When people are asked about “empowering” female K-Drama characters, their minds might usually go straight to ones like Do Bong-Soon (Strong Woman Do-Bong Soon; 힘쎈여자 도봉순) and Kim Bok-Joo (Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo; 역도요정 김복), who both have unique, superhuman strength as well as brave, confident personalities.
But female characters don’t always have to possess super-strength in order to be empowering or inspirational, and these following K-Drama ladies are all brilliant examples of women’s versatile strength.
The “Bokja Club”
Women Empowering Women
The 2017 drama Avengers Social Club (부암동 복수자들; Buamdong Boksoojadeul), also known as the Buamdong Revengers, features three bold but troubled women—Jung-Hye, Do-Hee and Misook—who join forces to take down the evil people in their lives.
Jung-Hye’s family comes from old-money but is pushed around by her family and ostracised by her siblings—making her closed off to many people around her. When Jung-Hye finds out that her husband has a secret son—Soo-Gyum—she forms the Bokja, or “revenge” Club to bring down his corrupt business and finally get away from him. Eventually, Soo-Gyum also joins the club to help bring down his father’s fraudulent dealings.
Do-Hee is a hardworking fish-seller who raises her two children by herself after her husband dies. When her son gets into trouble at school and becomes the victim of classism, Do-Hee joins the Bokja Club to expose the principle—who she believes is making shady business deals with Jung-Hye’s husband.
Misook, the most troubled of the trio, joins the Bokja Club to escape her abusive husband—a university professor who is branching into politics. Once the three women get together, they begin to unravel the nefarious connections between both Jung-Hye and Misook’s husbands and the principle, all of whom are abusing their power and breaking several laws.
As they enact their revenge and slowly bring down these lawless men, the Bokja Club form an unbreakable bond, despite their differences, and give one another the strength to stand up against the corruptness that pervades their lives and the lives of their children.
Women Challenging Social Issues
Schoolgirl Detectives (선암여고 탐정단; Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan), also known by its longer title, Seonam Girls High School Investigators, is a drama based around a club of five students who, with their determination and unique skills, hope to make their school a better place.
Airing back in 2014, this drama and its strong main cast uncovered “mysteries” as they tackled social issues such as bullying, discrimination, abortion, homosexuality and suicide—all heavy subjects which were discussed at length and resolved during different episodes.
The club is made up of five students: Mido the leader, “school-weirdo” Yee-Hee — a wannabe idol star, Ha-Jae the tech-savvy wonder-child, Sung-Yoon the peacekeeper, and the new-girl Chae-Yool who, in the beginning, joins the group against her will.
As they help their fellow students and push back against the wave of injustice in their school, the young detectives also grow closer as friends and prove that age doesn’t matter when it comes to making a difference in the world.
Single Mother Against the World
Cha Gi-Yong, the central character of the 2014 drama Greatest Marriage (최고의 결혼; Choigoui Gyeolhon), goes through a wealth of hardships after deciding to raise her child as a single mother—a choice that every single person in her life violently opposes.
When her immature boyfriend, Tae-Yeon, gets her pregnant, Gi-Yong decides to go through the entire child-rearing process by herself rather than marry Tae-Yeon; a man who doesn’t want her to have the child. Wanting Gi-Yong to submit to the views of his wealthy family — believing that wives only live to serve their husbands and sons — forces the fiercely independent and strong Gi-Yong to refuse him, unable to settle for such terms.
Her bold decision of single motherhood ends up costing Gi-Yong her beloved career as a popular news anchor, which she fought hard for in the face of blatant sexism and prejudice in the news-world. But her unwavering dedication to her son motivates her to overcome all her adversaries—which includes the news station, Tae-Yeon, his family and even her own mother.
But her troubles don’t stop there. As soon as her son grows older, her ex-boyfriend’s new wife kidnaps her son and forces him to live with her and his real father. Even though he is with his grandparents, Gi-Yong’s son refuses to accept his “new family” and cries for his mother every day until she manages to get him back.
If that wasn’t enough, once Gi-Yong gets her son back Tae-Yeon and his family take her to court to try and legally separate her and her child—a process which brakes Gi-Yong on every single level.
Although the Greatest Marriage is classified as a slice-of-life rom-com, Gi-Yong’s struggles, from discrimination in the workplace to the literal kip-napping of her son, is no easy thing to watch. Nonetheless, seeing Gi-Yong’s relentless determination and undying love for her son, and how it helps her to overcome all of these hardships is truly inspirational.
“Mum on the Run”
Mother Vs. the Law
Another powerful K-Drama mum is Soo-Jin (Lee Bo-Young) from the 2018 show Mother (마더; Madeo).
After moving to a small seaside town to be an elementary school science teacher, Soo-Jin meets the bright but troubled Hye-Na—a young girl who doesn’t really fit in with her class and who carries a small notebook where she writes all the things that make her happy.
After spending some time with Hye-Na, Soo-Jin is disturbed to discover that the young child is severely neglected by her mother and physically abused by a man—her mother’s live-in boyfriend—who Hye-Na calls “Uncle”.
By the end of the first episode, Soo-Jin and Hye-Na form a close bond that is a healthier mother-daughter relationship than the one seen between Hye-Na and her own biological mother.
After finding Hye-Na left outside her house in a garbage bag, Soo-Jin makes the sudden and daring decision to run away with Hye-na and help her escape her toxic mother and dangerous “Uncle” — a choice that changes their lives forever.
Although everyone sees her as a crazy kidnapper, Soo-Jin keeps running from the law in order to make sure Yoon-Bok remains safe and far, far away from the clutches of her dangerous family. Even though Yoon-Bok isn’t even her own child, Soo-Jin uses every ounce of her strength to protect her—making her a truly empowering character.
“All Hail the Queen”
Powerful Women In-Charge
As the title might suggest, the 2009 drama Queen Seondeok of Silla (선덕여왕; Seondeok Yeowang) focuses on the life of the real-life historical titan Queen Seondeok who, through her wisdom, kindness and fiery determination, became Korea’s first sole-ruling queen.
Although the lengthy 62-episode drama isn’t entirely true to Queen Seondeok’s real life, it still provides insight into her struggles on the path to claiming the crown for herself and overcoming her enemies—many of whom were members of her own royal court.
Find out more about the life and reign of Queen Seondeok HERE.
The drama begins when King Jinheung—the 26th monarch of Silla—and Queen Maya have twin daughters, who they named Cheonmyeong and Deokman. But the couple’s happiness was short-lived. Within the King’s court, there was a high-ranking concubine called Mishil who would stop at nothing to become the next queen—even going so far as trying to assassinate baby Deokman.
In order to protect his daughter, King Jinheung sent Deokman away to live in hiding with a servant woman named Seohwa, who raised the child as her own. Despite living many years oblivious to her royal heritage, Deokman eventually discovers she is a princess and, with the help of her twin sister, returns to her home in the palace.
But upon her return, Deokman faced many struggles. After a brief reunion with her sister, the Princess Cheonmyeong is killed—which meant Deokman had to fight against her opposers and the evil Mishil by herself.
Although she faced much opposition and was forced to fight on her own, Deokman—who was eventually renamed Seondeok—succeeded in rightfully claiming the throne and beoming Silla’s first sole-ruling female monarch.
Princess Deokman’s ambition and determination against her enemies, as well as her wisdom and power as Queen Seondeok, made her a truly empowering character—and the best part is, her accomplishments and impact were real, not just fiction.
Feature Image Source: ©TvN “Avengers Social Club” Representative Poster, 10.07.2019, 최신 드라마 안내, naver.com