Yay or Nay: Recent K-drama Trend of Older Established Actors Supporting Younger Male Leads

I was a little hesitant around the casting of Healer when it was first announced with Ji Chang Wook as the titular character. I wondered what the drama was going to do having Yoo Ji Tae around as well. Thankfully the drama turned out eminently watchable and Ji Chang Wook is fantastic as Jung Hoo/Healer, the first time I genuinely like his role, but the flip side is my reservation has also come true which is Yoo Ji Tae is totally wasted in this particular outing. Moon Ho is important to the story but not worth casting a movie star leading man like Yoo Ji Tae, which gets me to the crux of a trend that’s been ongoing for two years now and shows no sign of stopping.

K-dramas have basically been doubling down on casting leading men by pairing an older establish actor with a younger star from the next generation, which has almost always resulted in wasting the older actor’s talent in a role that ends up being shunted to the side. The idiom that “one mountain cannot have two tigers” has never been more true, and it’s a trend I want stopped only because there should be ways of spreading the love without wasting the all that older leading man charisma on a thankless babysitting role. Healer is actually one of the least annoying examples of this trend, a look back reveals some dramas in the last two years which nearly gave me an apoplexy with the way the older lead’s story line inevitably got crapped all over.

Recent examples of K-dramas where smexy older leading men are wasted in a story line focused on the the flower boy young hottie

Joo Jin Mo‘s Goryeo King Wang Yoo in Empress Ki to Ji Chang Wook Yuan Emperor Ta Hwan. This was one of the most egregious examples and a big reason why I couldn’t stand Ji Chang Wook until Healer came along. Audience analysis of the drama devolved into discussion of how hot Ta Hwan was despite the fact that his character was a whiny useless obsessed piece of shit. How could his sniveling loser of a character be shipped with the heroine is beyond me regardless of good onscreen chemistry. Even worse was Joo Jin Mo playing the most virtuous and decent male lead ever, and he also had great chemistry with Ha Ji Won, but his presence in the drama dropped to a few minutes an episode by the end to make way for both the drama’s fantastical historical makjang take on the Empress Ki origin story as well as to beef up the fan-pressed love story. What a colossal waste of Joo Jin Mo.

Lee Bum Soo in Triangle to Jaejoong. This particular casting didn’t annoy me at all despite Lee Bum Soo’s character being really uninteresting. It worked because he ended up babysitting the two younger leading men as both their hyung in the story line and their hyung on the set.

Joo Sang Wook in Good Doctor to Joo Won. This one was cast according to the needs of the characters in the drama.

Yoon Sang Hyun in I Hear Your Voice to Lee Jong Seok. A reverse of the importance of their roles in Secret Garden but the casting was needed for the story line and both delivered.

Cha Seung Won in You’re All Surrounded to Lee Seung Gi. This was a disappointing drama all-around for every member of the cast, but felt even more wasted because it was clearly a star vehicle intended to double the star appeal by casting the two leading men together. Lee Seung Gi’s role was the focal point and he nailed it, but Cha Seung Won really had so little to do it would have been better to cast a supporting character actor in the role.

Lee Dong Gun going from leading man to no-longer-the-leading man in Marry Him If You Dare to Jung Yong Hwa. I cannot speak of the travesty of this drama’s narrative trajectory caused by fandom shipping without literally quaking with anger. Suffice to say this ignominy will be hard to top. I actually wanted all the characters to die by the end of the story, that was how pissed off I was with the way Lee Dong Gun’s character was treated.

Ji Jin Hee playing second fiddle to Ahn Jae Hyun in Blood. The jury is still out on this one as the drama hasn’t aired yet.

The point of this post is really to highlight how hard it is to cast two leading men in the same drama and not end up with one shafted. Normally it would be the younger actor who plays the more supporting role but lately with the trend shifting the other way, likely due to the rise of the twenty-something actors group with their large fan bases as well as the viewers loving the flower boy visuals, it has ended up with so many big name older actors returning to dramas in roles that never use their full potential.

That alone annoys me and makes me feel like K-dramas know their stories usually suck so rather than try to write better stories, instead it’ll just double down on casting big name actors together in the same drama and use their star appeal to bring in viewers. If the drama has a story line to sustain two leading men then so be it, otherwise I vote for this trend to end soon. Give the older and younger actors dramas to headline alone and spread the wealth more.

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Yay or Nay: Recent K-drama Trend of Older Established Actors Supporting Younger Male Leads — 114 Comments

    • The think is that mostly the veterans do not have the fame or popularity overseas and tbh they want some of that money that comes with being famous.

      You will see many vets coming into dramaland cuz its there an actor makes himself A name worldwide. The Korean drama world is open to the world. example many have moved onto the chinese cinema from dramaland. and there is more moeny in china. at the end of the day its bussiness

  1. If the older guy originally signed on for a supporting role, that’s ok by me. Seems the case for most of the dramas you mentioned. However in the cases of Lee Dong Gun and Joo Jin Mo, leading roles were clearly downgraded because of rabid fanbase love for the second leads. Very disappointing.

    • VERY surprised to read that HJW/JCW had a devout fan base in Empress Ki. I assumed Healer was JCW’s most buzz-worthy drama (at least internationally).

      • I think Healer is one of the most notable works till date. The ratings might suck, but outside Korea, a rabid fanbase is growing. JCW is doing a really, really good job here and so does YJT. True, YJT might be kinda not the focal point, but atleast he’s not the second lead. His story is the reason Healer met with the heroine. He was a indirect matchmaker. The chemistry between all three leads are off-charts really.

        I might be a fan of the HJW/JCW fanbase, but I have to say that I liked HJW and JJM individually due to their prior projects. I have to admit I am a huge fan of assholey first leads that at the first glimpse of EK, I was sad that I’m actually liking the second lead, a.k.a JCW. I didn’t even know JCW at that time and I can guarantee that my first impression wasn’t his handsome face. Hell, JJM is also handsome! But his acting chops and chemistry with the cast.

