Between delivering heart-stopping dialogues and putting together the most swoon-worthy dates, Kdrama actors – and the male leads they’ve played – have truly sold a generation on the idea of romance. However, as the adage goes, not all that glitters is gold. Here’s a look at certain characters that have us waving a giant red flag.
It’s a tale as old as time – the ‘bad boy’ with a dark past, less-than-pleasant demeanour, and a leather jacket falls for the hard-working, considerate girl and turns over a new leaf (or not). Somewhere in between are instances of long nights spent crying into tissues or even angry outbursts. Morally grey roles have long captured the attention of literature aficionados – take Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights for instance – slowly making their way into cinema and television.
While they do spice up the plot of a story, they represent a far greater challenge the dating world has consistently presented women with: red-flag behaviour. And if both fact and fiction have taught us anything, it’s that cold-hearted CEOs can quickly go from being heartthrobs to heartbreakers. Whether you’re looking for your next Kdrama binge-watching session or need a little reminder of what to run away from in the male species, here’s looking at a few red flag characters played by popular actors. Time to take those rose-coloured glasses off because these lead figures have dropped the bar in hell.
Check our complete list of K-dramas to watch!
Song Kang: Park Jae Eon, Nevertheless
We’re starting this list off with a show that sparked a flurry of debates across social media. Nevertheless tells the tale of two people – both cynical about love due to past relationships – who are drawn to each other. The mysterious Park Jae Eon – played by Song Kang – dials up the flirting quotient in the show. However, not without setting off a few alarm bells. Of all his questionable behaviours, a few that stand out include the fact that he flirts with the female lead and spends time with her while out to meet another woman romantically.
He’s also afraid of commitment, keeps the lead waiting for a text back, doesn’t admit to seeing other people (casual dating), and does not define the relationship. Instead, he strings the female lead along, confusing and lying to her. The character enjoys the chase and the initial stages of a relationship – leading others on and rarely ever letting his feelings show. Worst part? He uses the same moves on every girl he sees and makes them feel eager or crazy at times. He’s also grabbed the female lead forcefully while drunk when she tries to leave, later asking her out only because she decides to leave. Red across the board.
Wi Ha-Joon: Choi Do-il, Little Women
This Kdrama – which stars popular actor Wi Ha-Joon as the male lead Choi Do-il – is based on the eponymous novel by Louisa May Alcott. It follows the lives of three sisters who cope with hardships and financial crises at an early age. As they struggle to make ends meet, they find themselves caught in a conflict with the country’s richest family. And while the plot twists had many viewers confused about whom to root for, there’s no denying that Choi Do-il’s character raised some eyebrows. The story goes that the eldest sister Oh In-Joo – deemed an ‘outcast’ by her peers – finds a kindred spirit in Hwa-Young, building a solid friendship with her.
The latter however is found to have embezzled 70 billion won from the company (leaving two billion for her friend) and is later discovered dead. Hwa-Young then meets Choi Do-il – a money launderer – and strikes a deal to secure the rest of the money. Besides letting her know he only cares for the money, Do-il speaks in grand poetic descriptions and works for the antagonistic politician. He’s also seen as someone who’d betray a person for money without a second thought. Although the anticipated betrayal never came around in the show itself and Do-il more than redeemed himself towards the end by sacrificing himself – it’s worth noting that all of these warning signs – a less-than-honourable job and a track record of betrayal – would be reason enough to leave in real life.
Lee Min-ho: Gu Jun-Pyo, Boys Over Flowers
Based on the eponymous Japanese manga series by Yoko Kamino, this is one of the most popular Kdramas of all time. It tells the tale of a working-class girl in an elite high school who finds herself caught up in the lives of a group of rich young men. Of them all, the lead Gu Jun-Pyo is perhaps the biggest red flag. Not only is he a massive bully, but he takes great pride in being one. He leads a posse of enablers who worship the ground he walks on and consistently takes things and people for granted. He’s also conceited enough to believe that the lead picks fights with him only to grab his attention, pursuing her with a certain stubborness in the process. He even forces her to follow his commands. We don’t know about your but this certainly doesn’t seem like the most swoon-worthy situation to be in.
Ok Taecyeon: Jang Jun-woo, Vincenzo
The wildly popular show – helmed by Song Joong-Ki – looks at a Korean-Italian consigliere of the mob Cassano family who returns to his home country on an unfinished business. A major allure of the show? The charming yet dorky Jang Jun-Woo who’s revealed to be a ruthless antagonist in a major plot twist in the show. Right at the beginning, he’s seen to be an excellent intern to the female lead, ensuring every need of hers is met. He picks up her files for her, points her in the right direction when she’s lost, rushes to her aid when needed, and even spies for her. Only to be rejected every time he asks her out.
And this continues even after he discovers she’s been working with his nemesis. However, the character repeatedly displays a fragile state of mind, anger issues, and propensity for cruelty that are major red flags. Not to mention, his lack of empathy in general as well as an inflated ego. He also tries to control her, asking her to switch back to her old job under the guise of concern. In one of the final moments of the show, Jung-woo is not afraid of hurting the female lead, proof of his toxic tendencies overtaking his supposed love and affection for her – evident through the show.
Lee Joon Gi: Baek Hee-sung, Flower of Evil
This hair-raising Kdrama – which features actor Lee Joon-Gi as the male lead – tells the tale of Do Hyun-Soo who lives under the identity of Baek Hee Sung to hide his dark and tumultuous past. His wife – a detective – begins suspecting that he might be a serial killer. Calm and attentive on the surface, he uses his wife and daughter to appear the doting family man. He manipulates them both to uphold this front. Needless to say, if he’s got skeletons in his closet, it’s time to run straight out of the relationship. If anything, this is a lesson in ensuring you don’t fall for the mysterious man and run a thorough background search (including LinkedIn).
Which of these Kdrama actors do you think did the most justice to their red-flag male character counterparts?
All images: Courtesy IMDB/Netflix
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: Are K-drama male leads walking red flags when it comes to relationships?
Answer: Some male leads, like Park Jae Eon from Nevertheless are walking red flags.
Question: Are K-drama male characters the green flag?
Answer: Certain male characters like Ri Jeong-hyok from Crash Landing On You and Hong Doo Sik in Hometown Cha Cha Cha exude green flag energy.
Eshita is a food, alcohol, travel, and entertainment writer who spends her days thinking of the next big trend to write about. She’s a communication graduate with bylines in Conde Nast Traveller India, GQ India, Deccan Herald, and Girls Buzz. When not at work, you’re likely to find her hunting for a good read or charting out the perfect itinerary for a solo trip across Asia.
Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates.
You’re all set
Thank you for your subscription.