Pragmatic Altruism vs. Noble Idiocy in 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You)

I have long wanted to examine pragmatic altruism in KDrama narratives, a trope which exemplifies certain Confucian ethical tenets, yet is repeatedly deprecated as “noble idiocy” at interweb oases where KDrama aficionados gather, including DramaBeans, the go-to resource for KDrama news, recaps, and commentary. Finally compelled by this summer’s revelatory 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You), a romantic comedy at once loud and subtle, playful, sly, culturally erudite and deeply moving –whether in mirth or in woe– (and a gem to which I intend to dedicate its own post proper), I would like to especially consider Lee Geon’s case of pragmatic altruism which many at DramaBeans are decrying as “noble idiocy” at its worst.


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이건 (Lee Geon) in 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You)


I don’t know how, when, or why the term “noble idiocy” gained purchase, but after encountering it repeatedly in discussions about a character’s decision to forego some pleasure or benefit for what they believe to be the greater good, I began to wonder whether it was possible to develop a reasonable ethical understanding of such behavior, and whether its significance was culture specific or whether it could be effectively translated from Eastern narrative fictions in a way that was meaningful to Western sensibilities.

The Urban Dictionary defines the term “Noble Idiot” thus: “A person who ‘sacrifices’ their own happiness with the assumption that they are bringing happiness to the person they are sacrificing for, when in fact, this sacrifice makes the other person even more unhappy.” Throughout KDrama examples abound of kcharacters – particularly protagonists – foregoing what appears to be the easy and obvious road to love and happiness and instead choosing to take the difficult path, often of separation from those they love. These are the “noble idiots” that apparently offend with their much abhorred “noble idiocy.” Well, with a definition like the one given above, it should be no wonder that for those KDrama fans who only want to see the OTP always together no matter what obstacles their situation forces them to face, the trope has become so reviled as to warrant outright censure the moment it makes an appearance.


장나라 (Jang Na Ra) as 김미영 (Kim Mi Yeong)

Tropes are, by definition, recognizable motifs or clichés upon which the theme or narrative threads of a story turn to alter direction during its development. The more recognizable tropes usually function as signposts that significant changes are nigh and as such, should serve to prepare the audience for important transitions in the story. Skillfully deployed tropes will provide stable structural elements upon which to hang the details and ornaments of a well crafted tale.

However, many a ham-fisted writer will manhandle tropes, dealing them out haphazardly without regard for context and absent any narrative consistency to account for the trope’s use. So in cases where, say, a character suddenly out of the blue decides to abandon the already paved, easy and obvious road to happiness and instead chooses to take the difficult path because, well, the story needs a twist and some conflict so that’s just what the script says will happen at that point, the audience readily recognizes it as a narratively meaningless sleight of hand and collective outrage ensues. Such an atrocity is justifiably branded as “noble idiocy” and vehemently denounced as symptomatic of lazy and unimaginative writing.

So just what distinction is being made between “noble idiocy” and “pragmatic altruism” and why does that distinction merit consideration?

Well, with “noble idiocy” we have an empty sentimental gesture supposedly meant to safeguard the happiness of its beneficiary (i.e. the person for whom the ‘sacrifice’ is being made) but which, instead, only inflicts even greater pain on them. Furthermore, this device is inserted into the plot merely in order to up the ante on angst as a way of manipulating the audience emotionally to increase ratings.

With “pragmatic altruism,” on the other hand, the altruists are driven by a clear desire to minimize the suffering their beneficiaries must inevitably endure under the given circumstances and the choices a pragmatic altruist makes arise organically out of a stable context of relationships where the nature of each party’s character has been clearly established and remains consistent within the structure of the story.

While the “noble idiot” assumes that they are ensuring happiness, the “pragmatic altruist” can only hope that they are helping lessen the pain.

Lee Geon’s Choice


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이건 (Lee Geon)

It so happens that a considerable number of netizens have taken to their keyboards to lambaste Lee Geon’s decision to isolate himself from at least two people who he loves dearly because of the sudden apparent onset of his Huntington’s disease, a wasting malady that is part of his family’s genetic legacy. With the heartbroken Se Ra –his globe-trotting, international ballerina-girlfriend from whom Fate (with Se Ra’s careless help) deemed fit to separate him– Geon is tender yet resolute in calling a definitive end to their relationship. However, with Mi Yeong, the gentle wife and expectant mother of his child –a woman with whom he has just started discovering such complete, consuming love that it simply goes to his head and leaves him mystified– Geon is ruthlessly stoic, hiding behind the curtain of his lost [but, as yet unbeknownst to her, already recovered] memory to sever ties forever because he cannot bear the thought of becoming a burden to her as his health deteriorates and he descends into dementia while losing control of his own body.


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이휘 (Lee Hui)
Geon’s Father

Despite what some restless viewers may say, it is a grave mistake to dismiss Lee Geon’s choice as mere “noble idiocy.” As a catch-all phrase for seemingly un-self-interested choices commonly made by players in KDrama, “noble idiocy” is a woefully shameful label for the kind of pragmatic altruism we see exemplified here; a pragmatic altruism that is readily ascribable to Confucian ethics and is all-but alien to contemporary Western sensibilities, especially in fiction. (It is, however, not altogether absent, as evidenced by many a literary classic of yore whose central concern cannot be understood without taking into account the role of pragmatic altruism in the characters’ choices. For example, Jane Eyre, in Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous masterpiece, does not choose to leave Mr. Rochester in order to indulge a self-aggrandizing sentimental sense of sacrifice, nor yet merely to service a plot device.) I therefore propose “pragmatic altruism” as more closely descriptive term for Geon’s choice than “noble idiocy,” for we know from his harsh, unsentimental demeanor that there is nothing “noble” or “idiotic” about Geon’s decision, and he knows it too.

