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Round Table with Couch Kimchi: Kisses in K-Dramas


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Welcome to Couch Kimchi's very first round table discussion here on Soompi. This will be a regular feature where we talk about everything and anything drama-related. Since we like to have fun, we've decided to start off with a bang, or more appropriately, a smooch because our very first topic is kisses! Ahhh... kissing. It's the ultimate form of fanservice. Most K-drama kisses occur after a long buildup to that moment and are designed to let the audience know the romance is officially beginning. Google defines the act as "the touch with the lips as a sign of love, sexual desire, reverence, or greeting." Clockwatcher: Although in older dramas, it was more like "touch chin with lips from a strategic angle." Rinchan: To kiss, as defined by a K-drama fan, is that one thing you want the OTP to do, but with which the writer will forever troll you. Tessieroo: LOL. True! While watching a few dramas, I've found myself screaming, "Just kiss her!" The writer is holding out on me. Angie: I'm usually yelling at the girl to kiss back. When you're opposite Lee Min Ho or Lee Jun Ki, I want to see you take full advantage of the opportunity. The guys don't hold back, and the women shouldn't either! kissa1

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WHY DO WE LOVE KISSES? Clockwatcher: Because we are pervs? Angie: Definitely! But that's "we" as in most of the Asian drama viewing population. On any discussion thread, there are pages of screencaps and gifs of kisses, and fans get very excited if they notice even a teeny bit of French involved. Tessieroo: It's the female version of porn? Women like to watch romantic, sweet kisses while men ... Oh, let's just not go there. Leila: We are not. We are simply… what's the right word? Romantic. Angie: Sappy. Clockwatcher: Haha. In summary, one woman's romance is another man's porn. Rinchan: Well, lets just say it's the publicly accepted way to display those types of feelings before an audience. kissa2 K-DRAMA KISS vs. REAL LIFE KISS Clockwatcher: Most of us aren't the maid's daughter with whom the chaebol heir falls in love. We usually meet people and go on dates before we kiss. So, the first kiss usually takes place on a date. Sometimes, it's spontaneous, and other times, it's at the awkward moment at the end of the date when we want to let our partner know we had a good time. In dramas, it's completely different. Angie: Yes, in real life it's on a date… or while drunk at a party… Tessieroo:  It's also interesting to me that most dramas don't follow any unspoken rules of dating, like the seven dates rule -- no kissing until the seventh date. Clockwatcher: Gosh, seven dates? Tessieroo: *stinky side-eye* Well, I've heard some people have those kinds of rules, but no one I know of. In dramas, it's more about the mood and/or setting, but even then, I've seen OTPs who've been dating a long time and the mood is perfect, but the female lead slaps the man after that first kiss. That's very different from real life. Rinchan: It's not always about mood and setting though. In real life, I have never tripped over a guy and landed on his lips. LOL. However, scenes like those can often be used as a catalyst to get the characters thinking about each other in a romantic way. Leila: I'm seeing less slapping incidents. Well, scratch "It's Okay, That's Love." Anyway, I think what I enjoy about a kiss is the significance it has for the couple, the timing, the ambiance, and how it proves love. When you look at how the kiss is done, it's indicative of the level of the relationship---either it's just starting or it's deep. Clockwatcher: Exactly. In dramas, the kiss is usually some kind of climax and is a significant part of the plot. Sometimes, it's the moment that the lead -- generally the man -- stops fighting his feelings. At times, he is desperate because he wants her to understand how much he loves her or the kiss is a reply to girl's love confession. The very important emotional aspect is the reason we can love a drama even if the kisses can technically suck. Rinchan: True. Quite often, a kiss is used as an announcement of one's feelings, a request for reciprocation, or a stamp to seal the beginning of a relationship. I do love how kisses were used in "It's Okay, That's Love." Part of it was therapeutic for the female lead, but it also took out all charged meaning behind common K-drama kisses. It showed the ease in which two people can love each other without ceremony, with no reservations, plus