Sympathy for second fiddles

If you’re in the midst of watching Stairway to Heaven (2003) and are rooting for Han Tae-hwa (Shin Hyun-joon) to win the girl, don’t.

None of the guys in this post gets the prize they most covet: their beloved. Consider that your Wet Blanket Statement of the Week.

Not all kdramas feature a love triangle (or quadrangle). But for those that do, it’s almost a sure bet that the ones playing second fiddles will not emerge victorious. Still, that does not stop many of us from fervently hoping the tide will finally turn in our favorite second fiddle’s favor. Even after getting our hopes crushed multiple times, we still believe there’s a writer out there farsighted enough to write a different ending for the traditional loser. Haha.

This post is for all the second fiddles in our kdramas, who are left with nothing in the end but heartache. Most of the ones here I have loved ardently, a few I have heaped venom on. All of them deserve our sympathy. (Or perhaps not.)

Let’s start with my Numero Uno Detesto. (Excuse the mangled Spanish, but you get the gist.)


  • Kim Sang-hyuk (Park Yong-ha, Winter Sonata, 2002)

    Meet the second fiddle I most detest. (I tried looking for a solo pic of him and stupidly typed “Winter Sonata.” Do that and see what you get. The guy’s so overshadowed in the pics department it’s a wonder he hasn’t developed some sort of complex.)

    Sang-hyuk has clingy pat down and zilch understanding of the words “Buzz off.”

    Okay, so your girl can’t forget her first love and promptly dumps you when he appears. Can you blame her? Your rival puts more effort into styling his hair and wears more mufflers than you. His pearlies can blind, can yours? And so what if you have more history with her? In the ten years you were together, did you master The Kiss? Obviously not. That was one area you could have beaten your rival hands down! But what I hate most is your “Woe is me, I’ve been jilted so I’m going to just lie here and waste away” pathetic ploy to win your girl back. Boo!

    Sympathy votes: 0


  • Han Dong-jin (Lee Dong-gun, Ruler of Your Own World, 2002)

    I actually pumped my fist when I found this image. What a shame that there isn’t a single pic of Lee Dong-gun in the ROYOW photo gallery (official site). Granted ROYOW maniacs (am proud to be one, yes!) worship the lead characters, but Reporter Han is so funny and deserves some love, too.

    In many dramas the male lead starts off as a flawed character and is eventually transformed by love. In contrast the second fiddle, a gentleman, has a perfect first meeting with the female lead and is ever so attentive and caring. Then, as he senses he’s losing the battle, he starts edging toward the dark side, becoming more possessive.

    Well, not so for Han Dong-jin. He gets slapped the first meeting. He is shallow and self-centered and has awful taste, buying his love this hideous-looking lamp from Venice that she can’t discard. After failing to woo his object of desire, does he mope like the Winter Sonata second fiddle we saw earlier? Of course not. He moves on in search of the next conquest. He’s flawed from start to finish and I adore him!

    Sympathy votes: 6


  • Dojin (Park Gun-hyung, Kingdom of the Wind, 2008)

    Maybe Dojin’s training as a Black Shadow has equipped him with the ability to foretell the future. Knowing thus that he will never win the girl, he figures he might as well go through life looking pained all the time.

    Not just pained, but plank-like. Dojin becomes Dowood and every episode it’s a race to see who will be more wooden, he or the female lead. (Some of the funniest scenes are of the two just standing together, like wax museum exhibits.) But when the need arises, trust our Dowood to swing to the other extreme and display such a concerted effort to emote I thought his face would explode. (Imagine what it’s like to be extremely constipated and you’ll get the picture.)

    But it isn’t just the uneven acting. It’s how Dowood seems incapable of affection for anyone other than his girl. He will slay and betray, he will use and be used, just so he can get what he wants.

    Sympathy votes: 2


  • Jang Bin (Chun Jung-myung, Fashion Seventies, 2005)

    This second fiddle pains me, literally. Whenever I remember Binnie, my heart hurts because I want so badly for him to win the girl.

    Wait. I don’t actually want him to win the female lead’s hand because I’m not fond of her, to be honest. (She’s rather insipid compared to the female second fiddle.) But I hate seeing Bin sad. He isn’t the sort to whine and wail; he just suffers quietly, which makes it worse for those of us who love him (and who are on the wrong side of the screen, dammit!). I hate seeing him end up with nothing. He needs to be giddily happy!