Granted, we may later discover that Geon allowed his pessimism to get the better of him when he could have been more circumspect about ending his marriage so abruptly. But even without the problem necessarily being the definitive onset of Huntington’s disease, let us remember that thanks to his genetic heritage, this man still has the sword of Democles hanging over him. As a result of his recent memory loss episode, he has also witnessed first hand how devastating the collateral damage can be—especially to these two women he loves and, by extension, to his anticipated child—should it fall and strike. And if, as Dr. Moon said, his father experienced the same kind of memory loss episodes (which might actually account for Mamma Yong and Little Yong’s presence in the Lee Family), Geon, who cannot bear to be compared to his father, knows only too well the misery that his mother (and his little self) went through because of his father’s condition (see exchange midway through Ep.7 with Yong’s mother about only ever seeing his mother’s back because she was always hiding her tears from him).


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이… (Lee …)
Geon’s Grandfather

There is nothing idiotically self-sacrificing about him wanting to spare his own “beloved wife” that kind of misery and wanting to allocate resources and delegate responsibility properly, especially with respect to the care of his child in the event he ends up unable to provide that care himself (see the last amended divorce agreement). And for a man whose dominant personality trait is clearly that of care-taker and protector –(notice the dynamics of his 6-year relationship with Se Ra and his consistent tendency to protect and encourage Mi Yeong, especially in moments of crisis)– it is very easy to understand how he could not abide the thought of becoming a physical, psychological and emotional burden to someone to whom he has always been the protector. The drama makes a point of showing Geon watching video testimonials of family members of victims of the disease that looms over his lineage. In the scene just after the “fermented stingray-Geonnie cup birthday present lunch” and before Secretary Tak notices that his boss’s memory has returned, Geon watches a woman describe her husband’s ordeal with Huntington’s disease:

“At first when he found out, he was …humiliated… like he didn’t even really want to see his family. I don’t want to give up hope, but seeing him… changing and looking at my son and knowing that… it just kind of… hurts.”


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이… (Lee …)
Geon’s Great-grandfather

Based on what he says to Secretary Tak during their exchange (in addition to what Dr. Moon confirmed), we see that Geon BELIEVES his debilitating disease has been definitively triggered and he cannot imagine how much pain having to bear with his condition will cause Mi Yeong. I thought, at first, that he was unreasonably harsh and quite out of character during his break-up dinner with her. But then I recalled the day of his wedding, when he willingly swallowed the pain of losing his dreamed-of future with Se Ra in order to respond to his duty as the expectant father to the child inadvertently conceived with Mi Yeong. The point here is that Geon accepts that pain and loss are part of taking responsibility and considers it necessary and reasonable that both he and Mi Yeong bear the pain of parting sooner rather than later. Since he is unaware of Se Ra’s own machinations in messing with Mi Yeong’s mind, he can’t know that he is twisting the knife that Sa Ra already plunged into Mi Yeong’s heart.


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이… (Lee …)
Geon’s Great-great-grandfather

But he does know Mi Yeong well enough to be correct in assuming that she would not leave him – regardless of his illness or state of degeneration; he knows that she is herself a caretaker and protector (even when it is at her own expense); he knows that she loves him completely (she has made that abundantly clear); and he knows that Mi Yeong’s dream is to become a strong mother – Bond Girl, Super Glue strong – for their Gaettong-ie. He is also aware that she has been slowly but steadily growing in that direction. Based on what he has learned about the disease he believes has began to attack his mind and body, he cannot abide the thought of siphoning all that life energy from her and from their child while he wastes away. So even after the break-up dinner, painful as it was [Jang Na Ra just slays me!], even after the miscarriage and after refusing Mi Yeong’s final attempt to reconcile her fractured family, all I can see of Geon’s decision following his memory loss episode is well reasoned pragmatic altruism.

Empathy for the afflicted; sympathy for their helpers

Part of the reason the term “noble idiocy” is just wrong in cases like this where the story has gone to great and detailed lengths to establish a viable context for pragmatic altruism is because it urges the audience to be lazy about seriously considering and empathizing with the reasons that compell people to make choices like Geon’s. We are uncomfortable with putting ourselves in their shoes and discovering for ourselves what drives them to do things that they believe will minimize the pain their loved ones experience even as it shatters their own hearts. The way this story establishes Geon’s personality and presents his family history, “pragmatic altruism” is not only the more responsive term logically, but also culturally — an assertion whose validity is easily demonstrated:


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이… (Lee …)
Geon’s Great-great-great-grandfather

If we really look at ourselves in a dispassionate light, we human beings rarely, if ever, make self-depriving choices merely in order to be [considered] noble. I’d go as far as even say we NEVER intentionally act in ways that are contrary to our self-interest and when we appear to do so, it is only because we are instead choosing to serve an alternate, more compelling self-interest. Consider Geon’s case: the thing he wants most at this moment in his life is Mi Yeong and Geattong-ie: all those contortions in bed when he can’t touch her, the teddy bear-envy, her bath towel-envy, NeighborhoodOppa-jealousy; his uneasiness when he can’t be near her; his pain and discomfort when she is in distress; his empathic morning sickness; his gleefully warm delight when she expresses her gratitude to him or when she praises and compliments him; his overwhelming joy when she offers him even modest gifts… clearly he has bonded with her body and soul and she is all of everything he wants, indeed, craves.

And yet, what he wants even more than feeding his own appetite and satisfying his own need is for Mi Yeong to thrive and be happy. Recall that even before he knew she would be a meaningful part of his life, when he saw her in distress in Macau, he pulled out all the stops to showcase her at her most brilliantly desirable – as a strong and thriving Bond Girl – all the while encouraging her to shed the ‘Post-It’ demeanor and own the ‘Super Glue’ attitude as he walked her into the casino. Later, once she becomes part of his life, he puts aside his own [admittedly misconceived] sense of having been trapped, and proceeds to facilitate the improvement of her home island. When he takes his timid wife to see his office, he gently invites her to stand beside him as his equal…

So when he imagines – nay, firmly believes – that his illness means that he is diminished and a burden; that he no longer has the right to stand beside her; that he will become a lifelong obstacle to her thriving and blossoming to her full potential, he chooses to give up what he wants most, Mi Yeong, for what he wants even more, her health and happiness without his wasting disease to hold her down. Hence “pragmatic altruism.”

