Caution: This article contains spoilers for the three dramas listed.
[This article is written subjectively from my point of view.]
Remember that one quote about love being patient and kind? Apparently some Asian dramas didn't get the memo and for my own selfish purposes, I am thrilled about it. Some dramas gravitate towards the quote “There is a thin line between love and hate”, and therefore, bless us with some toxic romantic guilty pleasures. As I mentioned in my previous article, sometimes all we need is to watch someone live a life crazier than our own in order to relieve some stress. I personally appreciate the fact that I can learn from the negative choices made by characters in these dramas without ever experiencing the situations myself.
Below are a few recommended Asian dramas showing the lessons of toxic love.
Autumn's Concerto (Taiwan)
Ren Guang Xi is a spoiled, arrogant, popular, and rich law school student who seems to always get away with his awful behavior until he meets Liang Mu Cheng. Mu Cheng is a strong headed young orphan from a poor and abusive family who has a negative encounter with Guang Xi, and thus begins a bickering relationship. Through their interactions, Mu Cheng begins to rub off on Ren Guang Xi, who begins to mature in the process, therefore opening up a path to a romantic relationship. Alas, tragedy strikes when their family gets involved and forces Mu Cheng to leave Guang Xi as he is about to go through brain surgery that causes memory loss.
The big secret in this drama when Guang Xi and Mu Cheng reconnect was very unnecessary. The female lead LIES to someone who should know that she was previously romantically involved with Guang Xi even when it was important to their development and I found that to be incredibly frustrating. Furthermore, Mu Cheng as a female lead is easily overpowered by almost everyone around her, even the people she had no relationship with. This causes quite a bit of conflict between her and the main lead as she lies to him again and again for the benefit of other people.
On Guang Xi’s side of toxic behavior, instead of investigating and patiently hearing Mu Cheng’s side of the story for why she left him or never attempted to reconnect with him, he jumps to his own conclusion out of anger. Guang Xi immediately reverts back to his awful and spoiled personality in his mission to punish the female lead to the point of being abusive.
The character development of Guang Xi’s mother is my favorite part of this drama, and she happened to be one character I genuinely wanted gone for the majority of it. Through Mu Cheng and Guang Xi’s reunion, we are able to see her in the motherhood role as she slowly learns how to put down the walls she has built around herself. Another part of the drama that I genuinely enjoyed was the level of support Mu Cheng received from her community as a single parent. Life as a single mom is not easy, but when one has a village behind them, it certainly makes things manageable.
Leh Ratree (Thailand)
When Kate’s gambling addicted father steals money from his job, he goes on the run from both his company and debt collectors. To solve himself and his family from peril, he resolves to sell her body to his boss as a baby maker in return to helping him get out of both debts. A helpless Kate, who was in a relationship with her childhood best friend, is forced to end it and move in with Sake, the rich heir and her father’s boss. Clearly unhappy with her father, Sake is not very warm and welcoming to his future baby mama, however, he is unable to resist her charm and begins to slowly fall for her.
The fact that the story is based on modern day slavery speaks for itself, and everyone involved is very much toxic. The male lead’s misplaced anger on the innocent female lead for her father’s actions was a clear reflection of his immaturity. It was pretty worrisome to me that this man with his way of thinking was supposed to be running a whole company. Watching the parents, who made and agreed to the transaction in which a daughter is sold to a rich family without her consent or knowledge, was pretty traumatizing. Kate herself ends up agreeing to the deal and to participate in order to save her father and her family after some major gas lighting on her mother’s part.
The love between the second lead couple is quite endearing for a romance amidst toxic people. The second female lead is there for our second male lead after he is dumped and struggles from a heartache. In return, the male lead provides support to the second female lead when her life begins to fall apart when her family goes through one tragedy after another. I found it healthy for them to have first built up a friendship before exploring their romantic feelings for each other.
When she takes the blame for her fiancé running over the girlfriend of a wealthy chaebol, Kang Yoo Jung goes to prison and ends up regretting her choice as her fiancé ends up betraying her. Jo Min Hyuk, the boyfriend of the woman who was killed in the accident, encounters Yoo Jung, and he is determined to make her life as miserable as he is by taking everything away from her. Through his interactions with Yoo Jung, however, Jo Min Hyuk comes to learn her true character and the truth behind the accident while falling for her.
Min Hyuk is a complicated character to begin with, considering that he is afraid to be disowned from his family's wealth and yet still wants to hold on to the woman who could prevent that from happening. He lacks the ability of self reflection and taking responsibility in hurting his girlfriend and yet has all the smoke for Yoo Jung, who he thinks accidentally killed her.
Not only does Min Hyuk make sure that Yoo Jung serves time in prison, he strategically plans it in a cruel way and makes it the worst experience of her life. Serving time didn't seem enough for him, however, because he continued to stalk her even after getting out of prison and continues to emotionally torture her when she obviously feels guilt and atonement over his ex girlfriend's death. It is difficult to understand his level of obsession towards her, but very easy to see why he falls for her. He spends so much energy focused on hating her and thinking about her, which is why when I see people using energy on hating someone, I always side eye and suspect some level of love in there (but that's just me).
The chemistry between the male lead and the female lead was fire and almost distracted from the fact that he was absolutely awful to her and emotionally abusive in his seeking for revenge. His character development is another highlight of this drama. As he begins to see the female lead’s true nature and falls for her, we see Min Hyuk mature and become a man worth rooting for. The drama is well executed with amazing storytelling that did a good job balancing humor and sadness. Overall, it was a touching and incredible performance from the entire ensemble.
Overall, we can all learn something from these dramas: love yourself enough not to tolerate any toxic people in your life, regardless of how good-looking they are. The women in these three dramas have so much patience in them, to the point of being unrealistic. However, dramas should always be the last place we should look for realism.