    Unlike some second fiddles whose past we know nothing about, we have seen Bin grow up. We know his mom hasn’t been exactly affectionate, so he has lived his childhood and youth fending for himself. He is at turns charming and brooding. His smile can dissolve decades-old grievances; his glare can silence a dozen caterwauling chimps. (And there I go with my hyperboles again. Stop doing that to me, Jang Bin!) Have you seen how he hugs, even with his wrists handcuffed? No second fiddle protects his girl the way our Bin does.

    Sympathy votes: 10


  • Shim Jae-ha (Jin Yi-han, Who Are You, 2008)

    Another second fiddle who pains me, but for completely different reasons. Jin Yi-han, you were this righteous Joseon police officer in your first drama (that 2007 masterpiece), so what tipped you over the edge onto the other side of the law?

    How did you become a two-faced villain in Who Are You? How could you devise this wicked scheme to steal a dead man’s prized artwork? How could you send your underlings to beat up the man’s ill friend who’s safekeeping the paintings? How could you be in love with the man’s daughter and yet be so crooked with her? How could you not know that the way to her heart is through a couple of turtles? HOW COULD YOU?

    Okay, got that admonition out of the way. Now may I gush? Never has wicked been so attractively packaged. He really isn’t all that bad. I mean, see how he makes his girl smile and giggle, how he sings and dances for her, how he berates that odious guy who’s chewing the girl up in the convenience store where she’s working, how his eyes tear up when he realizes his girl loves that odious guy, of all people! He admits his wrongdoings, makes amends, and throughout this life-changing experience manages to remain utterly desirable. Tall feat, wouldn’t you say?

    Sympathy votes: 8


  • Yeon Ho-gae (Yoon Tae-young, Legend, 2007)

    If your mom died a painful death before your eyes and your dad looks like a drag queen in disguise, that you might grow up pissed is no surprise.

    In Legend, Ho-gae’s parents hanker for him to ascend the throne. He, on the other hand, longs for something even more unattainable: the love of a woman with fiery powers who isn’t the slightest bit in love with him. Thus Ho-gae spends most of the drama in anguished torment, caught between a dad wearing dangling earrings who wants him to think about how to be king over the land and not knave to one fire goddess. It’s enough to drive our second fiddle bonkers.

    (I’m eternally grateful that Ho-gae isn’t fighting with the king over one Sujini. Even if his true love looks like his aunt, at least she doesn’t overact. Imagine if our hyperactive kid in the drama has two strong-willed guys competing for her affection. Oh, the theatrics that will ensue.)

    Sympathy votes: 7


  • Choi Seok-hyun (Shin Sung-rok, Thank You, 2007)

    Let’s not beat around the bush here. This second fiddle is a cad. In his late teens he makes a bet that he’ll bed a girl and when he succeeds, gloats to his friends about fait accompli. He then leaves town with nary a care, unaware that he has become a dad to be.

    Hmm, put that way he doesn’t seem such a cad after all, does he? It’s not like he dumped the girl knowing she’s expectant; he had no idea. Still, he did demean her publicly, causing her much shame in their school. False bravado or not, knowing how she felt about him and yet belittling her feelings means he deserves to be called scumbag. No wonder many viewers dislike him. (And just as many love him, so there.)

    But he repents. He begs her forgiveness when he finds out the truth years later. He does not insist on reclaiming what is rightfully his. Instead he seeks to do what is best for the girl and their daughter. (May I also add that he plays basketball like a pro? And that he never once ill-treated the girl’s dog, unlike some people?)

    Sympathy votes: 8


  • Seo Jung-woo (Lee Jun-ki, My Girl, 2005)

    I know why our second fiddle in this drama lost the girl. But keep this a secret and don’t tell him, because he’s already shed enough tears to soak up ten towels.

    I think it’s because the girl is too taken by his beauty. You see, she saw a likeness of him in a movie that had shattered Korea’s box office records and she thought to herself, “I really like him, this Seo Jung-woo. He’s so strong and has such awesome martial skills. He’s also sweet and sensitive and… so pretty. Aigoo, he reminds me of that actor in that hit movie! How can I fall for a pretty man? Dad will kill me.”