“仁” (Virtue: Humaneness, Benevolence, Kindness)


장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이… (Lee …)
Geon’s Great-great-great-great-grandfather

In Confucian terms, Geon has, since episode 1, exemplified the principles of “仁” (ren). The idiograph “仁”, is composed of four strokes and combines the radical for person, 人, with with two parallel horizontal strokes to signify the idea of man connecting heaven and earth. Consider this passage from the Analects, especially the underlined section:

子貢曰。如有博施於民而能濟衆、何如 可謂仁乎。

子曰。何事於仁 必也聖乎。堯舜其猶病諸 夫仁者、己欲立而立人、己欲達而達人。能近取譬、可謂仁之方也已。


Zi Gong asked: “Suppose there were a leader who benefited the people far and wide and was capable of bringing salvation to the multitude, what would you think of him? Might he be called virtuous?”

The Master said, “Why speak only of virtue? He would undoubtedly be a sage. Even Yao and Shun would have had to strive to achieve this. Now the man of perfect virtue (ren), wishing himself to be established, sees that others are established, and, wishing himself to be successful, sees that others are successful. To be able to empathize when judging others may be called the art of virtue (ren).”
SOURCE: The Analects of Confucius


Unnamed 이… (Lee …) Ancestor
Geon’s Great-great-great-great-great-grandfather

Geon may not be a man of perfect virtue, but he is certainly a GOOD man in so many many many ways, including his enormous capacity for empathy. The crises that lead him to this crucial point in his life have been growing in volume and urgency for three unrelenting months. Just try to imagine how much stress this man has had to endure since the poetic love of his life so casually bailed on his big proposal and then he suddenly found himself expecting a baby and married, still heartbroken about Se Ra yet learning Mi Yeong and trying to keep her safe by deflecting the arrows of public censure aimed her way, all while fending off usurpers to the family throne. Yet he has taken every blow in stride only to have it all culminate in a glaringly public scandal by which his heart’s new love –a quite, gentle, big-hearted hummingbird of a woman who he now can’t live without– is wrenched from him by her outraged family. No wonder he finally collapsed in the middle of the road! Were it not for that unpredictable and debilitating genetic disease lurking in the shadows of Geon’s beleaguered mind and body, we might be forgiven for imagining that he suffered a mild stroke due to the the crippling pressures of his life’s unrelenting demands. With brutal immediacy, the collapse and subsequent (brief) memory loss remind Geon that, latent though it may be, the illness that runs in his family line is one of deadly gravity.

장혁 (Jang Hyeok) as 이… (Lee …)
Geon’s Great-great-great-great-great-grandfather

Deprecating his pragmatic altruism as “noble idiocy” — because he has made what he believes to be the kindest, most reasonable choice to minimize the future suffering of the woman he loves in the wake of a traumatizing crisis that is further compounded by the agonizing loss of his unborn child — shows, I believe, a cruel lack of empathy.

I will close by tipping my hat to the Fated to Love You OST team whose brilliant lyrical sensibility lets us hear Ailee’s 잠시 안녕처럼 (Goodbye My Love) for both Geon and Mi Yeong — first for him as he first loses and then recovers his memory, then for both of them and their child as she loses the baby, and finally at the airport when she leaves for France and he races desperately to catch up with her but fails. Although neither one has explicitly said that key word, “사랑해” to the other, this song says everything about what they are both experiencing at their core.


Initial draft of this post first posted on DramaBeans.


NB: This is part 1 of a three-part series on the Korean romantic comedy drama 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You). It was written and published immediately after the live broadcast of Episode 12 of the show and draws on its developments only up to episode 12.

The second installment in the series, Love in 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You), draws upon the story’s development up to Episode 16.

The third and final installment in the Fated to Love You series, The Perfection of 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You) draws upon the drama in its entirety, from Episode 1-20.

I welcome your comments in the section below. You can also follow me on Twitter @CurioSerandC !

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40 Responses to Pragmatic Altruism vs. Noble Idiocy in 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You)

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  5. Ellély says:

    First of all, thank you for writing a much-needed post. I have to confess I stopped reading the comments at Dramabeans because the charges of noble idiocy were starting to grate. I wasn’t expecting much from this drama but the two Jangs have been revelatory in the way they’ve built their characters. They’ve taken what could easily have been caricatures and imbued them with multiple layers and attributes. Hence the reason for my irritation — describing Geon as a noble idiot not only oversimplifies the character’s thought process, it also dismisses the effort that’s gone into creating this character. But who cares about character development as long as there’s kissing? It’s just a drama, right? *takes a deep breath* Sorry for the rant. I’ll get off my soapbox now XD

    • Curio Serand says:

      Hi Ellély, please, rant away to your heart’s content!

      You express my sentiments exactly – about everything: about the two amazingly sublime leads; about the thoughtfully crafted story (from writing, to supporting cast, to overall production) and about the frustrating nature of reductive group-think that seems to only want a montage of “kissing scenes” no matter what…

      Sometimes I wonder if people who have seen, say, Cinema Paradiso remember anything except the “kissing reel” in the finale. [*sigh*]

      Anyway, I am thrilled with Fated to Love You on so many levels and eagerly awaiting this week’s developments. Wednesday-Thursday, hurry up and get here already!

