Korean TV dramas often feature actresses who are older in real life than their leading men. Take the case of drama Hyena, who sstars actress Kim Hye-soo and actor Ju Ji-hoon as a pair of lawyers locked in a love-hate relationship.

Kim, who is best known for her roles in the movies Tazza: the high rollers, The thievesand Coin locker girland the TV series Signalis 49 years old. Ju, who appeared in both with the gods movies and stars in Netflix’s zombie drama Kingdom, is 37 years old. The subject of their age difference is never brought up in the dramatic plot. What is more important is to determine which lawyer is the most aggressive in court and in love.

Hyena is a refreshing case of casting, even if you consider Kim’s good looks and talent make her a desirable addition to any production. Although the Hyena actors have a bigger age gap than usual, it’s common for k-dramas to cast female actors who are a few years older than their male counterparts, and it’s not always because the plot requires it.

Mary Ainslie is Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China, and author of the article Korean Soft Masculinity vs. Malay Hegemony: Malaysian Masculinity and Hallyu Fandom. According to Ainslie, casting beyond age stereotypes is a side effect of the wave of Korean pop culture known as Hallyu.

“A problem that could explain the lack of interest in the age difference between couples in Korean dramas (like Hyena) is the overall focus on female-centric issues, which have always been a key part of Hallyu dramas,” Ainslie said.

Korean dramas include more than a fair share of so-called “noona” dramas, referring to the affectionate term for an older sister. The dramas are so called because they feature an older woman in love with a younger man. The age difference is yet another obstacle to overcome for love, a dramatic intrigue, because the family is bound to disapprove.

Casting an older actress with a younger actor is normal in a drama where the plot demands it, but it also happens when the plot doesn’t. While dramas pair actors of the same age or feature an older actor/younger actress pairing, the number of actresses who are older than their male counterparts is remarkable. It also differs from what has traditionally been casting practice in Hollywood, where casting may pair actresses who are decades younger than their male co-stars.

A recent example is When the camellia blooms, which stars actress Gong Hyo-jin, 39, as a character in a relationship with the character played by actor Kang Ha-neul, 30. Jung Hae-In, 31, starred in romance noona something in the rain with Son Ye-jin, 38, where his character was supposed to be older than his, but he later starred in A spring night with actress Han Ji-min, who is nine years older than him. In this romance, they were supposed to be the same age.

In My love from the Star, actress Jun Ji-hyun was cast opposite Kim Soo-hyun, even though she is six years older. The drama I’ll come to you when the weather is nice stars actor Seo Kang-joon, 26, as the love interest of actress Park Min-young, 33. The crowned clown, 28-year-old Lee Se-young plays Yeo Jin-goo’s King Queen. Yeo, 23, also played the love interest of actress IU, 26, in Hotel Del Luna.

According to Ainslie, the rise of the Hallyu aligns with the recognition of increased female agency in Korea, which has occurred through the integration of women into a new middle-class urban workforce. As Hallyu continues to redefine conceptions of masculinity across Asia, male characters on primetime television more frequently present a female-friendly model of masculinity and gender relations.

“That’s why we’re seeing such a shift in the portrayal of masculinity in particular, as well as a focus on urban work-centric issues and women-centric issues, such as how to keep a job and to have a boyfriend at the same time,” Ainslie said. “That doesn’t mean the drama has to be age or relationship oriented, just that for female audiences, which is arguably the primary audience, the character’s age isn’t a key factor in their desirability. or its coupling with the actor, and a more mature actress may also be more believable and relatable given the urban challenges they face.Obviously, there are many Korean dramas/movies that openly address issues related to aging also in women.

Do casting actresses older than their leading men reflect demographics?

“According to Statistics Korea, about 17.2 percent of married couples in 2019 consisted of an older woman and a younger man,” said Lee Seung-ah, an assistant professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. “So I would say placing/casting a couple of older women and younger men on TV shows is just one way of reflecting society.”

At the same time, Lee said, it can satisfy both writers, the majority of whom are women, and audiences, the majority of whom are also female.

Globally, an overwhelming majority of directors, producers and writers have traditionally been men, but in Korea today, 90% of drama writers are women. Although the number of women working in the American film industry continues to increase, the percentage of female screenwriters is less than 30%, which may influence casting.

It’s the storyteller who defines what’s appropriate,” said Thelma Adams, a US-based film critic and author of female-led historical fiction that flips the genres of westerns and crime.

To this day, these storytellers are mostly men.

“It’s the male gaze,” Adams said. “It’s a simple answer and I keep repeating it.”

In a male dominated industry, you get male fantasies.

“The fantasy is an older man and a younger woman. That’s the difference. Who tells the story? When you have women telling the story, you don’t have that dichotomy.

As more and more women work in the global film and television industry and make films with strong female characters, the focus is changing. However, in Hollywood, actresses in their 40s and 50s have an even harder time being cast, said Kristen Paladino of New York-based Paladino Casting.

“There are so many great actresses who have risen to the so-called pinnacle of the industry who should be represented in television and in film,” Paladino said. “They are stronger than ever and really should be considered for these roles.”

In addition to focusing more on female-centric issues and minimizing on-screen and off-screen age differences, Korean screenwriters have recently created a slew of complex and entertaining female characters, who aren’t necessarily set. by their age.

Kim Hye-soo plays one of those characters, and nothing about the age difference between the drama’s leads diminishes their chemistry.