One of my favorite things about Queen of Reversals is the characterization of Goo Yong Shik. At first glance he has many of the trappings of the typical lead male: he’s a lonely chaebol with daddy issues, a playboy-womanizer, has a secretary-cum-best friend/sidekick, has no other friends, and masks his isolation with cheekiness and an inflated ego. But, and I think this is one of the best reversals of the show, he doesn’t exhibit many of the qualities that you would expect from such an introduction. Indeed, when we first meet him, he’s waking up in bed with a girl who’s name we never learn, whom he treats with an irreverent indifference that contrasts strikingly with how we see him interact with Tae Hee later on. He rolls out of bed and checks himself out in the mirror, slapping and admiring his abs, then whips his leather jacket and sunglasses on and compliments himself on his sense of style. He’s hilariously self involved, which is a wonderful set up for when he starts falling in love with Tae Hee, who is so involved in her own marital and workplace problems that she never even notices his goofy longing glances and responds to his attempts at trying to get close to her with grumpy, grumbling annoyance.
Yong Shik never exhibits the bitterness and angst that you would expect from him. Despite the fact his mother left him as a baby in his father’s care, he never resents her. Instead he waits for her, and hopes for her return, and accepts every opportunity he may have to meet her. When he finally does meet her, there are no hurt accusations, no spurning of affection, just concern for her well being and happiness that he’s found her. (Tae Hee Recognizes this, which is why she tells his sleeping mother, “Even though you weren’t here, he loved you so much. We could all tell.”) Despite the fact that his older brothers and step-mother treat him with disdain and actively try to destroy him, he never reciprocates their feelings or actions. He wants to gain their respect, and he works towards that. And even though his father is the typical stern kdrama dad—disapproving of his love for Tae Hee, trying to control his life through the company he’ll pass on to him—Yong Shik somehow is able to maintain a joking, genial, and loving relationship with him. He’s a hopeful character, and optimistic character, a character who is always striving. The scene that most illustrates this for me comes in episode 26, after Tae Hee has left the team and has publicly rejected him (in order to protect him from Song Yi), and he finds out that his mother is in the hospital. He runs to Tae Hee and asks her to go with him. He says it’s because he’s scared to go alone, but it’s more than that. It’s because he has shared so much with her about his mother already, and she’s the person he’s most emotionally vulnerable with, and even though she’s rejected him, he’s still open and honest with her.
Best of all, he’s a romantic hero who doesn’t need to go through a conversion to realize his feelings for our heroine. I’ve found that in many kdrama romances, the hero is at first unwilling to love the heroine, and it’s only in the last episodes, sometimes even the very last one, that he shows his true feelings. Kim Sam Soon, Secret Garden, Coffee Prince, Scent of a Woman: all these dramas have explicit plot lines in which the hero has to overcome his attraction to the heroine because—horror of horrors!—she doesn’t resemble who he usually goes for. Once Yong Shik recognizes his feelings for Tae Hee he confesses them. And he keeps on confessing, too. He also doesn’t simply expect her to love him back, just because he’s a handsome chaebol. He asks her to give him a chance. His confessions don’t just involve him telling her that he loves her, but are acknowledgements of her reasons for reservation when it comes to romance. Here are excerpts from two of my favorite confessions from the show:
Episode 24: “I can’t wait that long. So please…be with me now.”
Episode 28: “Hwang Tae Hee-sshi. Are you there? Can you hear me?… How you felt five years ago is how I feel now. All I need is you to make me happy. With you, there ar no regrets, no fears. I’ll win, even if the world is against me. And I won’t change. So long as you’re you, I won’t change. Even if you get older, uglier, and crankier. Whatever you do, I won’t change. I won’t wither or grow cold. I can’t ask you to come with me, but can’t you just be there? Can’t you pick up when I call? If I buy dinner, have some. If I buy movie tickets, just sit in the next seat. And if I confess every day, can you just listen? If not, can you at least not push me away?”
Boy is frank. Yong Shik has a sincerity about him that comes through in all that he does. He’s generous with his love and he’s steadfast. And that’s why he, along with Park Chul Soo and Lee Sang Shik, is one of my favorite kdrama heros.