  6. Ilunga Mpoyo says:

    I wish everyone could read your posts. They are so insightful and brilliant. Thank you for writing them down for us, and for taking the time to tie Gun’s decision to Confucianism and pragmatic altruism. I love Drama Bean’s recap, but I think you saw something they missed. This episode was heavy on the emotions- but your perspective has made it more bearable. I knew he was trying to be selfless but I didn’t see the depth of the motivation behind his decision. You rock!

    Feed from:

    • Curio Serand says:

      Thank you, Ilunga for responding with such generosity!

      And thank you for taking the time to read the whole train of thought. I felt quite self conscious at first when so much of it just spilled on the DramaBeans thread so I appreciate you visiting seaofdrama to see its full expression.

      I hope you enjoyed the showcase of Lee Geon’s ancestors –spicy signature smirk and all 😉 – as much as I did integrating them into the post!


  7. trotwood says:

    I find it interesting that so many people bemoan this (I do it,too) when it is also one of the reasons we like certain stories. And as you have pointed out, it is not alien to western sensibilities either. Classic texts from the 19th century, especially, are full of such things. Has anyone read A Tale of Two Cities for goodness sakes? But it even goes back to the medieval chivalric code. I think part of the issue is with our contemporary western sensibilities and the focus on making ourselves happy. Still, I think we are drawn to these stories because there are so many people suffering for others on a daily basis. What parent hasn’t been a “noble idiot” at one time or another, for example? We almost expect them, mothers especially, to continually sacrifice their happiness or at least comfort for the sake of their children. I love Goen; he is going to go down as one of my favorite male leads. Thanks for the eloquent defense.

    • Curio Serand says:

      I think part of the issue is with our contemporary western sensibilities and the focus on making ourselves happy.

      So very true! And television and films, especially in the US (and also in France, as far as I can tell) relentlessly churn out shows and stories designed to extoll the primacy of satisfying one’s own needs and appetites above those of everybody else, whatever the circumstances.

      What I find troubling about the term “noble idiocy” and the definition behind it is that is reinforces the ego-centric message that these media bombard us with everyday in a way that purposely disparages the ethical value of altruism. The term “noble idiot” [which is, by the way, etymologically paradoxical] essentially broadcasts the cynical message that taking the wellbeing of others into serious consideration and even prioritizing it is just for chumps, and he who decides to assume a greater burden if he believes it will improve things for others is merely a fool. It is, briefly stated, an exaltation of sociopathy.

      The irony is that society could not function without exactly the kind of pragmatic altruists you cite: I’ll wager that a parent foregoing satisfying her own needs and pleasures to ensure the wellbeing of her child does not consider it ‘sacrifice’ but rather necessary and imperative. It is only outside observers who see that kind of behavior as ‘sacrifice’ and it saddens me to see how much pressure society puts on parents who are doing what comes naturally to adopt the view that their lives are somehow less rich because they are giving to their child what they could have for themselves.

      If we can start to value altruism that is not merely sentimental or self-aggrandizing but rather ethically pragmatic, who knows how much richer our collective lives could be…

  8. Minihaha says:

    Thank you soooo much for voicing so eloquently my thoughts on this matter, I totally agree with your point of view 100% as it mirrors mine own (although I cannot write down my thoughts as well as you do). You can clearly see that Gun was sacrificing his true love for Mi Young to ensure she is not burden with his illness and is free of all responsibility and pain of looking/taking care of him as he slowly moves towards his debilitating genetic disease. He wants her to be happy and continue to be strong for their child, because that is to him more important that holding on to her. He loves her body and soul to put her through any more pain. These two are sooo perfect for each other.

    I totally have to take my hat off, and praise all involved in making this drama, they have portrayed the characters so well, the story is seamlessly effortlessly able to draw out all my emotions, whether its laughter, tears, heart tugging pains, I feel it all. Only an amazing story with amazing actors and directing can be so epic in this way. Both Jangs, writer and director needs to win awards for this truly awesome drama. I love this one more than the original, because the male lead in that version was an absolute asshole when dealing with his Snail, whereas in this version Gun, took on the responsibility of being part of a family unit seriously, he took time to understand his Snail, and invested his soul into ensuring her happiness, never once looking back at his past relationship with SeRa, that ship had sailed and he moved on, BRAVO to Gun for being such a wonderful person and best husband he could be to Mi Young. His genuine love of Keddongie, the all consuming love of a parent to be. I cannot fault the story nor the acting. The picture that he looked at in his man cave in the 2nd episode I believe was of his mum and not SeRa, I think he was thinking of her, and how she raised him alone in tears for his father, and that’s when he decided to put in 100% effort to his marriage.

    I only criticize Gun and fault him in his inability to tell Mi Young of his true feelings towards her. I know that actions speaks louder than words, but Mi Young needed to hear it, to reassure her insure heart that he truly loved her, and it was ok for her to grab onto that love. He should have shown her the 2nd amended divorce paper, which was more like a love contract, than divorce paper (in saying that, if he had done so, then Mi Young could not have left him, ended their marriage and said goodbye to their relationship so easily). Mi Young understands people so well, always has empathy for another hurt soul, she heals wounded souls and leaves them feeling whole and want to continue to be near her, as she radiates her soft inner magic to all.

    • Curio Serand says:

      Hi Minihaha,

      It really is wonderful to hear about how deeply you, too, empathize with Geon — if a drama hero ever deserved our understanding, he is it! I do agree with you that Geon should have told Mi Yeong exactly how he felt but the funny thing about feelings so deep and intense is that it is often impossible to find the words to express them, especially when you are convinced that you have to let go anyway. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be as eloquent and transparent as poets?

      I also completely agree with you that this entire production team is doing amazing things and quite simply weaving magic, especially in the way they have set the foundation for why Geon makes the choices he does throughout the story. This particular detail in your post caught my attention especially:

      The picture that he looked at in his man cave in the 2nd episode I believe was of his mum and not SeRa, I think he was thinking of her, and how she raised him alone in tears for his father, and that’s when he decided to put in 100% effort to his marriage.