        I dunno about the other projects, but I can recommend these two. I don’t wanna fight, mind you. Just voicing my opinion.

    • agree, i don’t mind about joo jin mo didn’t get the girl but what make me dissappointed is his screen time is reduce, but his charracter n acting still shine brightly , we can see he get big scale musical after that n i believe he get many offer after empress ki
      For good doctor the casting is right n joo sang wook doesn’t get wasted in it, for healer i still in ep 6, but yoo ji tae role attract me more

  2. I think it’s sad if they don’t appreciate the great older actors at all. In movies this hasn’t luckily been occurring that much. In some cases it can work if the part is meaty and good but otherwise. In some points the more established actor outshines the younger lead.
    Another point is often the older actor is much more to my taste (rawr) then the baby faced younger idol.

    • Yeah, movies are the opposite. No one is loosening the Hwang Jung Min/Jung Woo Sung/Lee Jung Jae/et al stranglehold on them anytime soon. But looking out at the vast sea of mental disorders, snotty chaebols and the Candys who love them, and kooky noona/dongsaeng fantasies (looking @ you tVN, Secret Love >>>>>), no wonder those guys said F it, I’m staying in Chungmuro.

  3. The Joo Jin Mo/Lee Dong Gun debacle will surely cause me to pop a blood vessel. But otherwise, I think the rest of these guys knew what they were getting into and the stories were pretty youth-oriented from the start.

    But seriously, the sexiest time for men is mid 30s and beyond (yes, before you ask, I am one of the olds). I don’t know how or why flower ‘boys’ became a thing.

    • Obsession with youth and ageism is present EVERYWHERE. And honestly, if you think of “beautiful/pretty” which is THE korean obsession, and I don’t mean in a sexual but purely aesthetically pleasing way, youthful faces will always win since they possess a certain freshness, softer lines and no wrinkles.

      Which age range you find attractive, as you’ve mentioned, depends on your own age (though me being 32, in terms of looks only, I think guys are sexiest between 27 and 34, late 20s being by far the best, afterwards they decline :P). For women at least, since as a rule men like early 20s regardless of their age. And a bad/shallow/heartless as it may sound, since Koreans are so intent on actresses being too old in their late 20s, god forbid over 30, a part of me thinks it’s only fair. It’s a loss, but it goes both ways.

      Having said that, as not to be mistaken, I don’t give a sh*t about how an actor/actress looks, and how old they are, I only care about how skillful they are. A skillful actor/actress will make the ugliest looks sexy since they’ll be oozing sexy with their body language, eyes, pitch and loudness of voice and so on. It’s a pity that drama makers tend to forget that.

  4. I can somewhat share your opinion. But in the case of Healer, I don’t agree that Yoo Ji Tae is wasted as Kim Moon Ho. The character is very intriguing, I can’t think of any other actor playing Kim Moon Ho. Healer is daebak as a result of the trio of Park Min Young, Ji Chang Wook and Yoo Ji Tae!

    • I TOTALLY AGREE!!! In fact, I was going to make a comment saying the same exact thing, but you beat me to it. This is a perfect example of it not being ‘babysitting’ because Ji Chang Wook can hold his own (and thank God he took a role that showcases how awesome he is because ohmygod why did he take that role in Empress Ki??) but Yoo Ji Tae just makes a great drama even better. They are like two halves of a whole, and I think that when a pair comes along like that, it’s something that should definitely continue. However, it most assuredly does not always work and so those pairs should be forgotten entirely as they are an insult to everyone involved.

  5. Completely agree on the stupid Ta Hwan character! Yes he was hot but SOOO annoying I was pissed that Joo Jin Mo Was downgraded! You’re the only one I know that actually disliked Ta Hwan… Thankfully!

  6. Yeah… Don’t like this trend either in general. Esp with ‘Youre All Surrounded.’ However, I’m okay with it in ‘Healer’ because I think Yoo Ji Tae’s role is quite meaty… And he really shines despite the dazzling Ji Chang Wook. ‘Healer’ has introduced me to 2 really great actors YJT and JCW.

    • Agree! I didn’t know either of them before Healer, but now I’m interested in both. I do normally tend to like the older generation more, but in Healer I think JCW nails it, however the more episodes I watched the more YJT grew on me, so now I like them both (Bongsoo still wins though:))

  7. OT, but Miss Koala, did you hear about the Loveletter drama remake? How is there enough material from that movie to sustain even a 16 episode drama? If it gets made at all, that is, but still. Sounds like a very bad idea to me – either the drama ends up boring or makjangified.

    • I did but it’s so random there is nothing to write about OTOH until I see a casting or synopsis. LOL, LL is a sweet oldie but even back then in the early 90’s this movie didn’t have enough plot for 2 hours, much less 16!

      I still think the plan to do Comrades, a Love Story into a K-drama could work but of course no one is touching that idea with a ten foot pole after Park Yong Ha’s passing.

  8. Dont get me started on Empress Ki. Hated JCW character in there and the irrelevancy of JJM character. The pilot hooked me coz the JJM & HJW love story appeared so tragic and epic. Alas, the production went from promising to not good to absurd.

  9. MHIYD was definitely a shining example of a drama gone wrong. I adore Jung Yong Hwa, but Lee Dong Gun was a lot more interesting with Yoon Eun Hye in this drama. Also, MHIYD became so bleh after the blatant switch in story to satisfy viewers. I hope Lee Dong Gun’s next drama is better and actually utilizes him well. Oh and hope Yoon Eun Hye finally picks a decent drama….