it's more realistic. kiss8FAVORITE KINDS OF KISSES & FAVORITE K-DRAMA KISSES Clockwatcher: I love long, soft kisses wherein the lips actually move, the arms are wrapped around each other's body, and it looks like the characters genuinely like each other. I love the fanservice all the kisses have after the guy and girl have confirmed their love, like in "Reply 1994." However, I think the most memorable one is the emotional first kiss. I loved "Coffee House's" train kiss because it was the first time Jin Soo (Kang Ji Hwan) was honest about his feelings for Eun Young (Park Si Yeon). Tessieroo:  I like the lasting, nibbling kind that takes your breath away, and there should be some contact using the hands and fingers. The whole "limp arms" thing is such a joke. Touching the other person's face, neck, or hair, or even placing the hands lightly on the shoulders is better than standing there like a statue. We see those touches in the kissing scenes in "Lie To Me." My favorite kiss on that show was the karaoke kiss. You could actually see Yoon Eun Hye's gasping intake of breath, with her chest caving in at the beginning of that kiss. Wow! Angie: I like kisses with emotional heft, so, the couple holding each other is a must, and I really get moony when the guy cups the girl's face while they're lip-locking. I also know the kissing scene is very good when I unconsciously pucker my lips while I'm watching. I did that a lot with "Coffee House's" kisses, which were steamy and ardent but in varying degrees. From that show, my favorite would have to be the phone booth kiss. It was in keeping with the personality of Park Si Yeon's character---confident, brazen, and a go-getter. We often see the male leads initiating the first kiss, but her character, Eun Young, broke the mold. Jin Soo had asked for a birthday present without a card, and what could top the gift of making out in an enclosed space? The scene also encompasses a lot of the things we've just discussed. With the rain rapping on the phone booth glass, it had ambiance, and even though they didn't immediately become a couple after that, it altered their friendship and work relationship. Leila: For this year, only "Angel Eyes" comes to mind. The OTP's first kiss was really heartwarming, signifying the reunion even despite the hurt. Their second kiss confirmed their love. The third kiss screamed their togetherness. I just loved every kiss between Park Dong Joo (Lee Sang Yoon) and Yoon Soo Wan (Goo Hye Sun) because they were both responding with passion. Rinchan: I love the sweet but deep kisses. As the embrace intensifies, the couple seemingly becomes one and the background just melts away. Words that can't be expressed are experienced, a love often spoken resonates with a burning sensation, and I am left wondering, "Will they ever come up for air?"  Those kisses are bold but sentimental, just like my favorite kiss scene from the 14th episode of "Secret Garden." I can still remember how a strong person like Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) appeared so vulnerable when she confidently said to Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin), "I came for you." That kiss signaled the "no turning back" portion of their relationship. kiss5WORST KINDS OF KISSES & WORST K-DRAMA KISSES Clockwatcher: In general, I dislike dead fish kisses, but in real life, the worst kind of kiss is when the guy attempts to swallow the girl's head whole. This is very rare in dramas though, but one that comes close is Rain and Shin Min Ah's kiss in "A Love To Kill." It wasn't even that he wanted to swallow her face whole, but more like he wanted to lick every single trace of puke left in her mouth. Uber disgusting. Tessieroo: Gotta agree. That was gross. For me, it's when the female stands with her arms limp at her side, her fists clenched, and her nose scrunched up. During the "Heirs" rooftop kiss, I couldn't believe the disgust showing on her face. Cha Eun Sang (Park Shin Hye) was actively backing away from Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho). I really don't like watching a kiss that doesn't involve either party participating happily; it makes me uncomfortable. Angie: In context though, I can understand why Eun Sang would react that way because Kim Tan's move was on the aggressive side. It was more of a macho act than romantic, but Park Shin Hye does make it easy to criticize the moment. To be clear, she's one of my favorite actresses, but barring that fact, if we have to look for examples of bad and lifeless kisses, then we can pull a number of them from her dramas. In every show I've seen