      You are so RIGHT! I did not, until his visit to his parents’ mausoleum in episode 12, recognize that the picture he was looking at in his private room back in episode 6 was in fact his mother. And it was not until you mentioned it just now that I realized that showing it when they did earlier signaled the moment he decided to be a good husband to Mi Yeong. Thank you! Because, honestly, I remember thinking that his change in attitude toward someone he thought he had been trapped into marrying was a little unaccountable. Now when I watch those earlier episodes again (for the umpteenth time!) I will be paying closer attention to that moment in his mancave and the surrounding circumstances.

      [A little later…] Actually, now that I’ve looked again, I realize that when Daniel told Mi Yeong to call in case anything happened, it probably shamed Geon into softening his attitude toward his shotgun bride and becoming more responsive to her as a person. (And no doubt the Clan Elders’ approval of her quiet sincerity helped loosen Geon’s indignant resistance and engage his intelligence and empathy to begin to see her for who she really was.)

      I can see that you are just as in love with Geon and Mi Yeong as I am. Of course I know their story will end happily, but the way the story is being told just has my poor heart forgetting to beat every once in a while, has me laughing uncontrollably or giggling like a little girl one minute or weeping with sheer unadulterated joy the next, and then out of nowhere genuinely grieving our couple’s pain, lump in throat and tissues on hand…

      If I did not know better, I would say that this show has found a way to make us feel exactly what out players are feeling as they are feeling it – only their reason is their relationships to each other while our reason is our relationship to the show!

      Just brilliant!

      • Minihaha says:

        Oooh yep yep, my sentiments exactly about when Gun started to be nicer to his wife, due to Daniel’s intentional words and how her pride in her birth place/island made the elders all take note that Mi Young was not inferior to them, but totally a pure heart of gold and sincere person. What’s not to like and love about our dear Snail.

        I watch every scene closely, and listen to and read the subtitles from different streaming sites to ensure that I miss nothing (I know, I’m totally nuts right?!). This show is amazing, in that they think of all the finite details and dramatized it really well, with amazing acting, from their facial expression and what you can read in their emotional eyes… kills me, often I have to remind myself to breath, that’s how intense the feelings this show induces in me.

        I believe why we all can connect with our OTP, and the show overall, is that you can see that its genuine what they are going through. It doesn’t seem like we are watching actors go through the motion of acting out a scene. But more like we are their friends and are experiencing, seeing and hearing all their relationship interludes, through the window of friendship. Like good friends we want the very best for our friends, we want them to be happy, we sincerely wish them to be with that special some-one that can make them feel that they truly are and deserve to be in the paradise garden of love together. We know who is and what is good for them, and we understand their pain, their reasoning of why they make the decision they make, we don’t criticizes them for it, we lend our ears to simply listen with empathy, our shoulders to cry on to ease their suffering, our words of encouragement to lessen their self inflicted guilt.

        Sorry for rambling on, probably made no sense at all. But that’s how I see Gun and Mi Young….they are soo perfect for each other their flaws, unique character attributes all balance out each other to make them truly a perfect pair, and we get to witness it all.

        • Curio Serand says:

          I watch every scene closely, and listen to and read the subtitles from different streaming sites to ensure that I miss nothing (I know, I’m totally nuts right?!).

          Just my kind of lunacy! 😀

  9. Minihaha says:

    By the way, just found your blog from seeing what you wrote on Dramabeans, and I will follow your thoughts on FTLY and others drama’s from now on. You are so wonderful in expressing your thoughts and your words and point of view is not belittling anyone else’s opinion and views and I admire you for it. Big Thumbs up from me 😉 once again thanks

    • Curio Serand says:

      Thank you! I look forward to hearing your feedback too. I will do my best to write posts that are worthy of the attention you afford them!

      • Minihaha says:

        You are too kind;

        Honestly you are so talented in the way in which you write, and your skillful use of literature strategy (not too sure this makes sense) used in your said argument is powerful stuff. I hazard a guess that you majored in English Language and Literature with Philosophy because you are so eloquent in how you write and express your views.

        Because of you, and what I read of your view of ‘Secret Garden’ I then had to rewatch (marathon more like) the entire show again. I still was amazed at how that show drew me in and I understood how great it was, and totally get your thoughts on it.

        Keep writing your blogs, keep typing your amazing thoughts down. A fan of your blog site already. 🙂

        • Curio Serand says:

          Quick question, Minihaha: did you mean to say ‘Boys Over Flowers’ where it says ‘Secret Garden’ here? I saw your response to the ‘Boys Over Flowers’ post and it seems to go with what you say here…

  10. ac says:

    Hi, I just wanted to thank you for taking time to write this. I am such a big lurker, I have not commented on anything since forever. English is my second language, and honestly I can not express my thoughts well even in my mother tounge. Thankfully, there are amazing writers like you, who can express what I think, how I feel in such a beautiful way. I was thrilled to read your post, and felt satisfied at the same time that somebody finally put these thoughts into words.

    I will eagerly follow your blog and your comments on dramabeans. I have checked some of your previous posts and truly enjoyed discovering the similarities in our drama journeys and tastes. My first drama was “Secret Garden”, so I share your sentiments about it. But “Fated to love you” is the one that made me believe in the magic of Korean dramas once again. I hope you find the time to write more about it, when the drama is finished. I truly, truly appreciate the depth of your thoughts, the details in your writing.

    Thank you so much! Cheers from Turkey!

    • Curio Serand says:

      Your words of encouragement move me so deeply that I am left quite without words. I hope that just saying “thank you” will suffice for now and hopefully future posts will continue to prove equally worthwhile.


  11. Tricia says:

    Thank you for sharing this deeply engaging post. I was very impressed by your analysis of Gun’s character. This has been a very insightful read. I look forward to hearing more from you in this regard and will be watching the series to see how it unfolds. Thanks again and take care.