  10. It’s not really the position which is the problem. It’s how little effort most drama creators put into using secondary actors well. An actor can be respected *and* be secondary. There is nothing wrong with being a second lead or even a supporting role, many great actors do it. But you can be a second lead like Lee Sung Min in ‘Misaeng’, someone who matters in the story and is cast to actually be used, or you can be like Lee Beom Soo in ‘Triangle’, ending up looking like more of a nuisance to the creators, who have no problem throwing you under the bus.

    I’d honestly rather see Lee Beom Soo leave Dramaland forever than be designated to shoe PPL and warming chairs with his behind because the writer could not be bothered or did not want to write all his main characters. Never has a work disrespected his talent more than ‘Triangle’ and his performance has never been as big a mess (excluding a few scenes) in the 20+ years he has been working.

    Same goes for all other actors who share that fate. They are basically bringing them in to go “See!? We have class and care about talent!”. Well, maybe cast good actors (regardless of age) then and not make instant leads out of folks who barely have the skills for supporting roles at the time of casting. Most of the works mentioned have ok or good young actors at least. All that kept my sanity intact through the horrible use of Lee’s character in ‘Triangle’ was Jae Joong being good. If they’d shoved Lee aside for some one-faced stick, I would have lost it. But some mentioned here and many others not mentioned here are too bad to cast as leads. Or to be acting, frankly.

    Until Dramaland (especially the Big Three) can get over its obsession with youth and actually care about catering to audiences other than flower-boy crazy folks, this will keep happening. It says a lot about this industry when actors like Cheon Ho Jin are still leading movies (and being great at it), but end up playing supporting roles as dads, uncles and politicians in dramas.

    And let’s not even begin to talk about actresses. That is another and even more painful subject.

    • Thank you! I so agree about Led Bum Soo being disrespected and wasted in Triangle enraging and not even Jaejoong doing a good job (and I have liked him since PTB) could induce me to finish that drama. Having said that, I do think the Healer casting is working tremendously well, adding depth and tone to each episode. Many less talented actors would be unable to handle the conflicts in Moon Hos make-up and produce a complete character the audience still roots for.

    • Agree with all you say – esp. that too little effort that is put into secondary characters straight across the board and casting people as leads that don’t have the acting skills to carry a drama.

      I was thinking of Misaeng too, as a drama were the veteran actor and junior one were used in ways that made them both crucial to the drama, and as a drama that generally put the right kind of effort into ALL its side characters.

      The Healer pairing certainly isn’t the worst. It’s decent, mostly because JCW can hold his own BUT I do find Moon-ho’s character somewhat underwritten. A bit more effort could go/have gone far here.

  11. I fully agree and think its a waste of talent of real men who can act in favour for crappy flower boys,idols.

    Cha Seung Won who is my fav drama, film actor was so wasted as second lead to LSG.

    Lee Dong Gun and that horrible drama was a real disgrace!

  12. I mostly agree with what you said. And I also think it’s time for networks and the drama people to realize that star power no longer means ratings hits *cough*Hyde, Jekyll, Me*cough*. Now a days people want a good storyline more than anything and as long as the casting a good, star power is almost irrelevant. Not to generalize, but it’s mostly true. Actors end up being wastested.

  13. Well, it just seems like they are learning to be a little bit cannier in how they package idols. Audiences, rabid fangirls aside, have caught on to how dramas and movies are packaged, and they are quick to notice when a sweet young thing (male or female) has been cast on hype and is in over their head. It’s a clever way to hedge their bets, to still cast the cute youngsters front and center to bring in the audience that just loves to gaze at the pretty, but back them up with someone with some acting chops to actually carry the narrative heft, emotional gravitas, and maybe even give that pretty young thing some acting advice along the way.

    • I agree with you about Healer since Moon Ho is my favourite character. He is the one connecting the two timelines. He is the one looking for the truth of the past for a better future, and I love his interaction with each of the leads and his relationship. Oh and when he’s facing his hyung or when he’s with Myung He!! U just really love hie character and would hate if the put him on the side the last couple of episodes.

      I avoided all the others except You’re All Surrounded and i was SO DISAPPOINTED. I felt they baited me with Cha Seung Won only to be set to the side for more than half the drama!! He had such a complicated romance story but even that became a silly comedy.

      I agree with this article overall. This flowerboy craze is getting outta control. I need to add, why do they make dramas with balanced characters, where not only 1 character is at the center, or give well written support characters. I’ve seen many Japanese doramas like this. This way we get actors who sometimes play lead, other times support, sometimes just a couple of scenes, but you never feel they’re being wasted.

  14. Absolutely besotted with Ji Chang-wook in Healer. Scrolling down this post cracked me up since his Empress Ki is next on my to-watch list after Healer wraps up.

    • Be prepared to want to throw things at your screen, especially in the last third of the drama.
      Coming from someone who loved it alot.

    • Acting wise, you won’t be disappointed with JCW in Empress Ki, he was amazing. You can tell he’s worked hard at his craft and isn’t relying on any “flower boy” crap. There’s a reason that drama was a break-out performance for him, he was just that good in it.

  15. I don’t think Yoo Ji Tae is wasted. While Healer is definitely the flashier character, Moon Ho is what ties everything together – he’s the key link to the past everyone’s either forgotten or was too young to remember. In a way, Moon Ho feels more like the centre of the drama. And I think you need an actor like Yoo Ji Tae to be able to pull off the complexities of his character.

    Either way, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having older and more established actors play supporting characters as long as there’s a reason why they were cast that’s more than “let’s bring in moar fanz”. Like if the writer just feels that the actor is *right* for the role.

    On a side note, I admit Joo Jin Mo was definitely wasted in Empress Ki – but then again that drama just got exponentially bad (no offense).

    • Yoo Ji Tae is the real reason I’m still watching healer. He carries the meaty parts of the show. Without him the show would be a whole bunch of kyaing and nothing else.

      Last week showed me that jcw cannot carry the really emotional beats of the show.

      I only enjoy him when he is alongside park min young. For some reason I can’t connect with him outside of the pairing.

