm to grab? This type of behavior is not acceptable, period.
In Moonlight, Zhou Chuan often gets jealous every time Chu Li leaves the house for work. Chou Li is responsible for editing the works of several authors. Among them is Yu Cheng, Zhou Chan's best friend and partially love rival, so every time Chu Li has a meeting with You Cheng, Zhou Chuan finds a way to either follow her there or join the meeting disrupting her work and taking away her personal freedom.
In Professional Single, Quin Shen (Aaron Deng) not only date rapes Yuan Qian (Ireine Song) but also has an extremely possessive side that shows more and more the closer they get to each other. That's when the feelings of ownership of his partner kick in. While she has clearly chosen him over the second male lead, her childhood friend Song Si Yi (Wang Run Ze), Quin Shen starts setting up rules for every interaction Qian has with Si Yi, controlling her every move and punishing her when she does him wrong. While she should be singing "You Don't Own Me", she seemed to accept it as part of his charm or as sweet, sweet romance and did not call it out one bit.
And of course, we have our beloved Gu Hai in Addicted Heroin, who feels the need to own people he clearly doesn't even want to be around. When he hears that his girlfriend (yes, he has a girlfriend while being obsessed over a guy)is seeing someone else, he follows her to a hotel and beats up the guy she is sleeping with. While at the same time isolates Luo Yin from his childhood friends and any potential rivals by force if needed.
Calling out non-consensual behavior
Screenshot from Moonlight
There are three C-dramas (but there are hopefully a lot more) that come to mind for calling out non-consensual behavior both between the leads and among others and deserve to be praised for doing so because we need to see and fight it. Even if the relationship in Forever Love is set as a relationship goal, just letting the kiss while being too drunk to consent to it pass by normalizes it and makes people think it is okay.
In Addicted Heroin, Luo Yin fights back on every single assault, eventually leading Gu Hai to say, "Why did I forget he is moved by tenderness, not aggression" yet still lives by "the more you hit me, the more I get excited" showing Luo Yin that fighting back is pointless. But even if it is pointless, it is called out, and that counts for a lot.
You Are My Hero makes great humour out of non-consensual behaviour and calls out even the slightest stalking attempt.
Moonlight does a great job confronting a very drunk female lead that initiates a kiss with a very sober male lead that kisses her back. While other male leads won't blink twice, this male realizes that he did wrong in kissing her back! This is so extremely unusual in a C-drama, making me feel all sorts of excitement; if it weren't for him spending quite a lot of time lying and being a misogynist in the beginning as well as jealous, I would have thought I had found a unicorn among C-dramas.
So now that we have talked about it, what do we do now…
- Probably nothing, move on with enjoying the fluff, the icicle, the sweet, sweet romance (with an occasional assault)
- We can hope the guys who want to own the lead get competition from guys who actually respect the lead… (and also get chosen)
- We can talk about the problematic behavior seen on screen as problematic instead of letting them pass as normal or, even worse, romantic.
We can seek help if we witness or are subjected to any of the above-mentioned behaviors!
- We do not blame ourselves or victims of this behavior for falling for the "wrong" guy, and we hope that one day all our relationships will be consensual and respectful and full of fluff (heat or icicles, whatever rocks your boat)…
- We deserve consensual relationships where we can have a personal life, friends of all genders, and if we happen to pass out drunk on a bed naked, we should not have to be the least bit worried about awakening our partner's uncontrollable urge, or whatever the excuse may be.
Screenshot from You Are So Sweet
You can also comment on this article to tell me your thoughts.
P.S.: You can also wait for Part 2 with the next set of shades to come out...