    • Curio Serand says:

      Thank you, Tricia. I am happy to know that you enjoyed it.

      It was fun to write and the gallery of Lee ancestors just added to my enjoyment despite the seriousness of the question at hand.

      I’ll be right there with you watching for how the story develops because, naturally, once my heartache eases and my tears stop blurring my vision with every new obstacle in our lovers’ journey back to each other, I look forward to dedicating a piece to the lighter side of this gem that is Fated to love You

      Here’s to living in the moment, to moment, to moment…

  12. Zafinah says:

    I very much appreciate your thoughts.

    For me, while completely understanding the intent and desire behind his actions, regardless of the label given, I find the notion itself problematic. At the root, making decisions for others, or allowing them to make decisions based on incomplete or erroneous information, is removing their agency. It’s making the assumption that we know better than they do what is best for them.

    While as parents we need to make those kinds of decisions for our children, we need to refrain from making those decisions for the adults in our lives. No one, know better or has responsibility for choices made by other adults regardless of our intentions.

    Gun needs to trust Mi Young enough to give her the choice for herself. Anything less isn’t a true partnership. Ultimately, I want to see them as partners and for both to be shoulders for each other.



    • Curio Serand says:

      Thank you, Zafinah,

      Your obsevation about respecting others enough to not interfere with their agency is, I think, right on point. Here, especially, is the rub:

      allowing them to make decisions based on incomplete or erroneous information

      This, I believe, identifies Geon’s gravest sin against Mi Yeong when he returns the Gaettongie cup and announces the end of their marriage. But the way the scene is written and executed, he does not in fact make the decision for Mi Yeong, although he does force her hand: he is just cuttingly arctic enough for her to also willfully concede that they end it there and then. And not only is he cold, he is doubly deceptive: on the surface it is to conceal his recovery from the recent memory loss which in turn serves deeper down to mask what he believes to be the more dire truth about the onset of his genetic illness.

      As much as his demeanor in that moment bothers me, his deception bothers me even more since he is not just “allowing,” but in fact forcing her to make a decision “based on incomplete or erroneous information.” And although her decision to leave him then is misinformed, it is nonetheless hers, made of her own free will and therefore also deserves respect. It’s worth noting that once she understands the surface deception – that he had actually already recovered his memory – Mi Young voids that misinformed decision and gives Geon a renewed chance to remain by her side [I LOVE that her offer was written that way and not just for her to stay by his side], as the soul who belongs with her should. Even so, even with his surface masquerade neutralized, Geon declines, having decided that he would not hold on to her for himself.

      This is the core of the conflict that is heartrending to viewers, myself included. Like so many timed comments on the ep. 12 streaming video, my overwhelmed heart was shouting “just TELL her why you are doing this, Geon! Don’t let her walk away leaving that ring that she has never taken off lying so forlornly on the table! You are NOT your father and fragile though she may seem, Mi Yeong IS in fact a diamond – and not just ornamentally.” Yet Geon still lets her walk and then fly away.

      For someone who has always been candid (if not always open) with Mi Yeong, Geon’s resorting to such machinations seemed so grossly out of character that I thought it demanded further examination… and the result of that examination is the analysis in this post which valorizes empathy for Geon’s perspective first and foremost.

      There is, however, a persistent grey area in the show that I believe is actually at the root of so much heartache and misery – both for Geon in that private hell where he is forever haunted by the prospect of a definitive onset of Huntington’s chorea, and for the audience which is distressed and up in arms about his separation from Mi Yeong: while it is clear that the disease has been diagnosed and expressed in previous Lee generations, unless I missed something, FTLY has not yet made it clear that Geon actually inherited the gene itself, nor yet whether he ever actually got the test to check for the gene marker. His persistent fear that he may get sick may actually be the fear that he *inherited* the gene and I still don’t know, from their exchanges, whether Dr. Moon has been able to confirm the presence or absence of the disease-causing gene. As far as I know, accosting his doctor in the garage to ask whether his memory loss episode *could* indicate the onset of the disease would not pass muster as viable medical information.

      And so the culprit may just be Dr. Moon who is letting Geon persistently worry about the onset of a disease for which he may not even be a carrier, “allowing him to make decisions based on incomplete or erroneous information.” A test, gentlemen, a genetic test – do it! This is easy for me to say, but probably terrifying for someone with a family history of such an illness.

      I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds.

  13. jhusili says:

    Curioser, I finally got a chance to read some of your writeup and your comments in the previous posts and I really appreciate your take on Gun’s ‘noble idiocy’. Sometimes, as the audience, we may be doing the most cliched thing by responding to a situation in a drama based purely on what we’re expected to feel about certain tropes, denying ourselves of other possibilities. We box situations into categories and begin whining. Perhaps even missing the meaning the writers wanted to convey in the process.

    I love this show and have found its characters (at least the main leads) to be more fleshed out and relatable than others. And despite my initial disappointment with Gun’s decision, I feel like FTLY has handled what happened after that exceptionally well. In fact, the show has been phenomenal in taking what we consider as cliches, raising them above their regular use, and churning something heartfelt. FTLY reminds us the reason why a cliche became one in the first place. Quality. Again and again it has shown that it is one of the most well crafted shows. And the production was blessed to have ended up with two actors with such superior showmanship. They instil magic into every scene they are in.

    So I’m not going to complain about Gun’s behaviour in isolation. There were many things achingly beautiful about it. It’s just that the show has been close to perfect in every regard. Save for their choice of disease. Especially if we zoom out, take a look at the larger picture. There’s this nagging feeling that the way the disease has been developed in the story will not add up to sustain the supreme quality this show has been about. It’s a romantic comedy, it’s 20 episodes long. It has a certain destination to reach by the end. And I’m worried about how it will perfectly tie a neat bow around itself by then. That’s all.