      • Count me in too. Yoo Ji Tae is why I even watch Healer – he’s just amazing. Actually, I don’t watch the entire show, I just forward to YJT’s and Kim Mi-Kyung’s (Ahjumma) scenes. When I first heard about the casting, I thought YJT was going to be the lead actor and was pretty excited. But alas, no, which is why I don’t follow the show much at all. In every scene with his younger co-stars, he just outshines them in acting abilities, and it’s pretty obvious. His emotional car-scene with JCW in ep 14 was so good. I can’t connect with JCW’s or PMY’s acting or characters at all. This show has alot of fans, but I feel people only go crazy about the romance; which is something I don;t care about cause I can’t connect with either character. Also, the over-the-top spazzing is a huge putoff for me. The other Mon/Tue dramas are much better imo. Am really enjoying Punch and Kim Rae Won’s acting.

      • Glad to know i’m not the only one who just loves loves Yoo ji tae in the drama! his character is really outshines everyone else (although i still love JCW and PMY and their chemistry is so lovely), it’s just that moon ho’s attracts me so much, i don’t know if it’s the character or the actor himself but everytime he’s on screen i just enjoy his scenes and goes rawrr on him (yeah i know he’s married but i just can’t). his eyes express so much and it can be seen he is a complicted and has more to him. too bad that in the last episodes of healer he doesn’t get so much scenes. i do hope though he’ll get his closure and happy ending as well. he is so deserved that after all he gone through with his hyung.

      • Totally disagree with you ‘Justwatch’!!! Are we watching the same drama???…JCW totally carries the emotional beats of the show…if he didn’t, I don’t care how good looking he is, I wouldn’t watch. I consider him one of the top young actors in their 20’s.

  16. I guess casting flower boys in the lead brings in not just ratings but earning millions when selling it overseas, especially China. This is especially so when they cast younger actors/idols which already has a built in fanbase, so all they care about is a return of their investment. They no longer care if their acting or writing is crappy. This has gotta stop since it has been proven time and time again that older established actors are bringing in the audience to the cinemas. I’m glad Yoo Ji Tae has an equally meaty role in Healer and has not been relegated to a supporting role unlike the rest.

  17. I think in IHYV it wasn’t intentional to cast Yoon Sang Hyun its part of the story, It will be sad if we imagine changing the storyline with two guys with the same age fighting for Jang Hye Sung’s love. What made IHYV a hit because how dysfunctional Suha and Hye Sung relationship that made it so exciting.

  18. I can’t even get into the JJM fiasco with EK or LDG’s fiasco with MMIYD. Or maybe I can… rant rant rant. Gross underused of JJM especially. Definitely was upset about that. If JJM never does another kdrama again, I can see why. 🙁

    When I was young, I also watch a lot of veteran actors 30+. I did like the high school/college setting dramas but I often found them silly. It’s clear the audience taste is for flower boys and that is in. What can we do? 🙁

  19. Oh gosh it annoys me so much with the joo Jin mo debacle. Ji Chang Wook has a rabid fan base in dramaland and his acting has improved but JJM was so wasted in that role.

  20. Koala unnie you forgot Valid Love! Uhm Taewoong and Lee Soo Hyuk!

    I’m so proud of Lee Soo Hyuk though. His eyes are very expressive. And I’m quite shocked at how good he became at acting. Well the only drama I seen of him in was White Christmas.. But ey.

    I love this drama to pieces though the latest eps got me yawning a bit. I love how realistic and human it is despite the fact it is about an affair. And actually I don’t know if I actually ship anyone in this drama anymore. I just want everyone to be happy. But ugh that Lee Soo Hyuk…. Why he gotta be so fiiiine.

    Healer is definately my fave right now! Hmm. Younger men and older men combo. Now that I think about it… Hyde, Jekyll and I, Kill me heal me also have that combo. It’s like producers try to deliver the best of both worlds. *___*

    • hoho.. found this comment and im glad, i have a friend here. Valid Love! i havent thought before that Lee Soo Hyuk would be damn smexy and the storyline is sooo human being..
      but then, i think, the male lead actor is Um Tae Woong, not Lee Soo Hyuk.

      Healer, Punch and Kill Me Heal Me are my fave kdramas now.. and im still following Valid Love for the real-human being storyline 🙂

    • OH YESS, Lee SOo HYUK AND UHM TAE WOONG!… God They have so much chemistry! I’m glad Kim DO Woo are not wasting Uhm Tae WOong and Lee SOo Hyuk by giving them a strong characterization to work with. I think both of them is the male lead.

      And don’t be shocked with LEe Soo Hyuk’s acting. I think his breakthrough role was when he starred in SHark as Kim SOo Hyun. The more shocking is he acted better than Kim Nam Gil.. ! He was still abit stiff in that drama and far from good. But boy, He nailed that scene when he get kidnapped by mr clicky and when his character discovered the truth.. From that I feel that he has potential to be good.

      And Now, his acting become more natural.

      As for Healer, I’m not found of Yo Ji Tae’s acting, so I’m glad he is not dominating screen time lol …

  21. I want the more experienced men to win the girls!!

    Don’t forget, or actually, do FORGET the two recent J-doramas that did that as well:
    Last Cinderella and Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu. Makes me soooo angry since there aren’t as many J-doramas where romance is important to start with!!

    • what’s wrong with inexperienced ones, regardless of age? 😛 In some ways it’s refreshing if you consider pretty much every romance ever written, although they’re always the more experienced ones anyway since they’re paired with virgins and “pure” girls.
      I want experienced ladies! (and yay for long vacation and its heroine which I’m currently watching)

      • Adore Long Vacation. so glad you are loving the heroine. Now I have been reminded I feel the need to marathon. There goes the weekend. sigh

      • She’s awesome, it’s how “bubbly” and “cute” should be done – cause she’s that for all the right reasons (and not in the usual way), and so, so much more. In that sense she reminds me of Momo/Takeshi in Kimi wa petto. She’s the kind of person I’d love to have as a friend.

