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KajoPicks: 10 Korean series to watch if you love ‘chaebol’ dramas

If you are not familiar with the term chaebol, in South Korea, it means a large industrial conglomerate which is run by a family.

In some cases, they have been criticised for itheir monopolistic behaviour such as favour controlling shareholders and government corruption.

Outside their high-rise offices, their antics have often made headlines around the world. The perfect example is the ‘nut rage’ incident.

It took place on Dec 5, 2014 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York city.

The daughter of Cho Yang-ho, the Korean Air chairman, Cho Hyun-ah was so unhappy that the flight attendant served nuts on a plate that she ordered the aircraft to return to the gate before takeoff.

Hyun-ah was also the airline’s vice president. In 2018, Hyun-ah’s younger sister Cho Hyun-min allegedly did a classic K-drama move by hurling a cup of water at the face of a manager of an advertising agency during a business meeting.

Meanwhile their brother, Cho Won-tae made headlines in 2005 for assaulting a 77-year-old woman in the street. She was reportedly scolding him over his reckless driving.

In another case of chaebol tantrum, there was a case of then 10-year-old daughter of Bang Jung-oh who is the president of the cable channel TV Chosun in 2018.

She was caught on camera verbally abusing her driver. Some of the things she said included, “You are crippled. You are crippled without arms, face, legs, ears and mouth”.

Another time, the daughter said, “Your parents raised you wrong. Your parents taught all of your family members wrong. Because they were too poor, they didn’t even take you to hospital or dental clinic.”

No wonder the Korean entertainment scene loves to depict lives of chaebol families in their dramas.

If you are into Korean series depiction of chaebol dramas; from sibling rivalry, inheritance dispute to good-old water-splashing scenes, here are ten series you should watch:

1.Elegant/Graceful Family (2019)

How rich is the chaebol family in this drama? They are so rich that they even have a funeral for their pet fish. If you don’t think that is not wild and juicy enough for you? There is a scene where a violinist is hired to play while standing barefoot in the ice so that she could “express her music better”.

Overall, this drama has it all when it comes to chaebol dramas. Secret love child? Mysterious murder case? Fighting over company shares? Check, check and check. Manipulation over the media, loveless marriage and embezzlement? It has them all.

The storyline circles around Mo Seok-hee (Im Soo-hyang), the only daughter of the MC Group.

After her mother was mysteriously murdered, she was forced to go to the US.

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15 years later, she returns to South Korea vowing to find her mother’s killer.

Besides her own family, another thing that stands in her way is the TOP Team of MC Group. It is a team which manages the Mo family affair. Their job includes covering up illegal activities committed by the family.

It is fun to watch especially because the protagonist, Seok-hee is feisty and definitely not a damsel in distress.

2.Secret Garden (2010)

What happens when Cinderella and Prince Charming switch bodies? Written by Kim Eun-sook, in this modern-day Cinderella story, Gil Ra-im (Ha Ji-won) is a poor stuntwoman. Through a misunderstanding, she comes across Kim Joo-won (Hyun Bin), a high-end department store CEO.

As their fates continuously collide, they find themselves in a mysterious secret garden where they are offered mysterious drinks. (I guess they never heard about Snow White and what happens to her after accepting an apple from a stranger in the woods.)

Anyhoo, they take the drinks and wake up in each other’s bodies the next morning.

It is amusing and interesting to watch as they navigate their lives after the body swaps.

As expected when a rich boy falls in love with a poor girl, the boy’s family is not entirely happy with it. So expect scenes like “I’ll pay you to leave my son alone!” kind of thing.

This drama was so famous when it first came out it created ‘Hyun Bin Syndrome’. After recorded its highest viewership ratings of 35 per cent, Hyun Bin was seen everywhere through advertisement, from newspaper to television.

3.Boys over Flowers (2009)

This drama is based on manga series “Hana Yori Dango” by Yoko Kamio. Most people do not know that the original Japanese title “Hana Yori Dango” (Boys over flowers) is actually a pun on the Japanese old saying ‘Dumplings over flowers’.

It refers to people who attend Hanami (flower festival) who focus on the materialistic side of the event such as buying food instead of enjoying the flowers.

As for the drama, it is set at a school for the super famous, centering on a poor girl and the richest boy in campus.

Gu Jun-pyo (Lee Min-ho) is the leader of a group called F4, the most popular gang in school of four good looking, who also happen to be the richest, boys in school.

He is also the spoilt heir to a wealthy conglomerate Shinhwa who owns the school.

Meanwhile, Gu Hye-seon (Guem Jan-di) is the daughter of a dry cleaner who attend the Shinhwa High School on a scholarship.

Is it fun to watch? Yes. Is it realistic? Of course not! There is no way that your rich teenage boyfriend will whisk you away to a tropical island on a private jet along with your best friend and brand new wardrobe of outfits right? Commoners like us will never know.