    Having said this, FTLY has continued to handle all criticism/doubt that we’ve thrown its way by subverting our expectations and doing something absolutely brilliant in its stead. Right now, I’m plagued by the realisation that the disease and the entire setup may have been better suited for a melodrama, and that it might put too heavy a burden on the story. I don’t want there to be unconvincing, abrupt changes of heart. It’s not in the character of the show.

    Of course, the show hasn’t disappointed so far. And if they can manoeuvre through this delicate subject well, I will be even happier than if they’d skipped Huntington’s. But right now it does look a bit tricky.

    So what I think I’m saying is that the problem for me, and for many others, is not Gun’s noble idiocy or pragmatic altruism, but the show’s decision to follow the Huntington’s storyline in the first place. Doesn’t feel like a wise choice, that’s all.

    Love everything about the show. And above Gun and Mi-young, it is the show that I’m rooting for.

    Feed from:

    • Curio Serand says:

      I hear you, jhu, and understand[/share] your trepidation about the possible pitfalls of the shows choice of illness.

      It turns out that while I was responding to Zafinah’s comments which came just before yours, I ended up thinking about the dramatic role of disease the writers chose. As grave dramaland diseases go, choosing Huntington’s is rather a doozie: according to what I have read, once a carrier becomes symptomatic, the progression of this incurable disease which does not go into remission is apparently inexorable, devastating and fatal. This latter aspect of it readily accounts for Geon’s terror.

      The problem is, as I mention above, that the show has not yet made it clear whether Geon is in fact a carrier. So maybe therein lies the dramatic trapdoor that allows Geon an out. If he is in fact a carrier and therefore inevitably bound to submit to its ravages, how are the writers of this romantic comedy going to weave a credible happy ending to this story?

  14. Stuart says:

    A brilliantly written and thoroughly enjoyable read, thank you. I wholeheartedly agree that there is a difference between “noble idiocy” and “pragmatic altruism” and wholeheartedly disagree that Geon’s conduct is the latter. For me, his conduct was idiotic not pragmatic for one simple reason above all others – he COULD have and SHOULD have found out for certain if he had the disease before acting. If he KNEW he had the disease, then I would have considered his actions to to fit your definition of pragmatic altruism, acting on an assumption was idiotic – especially because for a man of his resources, it was totally unnecessary.

    Naturally, as one of those who DO consider his actions to fit the bill for being called “noble idiocy” I was not exactly thrilled to be accused of showing a “cruel lack of empathy”. I’m not sure that one’s reaction to the actions of a fictional Drama character are entirely solid enough basis to make such a sweeping judgement.

    Ultimately, the real problem is something else I agree with you on – the writers’ choice of disease. A Twitter friend wondered if they just grabbed it “out of a hat” so to speak because of its neurodegenerative effectrs, without considering the way they were effectively writing themselves into a corner by their choice.

    Again, my sincere thanks for a thought-provoking read and especially for taking the time to present your case in such exquisitely crafted detail. A very refreshing change from the soundbite salvos of Twitter and blog comments. I look forward to reading more of your insights.

    • Curio Serand says:

      Hello Stuart!

      It is equally refreshing to hear you defend your opinion of Geon’s choice and also defend yourself as the holder of such an opinion.

      I am truly happy to know that you enjoyed the post. Thank you. I also feel that I need to assure you that I mean no offense to any persons. I hope that whoever reads my remarks in this regard (—about how discounting the subjective experience that compels an individual in circumstances such as Geon’s to make the kind of choice under consideration shows a failure to empathize that I describe as cruel—) will allow that mine is by no means an ad hominem attack on the personal character of those who object to his choice.

      It is in the nature of empathy to understand and share in someone’s feelings without necessarily agreeing with them. Subjective perception is a powerful force and when someone is suffering and in a chronic and persistent state of crisis fueled by long-term foreboding circumstances, due process may not be a priority in their minds when they make decisions informed by that perception.

      You argue -and quite reasonably so- that Geon should have informed his perception more accurately. And you are absolutely right about that. Curiously enough, the show has been rather vague about what exactly is happening to Geon and what he actually knows. I will – with purpose – indulge in repeating something I wrote in an earlier response about that:

      while it is clear that the disease has been diagnosed and expressed in previous Lee generations, unless I missed something, FTLY has not yet made it clear that Geon actually inherited the gene itself, nor yet whether he ever actually got the test to check for the gene marker. His persistent fear that he may get sick may actually be the fear that he *inherited* the gene and I still don’t know, from their exchanges, whether Dr. Moon has been able to confirm the presence or absence of the disease-causing gene. As far as I know, accosting his doctor in the garage to ask whether his memory loss episode *could* indicate the onset of the disease would not pass muster as viable medical information.

      All of that said, the fact remains that the story has only given us a Geon who is plagued by memories of his father’s neurodegeneratively catalyzed neglect, his mother’s grief, his ancestor’s affliction, and the apparently blinding fear that for him, the die has been cast.

      It is reported that many people with the disease in their family medical histories hesitate/resist getting done the test to detect the gene mutation for Huntington’s because a positive result means the inevitable onset of the this devastating disease. So just knowing they carry the gene is terrifying for many people, and while the test might relieve their burden by instead proving that they are not a carrier, at a 50/50 chance of + or – , the result is literally a coin toss and for some – yea for many – not knowing either way is less terrifying.

      In empathizing with a person who finds themselves in such circumstances, I would certainly encourage – and maybe if I could, compel them – to get some definitive answers by having the necessary tests done, especially if I knew that important life decisions depended on this knowledge. Should they continue to resist, and proceed to make ill-informed, even if well-intentioned, choices propelled by fear, surely it is no longer empathy if my response is to dismiss their choice as idiotic, to pity and berate them for not following the path of due process. It may be rational, it may even be righteous, but it is not empathy and, from my perspective, such lack of empathy whilst they are immersed in their crisis is cruel.