        And sigh, why can’t we get more nice and shy guys with awesome ladies ;( I so want shy leads. I watched Buzzer Beat (LOVED it) before this, and I honestly can’t bring myself to watch anything with an arrogant jerk as the lead. Or a candy. Or a heroine that annoys me with her exaggerated cuteness. Ho Gu’s love would probably be fine, but I don’t want to watch a nice, shy guy being mistreated/abused. It’s like asking for 2 normal leads is too much.

      • just to spaz somewhere, finished it, and damn, Long Vacation is the most perfect drama ever. Perfect otp, perfect ending, perfect pacing, perfect everything. I ADORE it too.

  22. I don’t see a problem with it if the people know what they sign on for. If they sign on to support the younger actor then it’s cool and a nice experience for everyone, if they are pushed out of their role for someone younger (like Lee Dong Gun) that’s totally different.

    I don’t really see how this is any different from most leading ladies getting screwed over forever or the poor second leads that get neglected and underused. It’s about the drama itself and the writing, not really the casting. Most kdramas can’t write great characters for most of the cast, so it’s usually just the leading man that is focused on.

  23. i don’t think the Joo Sang Wook and Joo Won is a good example. Joo Won has been quite successful in Gaksital before Good Doctor in terms of ratings, popularity and recognition of acting talent. Joo Sang Wook, on the other hand, (before the GD starts) does not have a stable male lead career yet. Although he’s good looking and a decent actor, he has yet to have a hit drama at that time, so I wouldn’t consider him as an ‘established actor’. It is understandable that he was chosen to play the 2nd male lead, and his age suited the character he played. (** I am not a fan of any of these two actors..i’m neutral towards them.)

    • In the end, popularity/ratings/hit drama are the last measurement to say the succesful of an actor. No matter how good his/her acting is

    • I still think Joo Won has more range than joo sang wook. Before good doctor i’ve only seen jsw as the typical cold chaebol CEO in most the dramas he’s done. Therefore, to say that he’s more experienced and seasoned of an actor would not apply to this case. I think jsw does better in funnier roles (like birth of a beauty), but i still haven’t been able to see that compelling charisma come out of his presence. JSW was basically another song seung hun to me (acting talent not measuring up to their chiseled features), though I do admit JSW does better than ssh. Then again, anyone can be better than song seung hun.

  24. If you ask me, some young actors do not deserve it. I dislike some young actors. I rather see mature actors. I was totally pissed by some of the dramas you mentioned.

  25. I think Yoo Ji Tei is nailing it in healers. His role is meaty and he gets to shine.
    Screen time wise it was more or less the same in the first half, it was only after the romance took a level up that his screen time was lost. But even then, every min he was on screen it was something impt and he is riveting.
    I believe he also plays a crucial role in lifting up the younger generation acting chops. They tend to have good scenes together and both JCW and PMY you can see that their scenes with him are of higher quality.
    I suppose that’s one of the advantages of having the older finer actors acting alongside the younger ones.
    But yes some of your examples are right on the dot.
    I absolutely hated one show and I totally detest ta hwan in empress ki. He was such a whinny loser. It wasn’t a popular opinion then I’m surprised some feel the same as me.

  26. I think that it is rather sad, but natural ‘circle of life’ career progression. These guys are getting older and therefore less likely to be cast as leading men. All these dads and grandpas we see in every drama were also young and popular once, but now they have to make do with secondary roles. Most of Korean dramas are centred around romance and most of the viewers don’t want to watch guys in their forties fall in love. Why? Because it is unrealistic for a middle-aged men to innocently pine over their first love.

    • True, it is silly for a 40-year-old to pine over their first love, but what about telling the much more complicated and interesting story of a second, third or fourth love? It’s true that a lot of kdramas tell cute simple stories of first love, but I am also relieved that some handle meatier relationship dramas for and by adults.

      • I personally would love to see that, but dramas that don’t fit the mold are still rather rare gems on Korean television.

  27. Thank you Ms Koala for highlighting this trend. I was very upset with how JJM and LDG were treated in EK and MHIYD. There should be basic respect for the professional artistes and by degrading them to second lead not because of their talents but due to the demands of fans of the younger actors shows utter disrespect to the older established artistes and the viewers.

    If the older actors agree to a drama knowing what they are getting into then that is fine. It is true that the younger actors could learn on-the-job from the good older actors and improve their skills tremendously.

  28. I don’t have issue about great older actor being supporting as long as it’s comply to the story line but MHIYD is different case. Truly sorry for LDG who supposed to be the shining star with YEH, even in silence their chemistry was so great.

  29. I feel like JCW can’t win no matter what he does. I personally find him to be great although the last few episodes of EK had me hating his character. Healer, I really like. My opinions usually differ from everyone else’s so maybe it’s just me again.

    As for the issue with the younger male lead vs older second male lead, I don’t see a problem with it. It used to be the other way around before. Besides, it’s not like the older actors don’t know what they’re signing up for.
    Again, probably just me.

    This post was specific to k-dramas but what about the j-drama you were recapping “Kyou..etc”? But I suppose since that’s older female/younger male relationship, it’s different.

  30. I can never get into those flower boys
    For me those aged actors have the acting crops, charisma, and oozing sexiness that the younger flower boy actors don’t have.

    Sure the hype is now on actors like lee min ho, kim woo bin, lee jong suk, kim soo hyun, etc. i’m not saying they are bad actors, they’re promising and decent indeed but for me when they get paired up with the more experienced actors they just got out shined.

    I wish there’ll be more dramas that can write a decent storyline not just depending on the cute love story as in healer that can make those guys lead their own drama.

    Jin Jin Hee can be one of the worst example when he is a supporting role to ahn jae hyun.

