Today we’re going to talk about slow-burn love stories which happens to be one of my favorite types of relationship development under the sun. It’s right up there with enemies-to-lovers and friends-to-lovers. I will freely admit that I am basically giving myself a chance to rave (hopefully with some semblance of intelligence) over two couples that caught my attention and inspired my writer self last year.
The OTPs (One True Pairings) I am talking about today are from two Kdramas (Korean TV shows) that I watched in 2017. I’ve been percolating over this article for a good few weeks now–hopefully I can express my thoughts coherently and do it justice.
tiny, wee spoilers to follow
I Remember You/Hello Monster Couple: Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an
This police procedural drama is all about psychopathy and estranged brothers and “are monsters born or created?” and it’s fascinating; but the core of the story and what makes the drama’s resolution even possible is the main couple.
Cha Ji-an carries the weight of being a criminal’s daughter, but she is also a detective with a strong sense of justice who consistently puts others before herself. She is a protector–sometimes to the detriment of her own safety and emotional health.
Lee Hyun watched his father die and lost his little brother in one night. As a result of that childhood trauma he is closed-off and fighting to prove to himself that he isn’t the monster that his father believed he was.
The romance starts out gradually. It is literally slow-burn with a dash of enemies-to-lovers as Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an butt heads at every turn. Something I really appreciated about the start of their relationship is that, even though they are continually at odds, they’re not dismissive of each other as people and the clashing of their characters comes more from the fact that Ji-an is a detective and Hyun is a criminal profiler, hence they see things from completely different perspectives.
Of course, once they are forced to depend on each other their relationship gradually morphs into reluctant friendship. Then they start to be concerned when the other person is hurting or in danger and that’s when my favorite aspect of this particular relationship kicks in. The mutual respect and strong concern for the other person’s well-being slowly deepens into love and it’s precious. The feels are real with this one, y’all.
Their romance is reminiscent of the famous Austen quote: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me.”
I honestly don’t remember them even saying the words “I love you” other than Hyun’s adorable and swoony way of telling Ji-an that she ranks highest in his heart. Not that it isn’t important for a couple to express their love in words, but the thought with Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an is that at a certain point there is no doubt in their mind how the other person feels about them. Hyun knew without even having to ask that Ji-an loved him because she showed him as clear as daylight in the way she looked out for him and believed in him. As for Ji-an, once Hyun confessed to her in the adorable way previously mentioned, she understood how much he cared about her.
Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an are important as an OTP to me because even though they have their own personal struggles, even when they are drowning in their own hurt: they stand by each other no matter what. Ji-an’s steadfast belief that Hyun is not a monster like he fears (but just a very damaged person who needs help) has a huge influence on him and essentially jump-starts his road to healing. At the same time Hyun’s constant, quiet care of Ji-an and how he is there for her when she is overwhelmed by grief or fighting a moral dilemma (such as taking the law into her own hands) is one of the best aspects of his character.
They are each other’s anchors, not in an unhealthy I-will-go-to-pieces-if-you-are-not-here sort of way, but as a safe place for the other person. It’s heartwarming and precious and I just really, really love these two.
Disclaimer: I Remember You/Hello Monster is a crime show that deals with psychopathy, somewhat graphic crime scenes, serial killers, etc. Minimal swearing. No indecent scenes. Possible danger of sobbing into your ice cream. Swooniness guaranteed.
While You Were Sleeping Couple: Jung Jae-chan and Nam Hong-joo
Saving the best for the last. [happy sigh]
Modern love-stories that are sweet + healthy + stable without all the misunderstandings and emotional upheavals/drama actually do exist. I knew they did, but they are few and far between and my list is Very Small. So when I watched While You Were Sleeping last September-November the love story took me completely by surprise.
(disclaimer: While You Are Sleeping is a drama that deals with crime. Minimal swearing. No immoral scenes. Much sweetness. May kill you from the hilarity. Or from the crying. Features Best Secondary Character in the history of Kdrama)
I’m used to OTPs killing my feels with all the pain and tears (
coughFitzSimmonscough) or giving me heart-attacks with the dramatic, sweeping gestures. When I started watching WYWS I kept on expecting a drawn-out denial of feelings + emotional turmoil culminating in a declaration of love that (probably) takes place in a burning building or during a stunning sunset. Therefore, I was surprised as the story progressed and Jae-chan and Hong-joo fall in love with all the softness and sweetness of a light summer rain. At first I am ashamed to admit I was actually a bit disappointed. “Give me the Doctor and River Song! Give me Margaret and Mr. Thornton! Give me Han Solo and Leia!” (I demanded).
oh, silly annie.
I remember the scene when it hit me how perfectly the love-story was crafted. Hong-joo has a special gift, or curse depending on how you look at it. She can see the future (usually a catastrophic future) in her dreams and she and Jae-chan–who is a rookie prosecutor–work together to prevent her dreams from happening or to change them if they can. Naturally, I thought this was much too contrived and convenient. They were clearly meant to be together as a couple, hence where was the suspense? where were the sparks? “I need the chemistry” (I grumbled, completely forgetting that not all chemistry between couples has to be electrifying).
Then THAT scene happened. I won’t say what scene it is because spoilers are the scourge of happy people everywhere, but I was floored. It’s such a quick moment that if you’re not paying attention you might not even realize the significance, but I sat there stunned as my epiphany hit me and everything about Jae-chan and Hong-joo’s relationship clicked into place. From that moment on I was toast.
I think one of the marks of a good OTP is the ability that it has to move you to tears, and after that scene I cried multiple times. But here’s the thing, I wasn’t crying because the love story was sad or gut-wrenching–I was crying because it was beautiful. There is a special quality of trust and belief and actual, real understanding between this couple that I have seen in very few romances. River Song had no idea just how much the Doctor loved her until years after they had been married. Even Amy and Rory–as much as I adore them–struggled with knowing just what the nature and strength of the other’s feelings were.
Jae-chan and Hong-joo know each other so well and understand each other with such clarity that there is no place for dramatic angst in their relationship. Instead the conflict comes from elsewhere, e.g. opposition to their relationship, Hong-joo’s dream about her future death, etc. And through it all they are there for each other as beacons of hope and faithfulness.
The romance in While You Were Sleeping doesn’t have the dramatic flair of many love stories, but it’s that much sweeter for its steadiness and strength. Jae-chan and Hong-joo taught me an important lesson about OTPs, i.e. love doesn’t always have to be portrayed as fire-works and grand gestures and feels-inducing angst and passionate kiss scenes as the world goes up in flames. Sometimes it is simply a couple knowing each other inside-and-out, steadfastly standing by their sweetheart + believing in them and trusting them no matter what.
And I think that is beautiful.