      I accept that you do not agree with me — I only wished to explain how I mean no offense.

      As for how the writers of FTLY might avoid painting themselves into a corner because of the illness they wrote for Geon? I, too, am eager to find out!

  15. Y says:

    This is the first time I’ve been to your blog, but I just want to thank you for this post. Thank you so much! The description of Geon’s reason behind making that decision, I have to admit, it made me cry. I understood Geon’s decision, but I couldn’t have put it into words better than you did, it also gave me a deeper perspective of why the production wrote the story the way they did. The thing is FTLY is a simplistic story, no matter how you twist the story, it is still a simple story of 2 people falling in love. But what’s amazing is the depth that the characters themselves carry – like they stop being just characters in a drama but are people really exist – so real, so human, so full of flaws, yet so beautiful.

    Thanks again for your beautiful post – will definitely stalk your blog for future posts! (:

    • Curio Serand says:

      Why Y, welcome to my modest little niche on the interwebs! 😀

      I was tooling about today trying to remember whether I had ever seen a show that compared with this one in
      (a) simple beauty of the story it is telling, that simple story of 2 people falling in love
      (b) the thespian sublimeness of its principle actors
      (c) the perfect supporting cast
      (d) the sheer intricacy of the casual cultural tapestry it has been weaving and using as a living multimedia set design – from the truckloads of musical, television and and cinematic allusions, to the art, to radio…
      (e) the color palette and the subtle shifts in it …

      The contemporary cultural allusions alone, (d), would probably fill a couple of volumes… and then on that stage they put Jang Na Ra and Jang Hyeok together – there are no words!

      I hope you continue to enjoy your visits 🙂

  16. acgmac says:

    I appreciate your very intelligent insights on Gyeon’s decision to leave Mi Young. I hope that you will be able to write more insightful analysis of FTLY because I always saw the brilliance of the drama’s screenwriting as well as their attention to the small details and reading analysis such as yours makes me appreciate the drama more!
    Thank you!

    • Curio Serand says:

      My pleasure acgmac. Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

      So much has clearly gone into making this fabulous comedy that, as someone over at DramaBeans said, we will probably be rewatching it and talking about it for some time to come.

      As with so many viewers, Fated to Love You leaves my heart full and eager to overflow!

  17. gasenadi says:

    Mil gracias! Your exposition on “noble idiocy” was long overdue and exquisitely delineated. Will definitely return for more insights on this and other Kdramas and films. Just wanted to extend my appreciation.

    • Curio Serand says:

      Thank you for visiting! I am so happy to know that you enjoyed it. Naturally, I hope that people will grow more inclined to afford “Pragmatic Altruism” the empathy and respect it deserves.

      I look forward to receiving your feedback on other posts, should you feel inclined to leave them. —Cheers!

  18. tasha says:

    Beautiful insights. i dare say the term “noble idiocy” somewhat degraded the teamwork and the high level of efforts of the scriptwriter. the director and JH. The details and the emotions that were delivered by JH is wide ranging, unbelievable and so so beautiful. There are so many layers to this drama and its so fascinating to watch as it unfolds. Similarly w the way JN delivered the character MY.

    • Curio Serand says:

      Exactly! I, too, believe that the thoughtful effort that has gone into developing the characters and the story in Fated to Love deserves much more respect ad consideration that a lot of the dismissive outrage people expressed because a) they saw the turn of events in Geon’s story as just another tired kdrama cliché b) they did not stop to consider the larger creative context of the drama; namely, how intelligently and consistently they have introduced clichés only to subvert them or transform them into something entirely new and unexpected in the service of this beautiful story.

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  20. junny says:

    I’m two years late and don’t know if you’ll read this post, but nevertheless I want to thank you for this insightful analysis of a trope that most drama viewers like to mock (I’m unfortunately no exception). I only read the recaps for FTLY but can relate to what you’ve written. In particular, as you’ve pointed out, viewers do not always recognise just what someone in Geon’s condition must go through in order to arrive at the difficult decisions he must eventually make. Perhaps drama writers need to learn how to better understand and analyse the human condition, and even when using such devices to wring an emotional reaction out of the viewer, they can hopefully do it in such a way that respects the character and his motivations (and also whatever medical condition they choose to inflict on the character).

    Also, were the pics of Geon’s ancestors actually shown in the drama? I got a good giggle out of those photos.

    • Curio Serand says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read the post and leaving and comment, junny. I am very glad to know that you enjoyed it.

      Even two years on, FTLY is DEFINITELY worth watching all the way through – it is chock full of humorous delights like the portraits of Geon’s ancestors which do indeed appear in the drama early on; they line the hallway in his Grandmother’s house and she even stands in front of them when she’s praying to the ancestors that her Geonnie proposal in Macau goes well. What makes it even funnier is that this scene with the portrait gallery of ancestors and the Grandmother’s prayer appears (about 13 minutes into episode 2) smack in the middle of Geon and Kim Mi Young’s anonymous bedroom “encounter.” Very cheeky!

      If you have not seen FTLY, I highly recommend it. It and intense mix of comedy and drama and the fallout from Geon’s “pragmatic altruism” takes it into drama overdrive in a way that made many viewers very uncomfortable, but which, as you see from this post, I think serves the story well.

      I completely agree with you that drama writers should use tropes like this one with a more deliberately considered understanding of the human condition. I think FTLY is one of the few I’ve see use it that makes an effort to contextualize it in the way I have written about and the effort serves the audience very well. If more writers followed suit, then the audience would eventually also become more contemplative and less dismissive. It definitely takes reciprocity to make tropes like this more meaningful in the story and to viewers.

      So, if you do end up watching FTLY, I invite you to check out the other two posts I ended up writing about it as companion pieces to this post:

      Love in 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You)
      The Perfection of 운명처럼 널 사랑해 (Fated to Love You)

      I hope you enjoy the show and have as much fun with it as I did.


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