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4.Cheongdam-dong Alice (2012)

Don’t you hate it when you work hard so in life but in the end the day you get surpassed by someone who has less talent and does nothing but using their money and connections?

This drama follows Han Se-kyung (Moon Geun-young) who at first believes she can achieve anything in life with the belief that ‘hard work is my strength’.

After numerous job interviews, she finally gets hired by an apparel company. Although she is a talented designer, she is hired as an errand girl for the president’s wife. The wife turns out to be Se-kyung’s her high school classmate and rival Seo Yoon-joo (So Yi-hyun).

Believing that the only way for her to succeed is to marry rich, she embarks on a quest to become a “Cheongdam-dong daughter in-law”.

It is a term referring to young married women who live in that wealthy neighbourhood. Cheongdam-dong refers to Cheongdam neighbourhood in Gangnam, Seoul which is famous for its high-end fashion shops.

5.The Heirs (2013)

After starring as the heir of Korean conglomerate Shinhwa in Boys Over Flowers, Lee Min-ho becomes the wealthy heir of another chaebol called Jeguk Group in The Heirs.

Similarly, The Heirs is set in a high school populated by the privileged and rich. Then comes another poor girl Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye) who is on scholarship to the school.

Choi Young-do (Kim Woo-bin), Kim Tan’s former best friend turned enemy begins bullying Eun-Sang just to irritate Tan. Thing gets hotter when Young-do also falls in love with Eun-sang.

Underneath the rich boy-poor girl romance storyline, the drama also addresses important issues such mental health among high school students, the impact of parents’ divorce on children and pressure from parents to achieve excellency in school.

6.Monster (2016)

What would a greedy person do to the only heir to a chaebol cooperation who happens to be blind? In a classic story of a Korean drama-land, you would try to kill him and take away his inheritance.

In Monster (2016) Lee Guk-cheol (Kang Ji-hwan) lost his wealth and inheritance to his greedy uncle.

From being a spoilt rich heir with an army of maids serving him, he become a poor, blind beggar overnight.

One day, he is given an opportunity to use a new identity, Kang Ki-tan. Using his new connection and identity, Guk-cheol slowly plans for his revenge and trying to earn back what is truly his in the first place.

With 50 episodes, brace yourself for a lot of corporate drama with buying and selling stock company just to gain control.

7.Crash Landing on You (2019)

Not all chaebol heirs or heiress are incompetent, some (unfairly) beautiful, successful and intelligent like Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) in Crash Landing On You (2019).

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While she is a chaebol heiress, she is also an illegitimate daughter to her wealthy father. Despite being the target of resentment from her stepmother, half-brothers and their wives, Se-ri run her own successful fashion company, Seri’s Choice.

She is also known for her publicity stunts that she pulled just to publicise her brand. During one of her stunt, she accidentally crash-landing in North Korea when paragliding.

With her family and company all assuming her to be dead, the most satisfying part is to watch their reactions when Se-ri returns to South Korea.

To date, it is the highest rate tvN drama and the third highest-rated South Korean TV drama in cable television history.

The drama also features Hyun Bin who charms viewers in his North Korean accent portraying a captain in the Korean People’s Army.

8.High Society (2015)

Jang Yoon-ha (Uee) is the youngest daughter of a chaebol family. Instead of living the life of a typical upper class, she takes part-time job in a supermarket to run away from her family problem.

It is also a chance for her to live a normal, ordinary life. While hiding her identity, she makes friends with poor girl Lee Ji-yi (Lim Ji-yeon) and dates Choi Joon-ki (Sung Joon).

Things change when her brother dies in a flight crash and friend as well as boyfriend find out her true identity. She finds herself joining the family business handling the cosmetic department. Meanwhile, Yoon-ha’s sister her sister who wanted to kick her out from the company.

When rich siblings fight, they don’t fight over the last piece of pizza or what to watch on TV, they fight over who owns the company.

9.My Fair Lady (2009)

Kang Hye-na (Yoon Eun-hye) is a rich heiress who lost her parents in a plane crash.

Due to her lonely upbringing while living under her strict grandfather, Hye-na becomes a self-centred and indifferent as an adult.

She finally meets her match when she comes across Seo Dang-chan (Yoon Sang-hyun), a former gigolo.

Ultimately, Hye-na’s life turns upside down when Dang-chan shows up at her home as her new household manager.

10.Secret Love (2013)

When a second-generation chaebol heir Jo Min-hyuk (Ji Sung) lost his girlfriend in a hit and run accident, he vows for revenge.

He believed that Kang Yoo-jung (Hwang Jung-eum) who was responsible for her girlfriend’s death.

Little does she know that Yoo-jung sacrifices her future by going to prison in place of her then-boyfriend Ahn Do-hoon (Bae Soo-bin).

Do-hoon is the jerk in the story, a prosecutor who is hungry for power.

The story circles around revenge, family dramas, and toxic relationships.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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