For any non-Korean show out there, you can pretty much cast it with Korean drama characters. Or, let me refine that statement further: for any non-Korean soap opera show out there, you can pretty much cast it with Korean drama characters.
Downton Abbey is basically the British version of a K-drama. (I used Royal Family as an example, but you could compare it to any other melodramatic K-drama that exists in the world.) If you’ve heard of it or seen it, great. If you haven’t, I will try to summarize Downton Abbey here:
You have your family tensions over birthright, your love-hate relationship between leads, the cunning stepsisters, the rivalries over love, the issues with class, relationships between the “lower class” and “upper class,” a death due to a one-night stand, and the scandal of it all. Just when you think things could be smooth sailing for our characters, something happens to completely overturn that happiness. The main male lead gets a fiancee, and the main female lead is basically forced to marry a powerful man she doesn’t love so that her secret can be kept safe. On top of that, you have World War I in the background, people dying left and right from sickness and wounds, and miraculous recoveries (“He’s paralyzed for life!” “He can walk!”). Oh – and this happens in just under 16 episodes.
Korean dramas would at least let all of the above develop over 24 episodes – at least.
So here’s what I think – if Downton Abbey were to be a Korean drama – who would be cast in it?
The cranky, sarcastic, and downright funny matriarch of Downton Abbey, she will do anything to get her way. Not much unlike Hyun Bin‘s sweet mother in My Lovely Samsoon (Na Moon Hee), who beats up her son for not taking over the hotel business, and calls over his first love only to send her away.
Lady Cora Crawley
The American wife of Richard Crawley, Lady Cora prefers to be in control over her household and her daughters’ marriage prospects, which can put her at odds with her mother-in-law and daughters from time to time. Plenty of Korean mothers in dramas love to marry off their daughters and sons, but one standout mother is Hwang Geum Hee (Jung Hye Young), Seung Jo’s mother in Playful Kiss. Lovable and meddlesome, but well-intentioned all the same, Geum Hee makes sure her son (Kim Hyun Joong) ends up with his fated love Oh Ha Ni (Jung So Min).
Lord Richard Crawley
An upright man, Richard Crawley, Earl of Grantham is the ideal father figure. He is also the ideal employer, willing to give his workers a chance to redeem themselves, and keep them employed during turbulent times. Quite reminiscent of Choi Eung Chan (Chun Ho Jin), the president in City Hunter. He dotes upon his spoiled daughter, is overcome with guilt whenever he makes a morally questionable decision, and tries to be a good mentor to Yoon Sung (Lee Min Ho) when he learns of his paternity.
The arrogant eldest daughter of the Grantham household, Lady Mary knows that she is only a pawn for marriage, but tries to forge her own path. She finds herself at odds against her distant cousin Matthew Crawley, who is the new heir of Downton Abbey. While no Korean drama has given us marriage between distant cousins just yet, we do have our fair share of older sisters being snobby in their choice of men.
Take Song Eun Jo (Moon Geun Young) in Cinderella’s Sister for example – cold and arrogant, and certainly not looking for marriage.
The second child in the Grantham household and always under the shadow of her older sister. She’s in love? Who cares – when will Lady Mary get married? Edith can play the piano? Heck, only interested if Mary sings! So it’s understandable that she’s always trying to undermine her older sister when it comes to love. We have plenty of evil sisters/half-sisters in K-drama history, but one standout is Han Yoo Ri (Kim Tae Hee) in Stairway to Heaven. She’d resort to almost-murder to keep Kwon Sang Woo to herself.
As the youngest sister in the Grantham household, she’s pretty much left to her own devices. That also means she is free from a lot of society’s expectations for her, and she becomes the first active feminist in her home, taking part in political rallies and taking on a career as a nurse. Having no chance at the crown herself, Lee Se Ryung (Moon Chae Won) has a more free-spirited personality compared to her cousin, Princess Kyung Hye (Hong Soo Hyun) in The Princess’s Man.
He’s every girl’s dream – decent, hard-working, modest, and a really nice guy who just so happens to become the heir of Downton Abbey overnight. It takes a while for him to adjust to this new role, and his love-hate relationship with Lady Mary sure helps him ease into it. In terms of really nice guys that are like Prince Charming, Park Joon Sae (Bae Soo Bin) from Shining Inheritance. Secretly rich, secretly swoon-worthy.
She is the perfect fiancee – understanding, kind, sweet, and also willing to give up her man (Matthew Crawley) to his destined-love-to-be (Lady Mary). I can think of a couple who fit this description: Hyang Gi (Jung Yu Mi) from A Thousand Days’ Promise, and Eun Hee (Kim Sung Eun) from Thank You.
A loyal butler who will always protect his master, he’s probably the number one butler of Downton Abbey. Manager Jang (Kim Seung Wook) of Take Care of the Young Lady isn’t too far behind – upright and knows how to keep his staff in check.
Mr. Bates is the valet to Lord Grantham – a personal assistant if you will. He has a solid friendship with Lord Grantham, and is quite the steadfast valet. Seo Dong Chan (Yoon Sang Hyun) may be the chief valet to a woman instead – Kang Hye Na (Yoon Eun Hye) in Take Care of the Young Lady - but one cannot deny how fiercely loyal and protective he is of her. How many times would a valet go pick you up at the airport and swing you over his shoulder?
The head maid of Downton Abbey, she’s ethical, kindly, and normal in a household full of manipulators and snobs. Think of her as the sweet maiden who just wants to be with her love, free from all the drama. While in Downton Abbey she ends up with Mr. Bates, her sweet nature can be seen in Go Eun Sung (Han Hyo Joo) from Shining Inheritance. Despite her suddenly-poor-situation, she keeps up good morale and remains ethical in the face of hardship.
Downton Abbey wouldn’t be rife with intrigue without O’Brien, the maid to Lady Grantham. She’s bitter and selfish, always looking out for her own interests instead of the lady she serves. Her attitude leads to disastrous consequences, and luckily she develops a guilty conscience for it. Kind of like Uhm Soo Jung (Lee Kyung Shil) in Romance Town - the lady can’t let go of her greed for the lottery jackpot. If she had, she wouldn’t have lost her friendship with the other maids or gone to jail.
Now here’s the question – what TV show would you recast with your favorite K-drama characters? And, who would you cast in it?