    I remember drama like Gentleman Dignity where all the actors in their 40s have their own charms and have the ability to shine on his own.

    • I totally agree with you and with this post. I mostly prefer older actors cause they just ooze alot of onscreen charisma and presence which just makes you connect much more with their characters. They usually possess a wide emotional range too. As someone with an acting background myself, I watch shows more for acting abilities than looks and could care less if some flower-boy or in-trend star headlines the dramas. If they could act well, then great, but most of the time the ones possessing good acting chops are usually the older actors, and I think it’s sad to see some of them playing second fiddle. I was planning to watch Blood cause of Ji Jin Hee, but after hearing that he’s playing second fiddle to AJH makes me want to skip it. Or I might just watch with the fast-forward button to his scenes.

    • I disliked ‘Gentleman’s Dignity’ as a drama but the acting among the 4 male leads seemed good.

      But I agree, Jin Jin Hee should not be supporting a total newbie who I’ve never even heard of…they better give Jin Jin Hee a meaty character…

  31. I dont think I Hear Your Voice counts because Detective Cha was such a solid character (f*ing awesome actually). Same goes for Kim Moon-Ho in Healer. In my opinion Yoo Ji Tae outshines everybody in there and his character is freaking sexy.

    Whilst in IHYV I dont feel that YSH was playing second fiddle to LJS, but with recent Healer eps (and are they live-shooting now?) my Empress Ki fears are coming back. They better not screw up YJT character.

  32. i watched empress ki and i felt the tahwan character stood out more and the acting done by JCW impressed me more than JJM… i’m not sure why but maybe cuz i kept on seeing JJM’s frozen flower character in his empress ki one and it got me feeling very icky

    • haha, me too..

      i personally think that, with Tah Wan got so many haters mean JCW successfully played this character well.. so that means, JCW is a good actor 🙂 not biased, really..
      but with this Healer, i know, he can act well and i dont agree some people called him ‘flower boys’??
      not all young actors can’t act.

      It’s depending on the story, gentleman dignity focused on 40’s men, while some other stories are about youth and love at 20’s or early 30.

      Watch nine plus boys, there are many actors with different age 🙂

      • No one is saying JCW a bad actor. I even think he can do morebthan the current trend actors but still comparing to those experienced actors he is not up to par with them. Yoo ji tae is oozing the charisma and it’s sad those solid actors playing the 2nd fiddle.

        Sometimes indon’t get these fans who called iut every criticism a hater. No actor is perfect you know and criticism push people to be better

      • Hi, SHailovely.
        what should i call when some people said “I hate Tahwan?!”?? haters are those who hate, right?
        i didnt say that JCW got haters, but TAHWAN, the character he played as. Tahwan got so many haters becuz of his personality etc..

        but i got your point. criticism is needed. i know. but i just dont agree with those who called him flower boys. i hope, he would be recognized as an actor. that’s it. of course, he still needs to learn more from his sunbaenim and the opportunity to work with actor like Yoo Ji Tae should be used by him well.

        But, i respect Yoo Ji Tae for taking this 2nd lead actor since the storyline is focused on the youngest ones. no offense, just my thought. 🙂

  33. For all the actors who stepped into those roles knowing how the roles would be handled I can’t be mad

    And honestly I’m sure everyone knew how Empress Ki was going to end up OTP wise considering the name of the show…

    MHIYD was just a hot mess all around since clearly she was SUPPOSED to marry her husband again

    • They should include “We shall not throw their characters to the dogs due to kyaaing” in the contracts. To make sure their roles will have a certain scope that the production cannot be allowed to chop away at. 😛

  34. Let’s never mention Marry Him If You Dare, ever again. That drama made me sooooooo pissed. I still foam at the mouth at the thought of it. The storyline had so much potential. YEH and LDG had so much chemistry. Their characters were interesting, their interactions were the best and the two of them could act. Then, then, the travesty of throwing everything the show was built on and made it good and watchable to fan service JYH’s fans ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I walked away from it all when I saw it coming from like episode 9 or 10 on and never looked back. As you can see, it still makes me rage. I agree with everything you had to say about how drama casting has shifted and the younger/older lead/second lead is the trend. Sometimes it works, but most often it does not and it really enrages me the older experienced actor has to play second fiddle to one far less superior or talented (JYH/LDG, Blood). I mean if you were casting Lee Je Hoon, Yoo In Ah, Song Joong Ki, Lee Min Ki (please come back to dramaland soonish oppa) then I get it cause they are talented and can keep up or ever surpass their elder second leads. But when you put idols, models turned actors, and newbies with senior actors and give them first billing….it baffles me. I am nay to this trend and hope to see it end soon.

    • Everything you said. I want this trend to die soon too. It enrages me when true talent/experience is shafted in favour of things like: looks, popularity, pandering to the audience/or a certain individual’s fanbase, fanservice and doing things to up tv ratings. It’s sooo annoying to watch veterans, talented actors playing second fiddle to idols/model turned actors/flower boys who can’t really act. And gosh,Marry Him If You Dare made me so pissed I still feel my blood pressure rise whenever I think about it. Like you, I stopped around episode 8/ after seeing all the waste that was LDG’s character shafted in favour of JYH. Complete travesty. I rarely get so emotionally involved and worked up over dramas and their characters but God MHIYD made my blood boil.

  35. Other examples I like of older/younger leading men:

    1. Lee Jin Wook/Jung Yong Hwa in 3 Musketeers. Worked really well because the drama actually used both leads properly and gave them equally important independent storylines.

    2. Lee Sung Min/ Im Siwan, in Misaeng. Again worked very well because the older lead was so important to the young hero and to the whole story.

    Dramas where it did not work at all:

    1. Park Hae Jin/Lee Jong Suk, in that drama whose name I refuse to say. Total waste of Park Hae Jin, total waste of 20 hours of my life.