her in, I've always had to cross my fingers and pray she'll step it up when I know she has a kissing scene coming up. I just don't want to see the kind of kiss that could be outdone by Disney tweens. LOL. Leila: As much as I love Lee Min Ho, I'm scared during his kiss scenes. It lacks the passion I expect. Angie: Pshaw! He was the passion in the kiss scenes in "Heirs!" Clockwatcher: Haha. I generally like his kisses. For example, I haven't even seen the drama, but I like his kisses in "Personal Taste." Tessieroo: Oh, me too! And his rooftop kiss with Park Min Young in "City Hunter" was soft and sweet. Leila: He devoured Son Ye Jin whole in "Personal Taste!" LOL. He can be tender, too, just with less action perhaps? In any case, the dead fish kiss is a big NO for me, too. I also don't like crying kisses. Why do tears have to be a part of kissing? Clockwatcher: The worst crying kisses are those wherein the bodies are stiff. The couple is frozen into position, so, we need tears to show us that they are having an intense reaction to the kiss. Otherwise, we would think something was wrong with our television. Rinchan: Dead fish kisses are commonplace, especially when the character is innocent, but it is visually unappealing. The audience is aware when a character likes a person, so, it is frustrating when they react like they are receiving a lethal injection. Kiss him like you like him or push him away, but don't just stand there, acting as if you are enduring the most grueling experience of your life. kissa4HOW K-DRAMA KISSES ARE CHANGING OVER TIME Clockwatcher: I'm glad that we're getting less of the dead fish kisses these days. I think a perfect illustration is how Jang Hyuk and Jang Nara went from faking their kisses in "Successful Story Of A Bright Girl" to doing real ones in "Fated to Love You." Tessieroo: I firmly believe it depends on the actors and their level of comfort or experience. I do feel like the younger crowd of up-and-comers is teaching the older group a thing or two. Yoo Seung Ho's kisses in "Operation Proposal" destroyed all others from other shows airing at the same time, and he was only 19. Leila: Korean dramas are more open now. Maybe, too open at times, but the improvement I see is much appreciated. I have to agree with Tess. The level of comfort from both actors is key to a great scene, especially during the kiss. You will just know if something is off if the actors aren't at ease with each other. On the flip side, the chemistry between the actors and a moment done right would just take fans to heaven. Rinchan: I am in agreement with the argument that the level of acting experience comes in to play, but it also depends on the writing and production team. Sometimes, kisses are just sprinkled here and there or even used for the progression of a story arc, so, we are left with many failed attempts on the character's part. However, the quality of the kisses have improved, most likely because the current target audience is more open to it. The generation of drama watchers now is less conservative than those in the past. Tessieroo: It's got to be hard if you're meeting your costar for the first time and suddenly the director says, "Okay, we're filming the passionate kiss today, so, everyone in their places!" *shakes head* I can imagine the heart-pounding panic that sets in. There's also the idea that some K-drama directors want one of those lips-barely-touching kisses, so, there's that. Rinchan: It probably is hard to do something so intimate with a stranger, but they are actors. It's their job to make the characters believable and get their feelings across. I guess this might be where acting experience makes a difference, but I can't deny that offscreen chemistry does wonders for a drama. I do agree, there are directors who want those light kisses first and then, save the heated versions for the drama's more climactic part. An actor's kiss scenes may be poor in one drama but off the charts in another show because a different director asks for more passion in that scene. Angie: A [bigger] global audience might be a factor, too. What would appeal to a more socially conservative local viewer might need more oomph in the eyes of an international audience, and it seems producers and networks have been gradually answering the demand for more boldness in the scenes. I'm guilty of occasionally comparing the tamed K-drama kisses to those in shows from other countries. We know what we're missing in watching some of those K-drama kisses. kissa6K-DRAMA KISSES ON CABLE VS. THE BIG 3 Clockwatcher: At the end of the day, it's all about Standards and Practices