[REVIEW] Drama breaks the tradition and puts women at the center: In 'Search: WWW,' the ladies take the lead, without making sacrifices

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[REVIEW] Drama breaks the tradition and puts women at the center: In 'Search: WWW,' the ladies take the lead, without making sacrifices


On the top, actor Lee Da-hee as Cha Hyun, and above, Jeon Hye-jin as Song Ga-kyung. On the right, Im Soo-jung as Bae Tami. The three main characters are portrayed as strong, successful women each at top of their careers. [TVN]

In many local dramas, especially in romantic comedies, the same story gets told over and over again: Women often appear as sloppy characters needing to be rescued by their male counterparts. Or viewers might find that women are relegated to only being a part of the subplots that tend to “smooth out” the rough patches in the story dominated by male politics.

Over the past few years, however, new types of female characters have been seen on TV screens, including those who remain faithful to their desires and others who prioritize their careers or needs above everything else.

In “Misty” (2018), actor Kim Nam-joo successfully takes on the role of a cool-headed anchorwoman, and shows off her wicked sense of style with her colorful office outfits. On tvN’s “Good Wife” (2016), adapted from the U,S. drama series, Jeon Do-yeon plays a hardworking lawyer who originally sacrificed her career for her husband’s.

Yet many of the women in these stories still remain chained to the patriarchal system. For instance, Kim’s character in “Misty,” Go Hae-ran, put her desires to succeed ahead of everything else and had an abortion out of fear that having a baby would get in the way of her career. After her husband finds out, the couple’s relationship deteriorates and leads to a seven-year loveless marriage for the couple. In “Good Wife,” Jeon’s character Kim Hye-kyung only resumes her career to take care of her family when her well-to-do husband gets arrested after he is involved in a series of political and sex scandals.

Even in the popular JTBC drama “SKY Castle” (2019), which was meaningful because all the main roles were played by women, each of the lead characters were depicted as goal-oriented mothers who put their children’s needs - or more specifically, their grades - before their own. The role of women playing self-sacrificing mothers with fierce maternal love for their children is another typical role that female actors have been seen playing repeatedly over the years.

Whether or not the directors wanted to reflect reality, these setbacks often become the main obstacles that the female characters need to tackle to become successful.

Cable channel tvN’s “Search: WWW” offers something different. The three main characters - Bae Tami, Cha Hyun and Song Ga-kyung (portrayed by Im Soo-jung, Lee Da-hee, and Jeon Hye-jin) - are all professional working women striving for success while working for the top two portal companies in Korea. They are not portrayed as someone’s girlfriend or mother. Rather, their family backgrounds are exempt from the story except for Song, who suffers due to her power-hungry mother-in-law.

While each of the three characters encounters romance in the series, their relationships are hardly the main story line. The male characters are the subplots of the story, just as female characters have been in previous shows.

Instead, the drama focuses on the dimensional relationships evolving between the female leads. Bae and Cha were once rivals on the process of becoming comrades; Bae and Song were once best friends who became distant due to their diverging values and interests; and Song and Cha are depicted as friends who share a long history as they have known each other since high school.

The relationship between the three is much more complex and intertwined than in previous dramas, which often portray women simply as rivals or enemies, ridden with jealousy for one another. In “WWW,” the main characters may have different opinions, but they discuss, fight and reconcile as most people do in real life.

“Although you may not believe or possibly imagine it, all of my desires come from me and they are the guidelines to my actions, I did this for my own survival,” Bae says in one episode.

As Bae has said, her lines represent the motives for all the three characters. They are real people who are the leaders in their careers, who fight fiercely over the values and ideologies they believe in. But they aren’t unrealistically just, kind or fair. They know what they want, and they strictly veer toward their desires and interests.

Yet they also offer satisfaction for female viewers. In one scene, Cha beats a man who molested her in the elevator to a pulp and sends him to a hospital. In an another scene, Bae exposes a member of the National Assembly involved in prostitution of minors, live on TV.

Female leads on TV have are still evolving and have become more dimensional characters, and it has begun to challenge the tropes that confine women’s careers in a patriarchal society. Moreover, audiences embracing female-led dramas prove that they can be as fun, exciting and complicated as any other.

The drama isn’t perfect though. The characters still feel the need to put on full makeup even when they’re at home or at the gym, and they still fuss over the color of their lipsticks when appearing on TV. But these are small inconsistencies that can be overlooked through the drama’s achievements.

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joonang.co.kr]
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