    2. Kim Jae Wook/Taecyeon in that ghost dtama. Bad enough to cast an actor like kjw who’s so talented, but second lead to someone like Taecyeon? In a role where he mostly didn’t speak? Whyyy?

  36. Thank you for writing this article! I found this new trend annoying. I do no

    I am still upset about how JJM was treated in Empress Ki.

    Personally, TH is my all time least favorable character.

    • I am sorry that I accidentally hit the “send” bottom….

      Anyway, the last thing I would like to say is that young actors should prove themselves by their own shows. Leave the veteran actors alone!

      As for the oversea market, the veteran actors may attract more international viewers. In the case of Empress Ki, Joo Jin Mo has a solid fanbase in China since he has been cast in several international projects. His Chinese fan clubs are sometimes more active than the Korean fan clubs.

      • except JCW did prove himself in empress ki. he was the last one to be casted, they were scrambling to find someone to play tahwan character, nobody wanted to play tahwan until they fixed the script and finally JCW said ok so.. what do you mean by “leave the veteran actors alone!” when the staff had to literally beg for someone to take on the tahwan character, makes no sense tbh =/

  37. Haha, are we even watching the same show? Not sure how anyone coud think Yoo ji Tae is wasted in Healer, he is shining as reporter Moon-Ho. I think he gets nearl the same screen time as Park Min-Young, so I really don’t seem him as a supporting character, but is in many ways a lead actor.

    JJM, was completely wasted in Empress Ki though. I blame the writer for making him such a boring character. There was nothing really going on with him from episodes 1-49.

  38. It’s a very valid observation, Koala. One that could be followed up by a piece on how older, established actresses – Ha Ji-Won, Jeon Ji-Hyeon, or Uhm Jung-Hwa to name a few examples – these days are often cast to romanticize and support younger flower-boys.

    It heartens me to see the many commenters who agree with you above. But we also have to be honest: the reason why the broadcasters cast pretty flower-boys is because they think the audience – primarily women – prefer them to other possible types. And how could they not? Now, I don’t read Korean so I don’t follow the local drama writing. But on English speaking sites like this one, Dramabeans, Soompi, or whatever, it is absolutely evident that looking at flower-boys is the main draw of kdramas. As long as 90% of kdrama writing is about how precious and awesome Lee Seung-gi, Lee Min-ho, Kim Soo-Hyun, or whomever the flower-boy du jour is, MBC, KBS and SBS will continue casting them as leads in the hope to lure viewers to watch their shows.

    So, if anything, the critique should be directed just as much at us, the fans, as at the networks.

  39. I think Ji Chang Wook is doing an amazing job in Healer. His acting is so nuanced and he shows one thousand emotions with his eyes. In the grieving scene at the beginning of episode 14 he didn’t say one word for minutes and didn’t even cry but his eyes conveyed his unbeareable pain. Being able to show such raw emottions without words is truly grat acting.
    For me it’s JCW that carries the drama and the reason for it’s huge popularity with the fans

    • I agree. I dunno why people keep saying that JCW is an inexperienced flowerboy. The man can hold his own and he is dedicated to his work. I’m not a huge JCW fan. My hubby is Jung Woo. But I appreciate a man who can act, and one is JCW. I think international fans, like me, can see his amazingness.

      • He is surprisingly amazing.
        I don’t feel Yoo Ji-tae is wasted. He has his role to contribute, and so does everyone else to make Healer such a success (just looking at the amount of commenters on it is pretty astounding).

        I went into Healer with no expectations, and even to going bail out in a couple of earlier episodes. BUT so glad, I stayed – acting wise, he’s very credible. With Park Min-young, he has great chemistry.

        Lookswise, he’s good eye candy and can hold his own – he’s everyone – I see a lot of Lee Min-ho, some Jae-joong, some Sung Joon-ki

      • @Heartoppaya I would have to agree with you. Ji Chang Wook can definitely hold his own. Don’t get me wrong because I’m enjoying Healer right now, but I thought I was able to see more of his acting ability in Empress Ki. I know his character was a little over the top because he was basically a whiny useless puppet emperor, but he did an excellent job delivering his character. I thought he was pretty well rounded. His emperor character started out hilarious since he was a wimp, demanding at times, useless, and couldn’t do anything on his own without the help of others. There was also a mix of emotions he threw in later when he felt that he had no power as an emperor. He eventually became messed up and psychotic in some sort when the eunuch and queen dowager were plotting to bring him down. I could probably go on forever about the character, but yeah…

    • I do agree that he can act. However sometimes when he first became Park Bong Soo – timid newbie, I’ve noticed the same mannerism that he has from Empress Ki while portraying the emperor. I guess he’s good at this kind of role, don’t get me wrong, he can act cool, I was amazed at his portrayal of a spy/errand boy and the all the action scenes. In fact, I found Healer superb to watch!

  40. I agree, Ms. Koala. The only upside of this trend is the mature female viewer outside of Korea occasionally gets to see a drama with more than idol/flowerboy actors. The website I subscribe to in the US must have mostly teens and twenty subscribers because most of the dramas it buys now are for that demographic. (This is confirmed by the nominations for its annual awards.) Recently, I watched the drama and thought the male character was attractive and age appropriate for the female character but it was really meant to be a horrifying match up and a joke.

  41. Every role in a drama has to be meaningful, doesn’t matter who plays it, a senior or junior actor. If it’s not, then blame the script.

    • I totally agree…

      People talk about YJT’s role in Healer being wasted…which I totally disagree with.

      He’s the focal point that ties everything together.

      But most importantly, making dramas is a business after all.

      Let’s not forget that YJT just came out of a 5 year acting hiatus.

      It will be a financial risk even though he’s an amazing actor to have him headline a drama for such a big network in a primetime. Producers know this and I bet you YJT himself know this.