because when I first started watching dramas, I thought the actors just sucked at kisses till I watched them in movies, and my eyes almost popped out. It appears that there's more freedom on cable much to the delight of international viewers. Tessieroo: I always gasp in shock when I watch K-movies but it's usually the language; suddenly, they all know how to curse. LOL. K-dramas have much more freedom on cable because not only are the kisses more amazing, but the dialogue is usually more contemporary, too. Rinchan: There are some dramas that like to drop some English curses, and they just fly under the radar. LOL. Angie: It seems to me that tvN and other cable channels started the trend. To me, "I Need Romance" felt like it was bucking convention at the time it aired; the make out sessions and the bed scenes seemed much more realistic than in any other K-drama I've seen. Leila: I'm loving the freedom, and I think the Big 3 is following this trend, too. Clockwatcher: I agree. "It's Okay, That's Love" is an example of a Big 3 network drama with lots of intimate kisses. Plus you have dramas like "Lovers," "Coffee Prince," and several others with passionate kisses. I think the trend started to shift in the last five to ten years. Rinchan: One issue is channels like the Big 3 have to answer to a censorship board. They have to make sure the drama is suitable for those 15+ and avoid having their programs being labeled risqué, but from time to time, we get a gem that pushes the envelope. When these shows garner favorable responses, we find more that follow suit. Angie: Things are at least changing; it's slow and careful, but it's changing. kissa5FORCED KISSES IN K-DRAMAS Clockwatcher: Sigh. Forced kisses. It's crazy because they are commonplace, so, I no longer get mad and simply skip on to the next scene. Last year's "Secret" had a pretty intense forced kiss scene, and I skimmed through it before blogging about it. I condemned the act but squealed at the second, gentler kiss. When I later watched it, I wondered if I would have had such positive feelings about the gentle kiss if I'd seen the scene in its entirety. Those characters were very messed up, but the takeaway point was that a forceful character continued to fail until he changed his tactic and became loving and compassionate. I was able to rationalize the act because it was in character, but take out the context and it's problematic. However, forced kisses are typically included to make the female lead succumb to her feelings. The audience is usually mad at her for being in denial and/or rejecting the male lead even though she returns his feelings, but is making her accept his kiss the only solution? I'm not a fan, but I understand the sometimes positive audience reaction because: (1) they are kissing, and (2) the romance is finally progressing. Tessieroo: I hate, hate, hate forced kisses, but I have to agree that it's used to move the romance forward. The forced kiss in "Me Too, Flower!" sparked a negative response; however, the second kiss was incredible. Who knew Yoon Si Yoon could kiss like that? I initially had the sexist idea that forced kisses were written into scripts by male writers but have since learned that female writers do it, too! For me, there's just zippo attraction to a man who does this nor would I give him the time of day afterwards. The relationship or friendship would stop dead in its tracks, and there would be no romance going forward. I wonder why the idea of asking for permission to kiss someone died out. Is that too old fashioned? Angie: It isn't at all, but simply putting it as asking for permission sounds unremarkable. However, I don't see why a writer can't be creative about it. If it's the actors' job to make kisses emotionally believable, then, it's the writers' job to pen more imagination into asking for a consent. I would also replay seeing a woman administer a groin attack just as the man is about to subdue her with his macho kiss. And I would say I'm boggled by female writers finding space for a forced kiss in their scripts, but if we think about it, it isn't unusual. I think there are scads of romance novels by female authors that have long been romanticizing personal violation. Rinchan: Asking for permission is a sweet act, but I agree it is one that would fall flat onscreen when the recipient only tries to reject you. The forced kiss, on the other hand, is a display of passion and dominance, the go-to scene when you want the relationship to appear volatile, tense, and dramatic. It screams, "Come to your senses and acknowledge me!" The forced kiss tends to be the result