    Okay, admittedly our second fiddle’s features make some girls weep with envy. But please don’t equate his looks with soft femininity. He is very bit as manly as the first lead, that gangly guy that the girl loves. Just watch how our second fiddle runs. See how he fights off thugs, local and foreign. Yet he hurts easily; he cries. He’s a total SNAG!

    Sympathy votes: 9


  • Choi Yoon (Jung Kyung-ho, I’m Sorry I Love You, 2004)

    A famous actor who loses his girl to a man self-described as a dog. A second fiddle who is a total mama’s boy. Who spends much of the drama horizontal, on a hospital bed. A whiny second fiddle you want to strangle, to put a quick end to his misery and ours.

    Poor Yoon. (And poor Jung Kyung-ho, having to play second lead to one of the most gorgeous actors this side of the Equator. Calls for extra sympathy votes, don’t you agree?)

    He loses his girl, he falls gravely ill, he learns his mom has a past she can’t tell the world, he wins the girl back and loses her again, he unearths a birth secret, he tires of the hospital food, he discovers he’s not an only child… Which idiot told him stardom was easy? I’m doing to clobber that idiot! Life sucks so much now I’m going to lie on this bed, breathe the purified air, and never leave!

    Sympathy votes: 5


  • Lee Yul (Kim Jeong-hoon, Goong, 2006)

    Nothing beats being a prince… except being exiled, recalled, then exiled again. Talk about baggage, a chip on the shoulder, that thorn in the flesh. You poor miserable thing.

    Prince Yul starts off charmingly, charming everyone who dislikes his rival, that snooty prince. He is sweet and gentle and so handsome. Every inch his mother’s pride and joy, he is. But alas, it isn’t long before he starts singing a certain song which goes like this: “My family was banished to a faraway land. Oh, the humiliation. Oh, the suffering. For as long as I live I shall never forget our banishment!”

    Over and over he sings the song, reminding his girl what a victim he is and why she should therefore accept his love, because how can she add to his suffering? Never! It’s enough to make nauseous Prince Shin’s supporters execute hastily the following plan:


    Sympathy votes: 3


  • Park Jun-se (Bae Soo-bin, Brilliant Legacy, 2009)

    Finally, the second fiddle who inspired this post. The one who deserves to win the girl, but who will most likely be left holding the door for our lead couple as they glide happily past him. Darling Jun-se.

    Sympathy votes: 10


  • 51 thoughts on “Sympathy for second fiddles

    1. Whoa!

      I have to say its one of the best though I haven’t finished it yet since that time its because I can’t find the others subs. But tell you dearie, its great!! Its different too. I found many that didn’t like or watch K dramas love that dramas. It just different. Well, its natural for Bae Doo Na, right. She is just mighty talented.

    2. Hi anastassia

      Since you say How to Meet a Perfect Neighbor is great, I’ll grab it the next time I’m at the mall. I still need to watch Bae Doo-na’s Someday. The set I bought (legit, mind you) has decent but horribly-timed subs. The lines don’t appear until the person is done speaking; it’s so irritating. I gave up after five minutes. It’s a DVD, so I can’t tweak the timing!

    3. Take ur times hon,

      Oh Someday is a great drama isn’t it, though I haven’t finish watch it too. *Sigh

      There are lots of dramas I stopped at the middle or in the beginning.

      Sorry for you for the bad subs, but Bon subs has subs the drama I think and don’t worry for the male lead, it will progress and end with a very twisted/different/unpredictable ending, so I have read.

      Take care 🙂

    4. Pingback: Moon-Sori » sinemakorea » Blog Archive » Forever The Moment (2007)

    5. Pingback: Bae-Doo-Na » Someday Kdrama DL

    6. Park Yong Ha… I despised him so much in “Winter Sonata” that I almost didn’t watch “On Air” once I learned that he was the male lead. I’m so glad I managed to overcome my aversion because he’s absolutely delightful in that drama. There are more than a few characters I want to reach through the screen and slap senseless and his was definitely way up there on my list.

      Now a second fiddle I really feel for is the character of Donghwa in “Last Scandal”, played by Jung Woong In because he was really just as good a candidate for Sunny as his younger brother Dongchul/Jebin (Jung Junho), except for that little nagging “problem” of the long history lil bro has with the lady and the fact that said hermanito is deeply imbedded in her heart and soul. He’s so good, so fair, so available… Just not the right brother.