      When Healer was 1st announced with his name attached into it, I didn’t even blink because I didn’t know who he was.
      My interest only got picked when I heard that JCW will be in it.

      So you have to take into consideration the current trends.
      Also South Korea itself is obsessed with youth…it ranks #1 in plastic surgery.
      Even Ajummas want to look at the young actors, otherwise how do you explain that a crappy show like Heirs featuring LMH will still have high ratings…or even a crappier one like Doctor Stranger will still be successful.

      Also, The younger actors with their “rabid” fanbase will guarantee the sale of the drama internationally…period.

      LMH is still basking in the success of Heirs and signing CFs after CFs…and having fan meetings all over the world 2 years after Heirs aired.

      As much as I just discovered and loved YJT, if he was the lead in Heirs…I very much doubt he would have been basking in the same glory that LMH is enjoying right now…that’s just the reality.

      YJT had his youth time to shine…and I’m sure he did…and I’m sure he would not want to see himself frolicking in bed with PMY at his age.

      The guy is married with a family…

      Viewers prefer to see a young actor like JCW do that… because it’s age appropriate and he’s single…and gorgeous…and he’s nailing it!

      So yay…for all the reasons cited above and more….that’s why older actors have to play supporting roles to younger ones.

  42. A true waste of the older actor’s talent would be if they weren’t asked to star in a drama at all in favor of younger actors with minimal talent. One thing I have admired about Korean dramas are the use of elderly and middle age actors and actresses. They play roles that I would expect them to be in society: CEO, manager, mothers, aunts, grandparents, father, business owner, police captain, doctor, chief prosecutor, “bad guy”, etc. Perhaps, the author of this article has a problem when one leading man is in his 20s paired with another leading man in his 30s. Observing a bit of Korean society as a fan of Korean dramas, I would expect to see the older brother-little brother dynamic. I’ve seen the 40s male brotherhood in Gentleman’s Dignity. I’ve seen the 40s older woman, 20s younger man in Secret Love Affair. I liked the 30s older man, 20s younger woman pairing in When a Man Loves. The one thing I could do without is watching the crazed, angry woman that nashes her teeth and bullies the women she sees as her rival. So, in that respect, I would like to see an older sister, younger sister dynamic. Since Korean dramas are mostly written by Korean women, for Koreans, I can’t help but think that Korean women are nothing but the negative stereotypes found in the dramas.

    • HAHAH your sentence, ‘crazed, angry woman that nashes her teeth and bullies the women she sees as her rival’ is described so perfect and it is a common part even in the telenovelas- even lakorns. I guess this part is integral and inevitable, sadly.

  43. I disagree about yjt acting is wasted in Healer. I went into the show without knowing either him or Ji Chang Wook, and loved both of their character portrayals and fell in love with jcw. Amazing acting, and he knows how to act unlike so many popular young actors, who don’t act as well as him.

  44. Like it or not, this is something happening…. I guess it is a fair game. After all, young actors will become veteran actors someday. It will be their turns to help the new generations.

    I remembered reading somewhere. Lee Jin Wook always thought he was a young actor, but he suddenly realized that he was becoming an “older” actor after his military service. It was turn to help actors in their 20s.

  45. He is supposed to look stupid and clueless as Park Bong Soo. He can’t show his healerious side, can he?

    I really liked his whiny wimpy portrayal in EK and truth be told, he was the best character. He was into the role. JCW is a good actor, experienced too.

    I highly recommend Healer, it has a Smallville-like story, with no superpowers. And to top the cake, JCW has amazing bromance with YJT, and my hot oppa is NOT babysitting JCW, I can assure.

    • My favorite character in Empress Ki is Wang Yoo. It is too bad that his screentime is so limited.

      I highly dislike JCW’s character in the drama. His acting style is also not my type.

      • We all have our own mind and different opinions. I respect yours. And I do admit that JJM’s screentime was less. But I really love JCW in it.. And HJW loved JJM for a long while.. But JCW holds his own.. Like in healer..

  46. I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I think this is the fact of life. Once leading men and women in their youth are now playing mothers, fathers and grandfathers in dramas right now.
    That being said, I don’t think being a more established, older actor really makes one a better actor than younger ones. While I have to say that Ji ChangWook doesn’t quite have the natural talent that actors like Song JoongKi or Ha JungWoo possess, I think that he compensates it well with a very methodical and technical approach in his acting. He also has a very serious attitude towards acting; and frankly speaking he’s a better actor than both Yoo JiTae and Joo JinMo.
    I think that Empress Ki was really a Ha JiWon drama above all, but despite the character TaHwan being a sorry ass, Ji ChangWook was really good in it.
    Of course, I also agree with you that some younger actors really are just there because of their name recognition.

  47. Well for me it seems alright. I mean as an actor or actress ages they need to give way to newbies and downgrade to supporting roles. You cant be expecting an ahjusshi still playing the main lead. So I dont think we need to get so uptight about it. Those veteran actors had their share of stardom at some point of their career.

    as for JCW in Empress Ki, I have not seen him act before this drama. And I must say I fell in love with his acting and his chemistry with HJW despite their age gap and acting experience gap. This young man can really act. For his age! He totally nailed it. I dnt think JJM was this good at his age. I mean we shouldn’t discredit their acting abilities based on seniority. Let’s be fair. He nailed his chatacter again with Healer. Jaejoong too nailed his character in Triagle overshawdowing Lee Bum Soo and the lousy script.

  48. Cap, I think you did missed a important things in Healer. As Healer writer Song Ji Na interview : Healer is a Story of How the young generation grew up without their parent. Yoo Ji Tae act as a central link to the older generation with the young generation. So, of course it’s about a story for the young one. I love Yoo ji Tae, and I love how he act in this drama, being in a central of lies around him, and he cant do nothing from the start to fight it. His courages to fight grew, because the young generation just jump and do action.

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