of desperation and frustration, but it is more artful than the man throwing his hand in the air and having a tantrum. It is his way of giving shock treatment while simultaneously saying he loves her. As a matter of fact, it technically should be more powerful than just an announcement of his love because there should be a physical and emotional response of her wanting him in return. It shows her their love is undeniable, but it can be a double-edged sword. It can look to some viewers as though he is saying, "You can't deny me!" I think for a romance-thirsty audience, it is the only way to get the girl to back on track from her stubborn ways without her appearing bipolar, but at the same time, get that long-awaited kiss. kissa3FAVORITE KISSERS Clockwatcher: Kim Sun Ah? She hasn't done any dramas for a while, but she isn't shy in her kissing scenes; she just goes for it. Tessieroo: Yoon Eun Hye. Hands down. She's never afraid to touch her costars, whether it's running her fingers through Joo Ji Hoon's hair in "Goong," grabbing Gong Yoo's face in "Coffee Prince," or clenching Kang Ji Hwan's shirt in "Lie To Me." This woman knows how to kiss. Clockwacher: Oh, yes, Yoon Eun Hye. How could I forget her? The "man or alien" scene in "Coffee Prince" where he finally gives into his feelings is still one of my favorites. It was a great performance from both actors. Rinchan: True, her kisses are textbook examples of what should be done; she goes all in. As for the male leads, by and large, they seem to perform well, but Jo Jeong Suk comes to mind because of the way he took IU's first onscreen kiss (in "You're The Best, Lee Soon Shin"). Although the kiss is fairly chaste, it is still emotionally charged. He is a guy that pays attention to detail and knows how to set the atmosphere for even the most basic lip-lock. Leila: I can only think of Lee Sang Yoon. Angie: Lee Jun Ki! He's very dedicated to every role he takes on, so, he'll kiss as good as he kicks in a fight scene. kiss9KISS SCENES ARE MORE REALISTIC NOW, BUT WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN FUTURE DRAMAS? Clockwatcher: I sometimes pity actors because they probably don't really want to swap spit with their costars, but that's still no excuse for bad kiss scenes. A kiss is a highlight in the couple's romantic journey, so, they should suck it up and pucker up! I don't want the kisses to get to the point where you can't watch a drama with your parents or kids, but I'm happy with the level of passion on cable. To be frank, I'm just glad if the actors move their lips and heads like in the final kiss scene in "You're All Surrounded." I would like more realistic behavior from couples in love and more responsive women, and in particular, more cases where women are the initiators. Rinchan: I feel the same. Unfortunately, women might have to be wary of coming across as indecent or that just jumping into kisses might ruin their good girl image. Meanwhile, men get more leeway if they are more aggressive. I hope in future dramas "the quest to get her kiss" trope will be done away with and just let the deed happen more naturally. Yeah, in real life kisses can be interrupted, but I rather they not make it such a gimmick. One can repeat those scenes only for so long before the audience loses the ability to build anticipation for a kiss. Tessieroo: I like the direction things are heading now and hope it continues. It would be a shame to go backwards. If shows could get rid of the wide-eyed, lifeless kisses altogether, then that would make me extremely happy. While I agree with Rinchan that women tend to be more careful, if it's written into the script that she's in love, then we should see that in her kisses! Angie: I check mark all your visions, especially with women being active, consenting participants. Flirtation elicits so much high in real life, so, I also want to see more of it between the OTP right before their first kiss, but of course, it depends on the context and the premise of the drama. Still, if we can get more storylines to include such a concept, I think the entire moment becomes more thrilling. The man and woman can flirt their way to permission/consent. Rather than the mood being created for them, they're the ones setting the tone for that kiss. And there you have it! We had a lot of fun with one of our favorite topics, so, we hope you enjoyed your time at this round table. Much like kissing, we can't do this alone, so, please share your views with us, and be sure to join us next time when we'll be discussing tvN's "The Three Musketeers."

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