“Some people are just evil,” as quoted by my husband–a psychiatrist and the doting, affable counterpart to my awkward aloof self. There’s no traumatic backstory, their family lives are seemingly intact, and you just look at them and wonder what made them that way. This is where he would say that some individuals are just vile for no reason that man can see. In K-dramas we sometimes have the complaint that these characters aren’t well-developed or that the writers haven’t made the reason they are abhorrent convincing enough. This is where I would say that none of us know why a person does anything in real life, and sometimes something that we would consider insignificant flips them into doing the unthinkable. When I think of villains, I also think of the actors who have to put themselves in their characters’ lives and make us believe they’re evil for our stories’ sakes. Even when villains get hate from viewers, the actors stay committed to playing such vile characters. So here is my homage to those actors who play the villain.
My first villain and someone I couldn’t wait to see die was Lee In-jwa in Jackpot, played meticulously by veteran actor Jeon Gwang-ryul. He was the sole villain in the whole drama and he just refused to die–even as he was killing infants or adults, or making them die for him. For those who missed this sageuk, from the very first scene he was in, In-jwa was scheming to overthrow what he saw as a corrupt government. His plots involved seductions of the king and the attempted the assassination of King Gyeongjong by his protege, Dam-seo. She was mercilessly (or maybe mercifully) killed off midway through the drama, probably because she was way out of her league sharing screen-time with actors Yeo Jin-gu, Jang Geun-seok and Choi Min-soo. Never in my life did I root for the death of a character so fervently. But I didn’t just want In-jwa to die, I wanted him to die the most painful death imaginable. And I got my wish when he was sentenced to die by quartering. His limbs were tied to four cows and he was ultimately torn to pieces as the four cows slowly walked in four different directions. I still shudder at how painful that would have been.
This next villain was a little sociopath that was so expertly played by Park Solomon that I’m anticipating his return as something, anything, that shows more of his range (because look what a cute little puppy he is). He was downright scary as Shi-wan in Lookout. Remember Macaulay Culkin as the disturbed child in the film The Good Son? Shi-wan made him look like a boy scout. This guy pushed little kids off of buildings for fun and then the freak painted the scenes (gorgeously by the way). You know that line between genius and insanity? This teenaged tyrant played hopscotch around it. Park Solomon held his own in every scene with every veteran actor he encountered. His standoff with Kim Young-kwang’s prosecutor character still gives me chills. The cold eyes, the smirk, the remorseless attitude, like he was teasing, “Come for me, I dare you.” And he did so because he knew he could literally get away with murder.
Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food
The last example, I hesitate to even mention, because she (and her character) made me stop watching a drama that would have otherwise gone down in history as one of the best noona romances I had ever seen. Of course, I’m speaking about Jin-ah’s mother, Kim Mi-yeon, played by Gil Hae-yeon in Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food. I would say she was too good at playing the overprotective, overzealous, and over-the-top mother who cared more about social status and respect than the happiness and psychological well-being of her own children. Yes, she threw tantrums. Yes, she was verbally and physically abusive. And yes, the script probably told her to be all those things and more. I commend Gil Hae-yeon for throwing herself into that role because I hated her. (And I was happy she appeared in the next show I watched as a photography-loving tea enthusiast in Boyfriend). I’m sure those mothers exist, at least certain traits of them. She reminded me that those who really believe a certain way cannot be changed, no matter how much you try to reason with them. Their opinions are set in stone and no amount of thoughtful discussion will ever convince them otherwise. (Sounds like an allegory for so many political systems right now, doesn’t it?) Did that make her inherently evil?
It’s in these characters, the villain to our hero, the bad to our good, the yin to our yang, that we see the balance that humanity must strive to achieve. In the same way that some people are just evil, there are people who are inherently altruistic, caring, and loving. Our very existence mirrors these archetypes, and there must be evil for us to know what good can be.
For the actors who dare to be hated, bravo! It takes a certain bravery to play such abhorrent characters, and a certain gumption to give in to your dark side, at least for a few weeks.