    7. Pingback: Shafted, shafted, shafted: A Story of Female Second Leads « Sevenses

    8. Pingback: Shafted, shafted, shafted: A Story of Female Second Leads « Sevenses

    9. Thundie!! I can’t believe you also picked Bae Soo Bin!!

      OMG.. When I read the title of this post, I immediately thought of Park Jun Se as th epitome of second lead guy that deserves the girl.

      Shame, shame, in the end, even drama gods can’t shake up the OTP.

    10. Need to update this post to include Moon Jae-shin (Sungkyunkwan Scandal)… who didn’t get the girl, as expected, waaahhhh!!!!

    11. I was actually thinking you already did, Thundie. Lol.

      Ah! MJS’s second-fiddle case is one of the most heartbreaking for me. All those glances, pained smiles, silent heartbreaks, and that I’m-turning-my-beloved-to-you-’cause-she-loves-you-too is plain painful… 😦

    12. Thundie..Moon Jaeshin please.
      He got 10 in my book for the sweetest, most understanding and most mature and most realistic 2nd male lead..hey life’s not always that dramatic LOL..
      And..what about So JiSub in WHIB?
      I am still a JiSub fan even after so many years..and Kang Inwook still breaks my heart to gajilion pieces whenever I remember WHIB
      Jaeshin and Inwook are my best 2nd male leads of all time XD

    13. more votes for Moon Jaeshin to be included in this post here!

      but just asking – is there a female version of this floating around somewhere? Cause I’d totally commend Lee Shi Young’s portrayal of Hae-ra in Playful Kiss for this! I kinda adored her for being such a coolcat, which is rare for me! I’m usually all OTP, all main lead, all the way.

    14. Pingback: 30-Day K-Drama Challenge: The compact (and slightly twisted) version – thundie's prattle

    15. park jun sae was my first second lead and the one one the one that is more in my mind even after all these years or months. one of the reason I think he sticks out is he was playing an ajussi role while looking way too young and being way too hot for the ajussi role. Not that the ajussis aren’t usually hot, it’s just that it made more sense for her to go crazy over this guy. If I have to add another ajussi character to your list it would lee hyun woo.

    16. Love this old post! In my book there is no second lead who brings out the urge to beat my head against the wall more than Ryu Shi Won as Sun Jae in Beautiful Days. That character exposed a dark side that I didn’t know I had and left me constantly trying to suppress thoughts of pummeling his heavy-banged mopey face until he just WENT AWAY!

      Then there’s the lump of interchangeable second leads my sister and I have dubbed Shin Woo (after JYH’s charater in YB). i.e. “Did you see that hilarious scene in PTB where Ji Sung was fighting in the hall?” “Oh, you mean with Shin Woo?”…. “In today’s episode of CYHMH I didn’t like how Shin Woo got really nasty” etc.etc.

      Oh, but this is supposed to be about ones we like, right? Lee Sun Gyun as Han Seong in Coffee Prince was one of my favorites. Not that he was really after Eun Chan (just temporarily shaken, dammit!) Also JHJ in 49 Days. Maybe that’s why those two dramas are at the top of my all over favorites list.

      As always, thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts!

    17. awesome entry – I couldn’t stop laughing!!! Could you PLEASE write a second part of this?!!!! Your comments are hilarious!!!! XD Would love to know your thoughts about You’re Beautiful, Scent of a woman etc.

    18. yes i’m with everyone else requesting moon jaeshin to be added here. even though many other dramas gave me some of the most heartbreaking second lead syndromes for very good reasons, this one takes the cake (along with the frosting and chocolate sprinkles) definitely cried the most, and felt the most pain from this one, i think its also because in this drama, the girl is really cool too! hehe

    19. Hi, I know it’s been like three years, but I was wondering if you were ever thinking about updating this. I’d love to know your opinion on more second leads. =D

    20. I love this list! Many of my all time fave Also Rans are to be found here! I sure wish I knew where to snag a copy (or a peek online) at “Who Are You” with Top 3 Heartthrob Ever – Jin Yi Han… If you know, Thundie, pop me a reply. Thanks, I always love your blog. 🙂

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