Drama trends that need to stop: Casting significantly younger actresses with older actors

There's one awful "trend" in the Korean dramaverse that seems to have exploded this year - the casting of much younger, sometimes even below legal age actresses across from much older actors in romantic roles. This is now rampant to the point where I've nearly lost count of how many there have been in this year alone. It's also something that I'm growing ever more irritated and disturbed by, and wish will stop soon.

The age gap alone isn't necessarily the issue. I have loved my share of noona romances, some of which have featured dramatic age gaps in casting. But the thing with noona romances is that the age issue is always addressed, and usually features largely into the conflict between the couple. This is important, because at the end of the day, a significant age gap is a barrier to a relationship and will require considerable sacrifice from both sides.

Unfortunately in the case of the recent "ahjusshi" romances, where we get castings like 39 year old Ji Sung across from 22 year old Hye Ri or 39 year old Jang Hyuk across from 24 year old Park So Dam, age isn't even mentioned. It's completely ignored, as if it's normal for a woman to be romantically involved with a man 15 years or more older than her. That really bothers me.

I understand that many of these stories weren't written with the intent of featuring characters with a massive age gap. If that's the case though, why aren't the casting directors taking this into account with their choices? For instance, if you knew you were targeting Ji Sung for a role, shouldn't you question if it's appropriate to cast Hye Ri as his romantic lead? Were there no choices of actresses above 27?

I think one of the issues has been the explosion of idols. Drama producers are trying to grab the built-in fanbases of these individuals through casting, without regard for acting skill or character fit. It's happened across both male and female actors, but it's been more prevalent of an issue with actresses (see Yoona, Yuri, Hye Ri, Suzy, Minah and Krystal for a few recent examples) who are landing lead roles with little to no experience across from more seasoned male coworkers. It's an irritating development that I wish would end since it often reduces the quality of the show. Give me an actress who can act over a pretty and popular but horribly inexperienced face any day.

What I don't understand at all is the sudden casting of the Kim So Hyun generation of not-yet-legal actresses in big leading roles across from men in their mid to late 20s, and then having the writing completely ignore the age gap. Is there such a shortage of actresses in their 20s that they have to resort to 15-year-olds? This is one of the reasons why I could not watch Mirror of the Witch - as much as I love Yoon Shi Yoon, I couldn't stomach the idea of him (a 29 year old) romancing and possibly having kissing scenes with a 15 year old Kim Sae Ron.

In general, it feels as though the casting for women is becoming ever more discriminatory against age. Women are regularly playing older than their ages, sometimes to a significant degree, while the male actors are playing younger than their ages. Why? What's going on here? And why has this suddenly grown like a disease in the past six months? Even when noona romances were at their height there were no more than a few a year, but we're looking at almost ten ahjusshi romances since the start of the year. Let me put this in perspective with a list of the age gaps from the year so far:

  • Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul Ho - Park Shin Yang (47), Kang So Ra (26)
    • I will probably watch this anyways as I like both actors, but am very curious about how they address the age gap. My suspicion is it will be a non-issue. Contrast this with the very large issue age presented in Secret Love Affair (which featured a similar gap).

  • Entertainer - Ji Sung (39), Hye Ri (22)
    • I watched two episodes of this. In those two episodes, Ji Sung and Hye Ri already had plenty of romantic music set-up scenes, including intent eye contact while she was washing the windows and a faux hug / catch-and-rescue. Both scenes looked painfully  forced and visually incongruous, because he looks like her uncle. I don't understand why he couldn't just end up with the age appropriate Chae Jung An while she end up with Kang Min Hyuk's sweet Ha Neul. Or why they couldn't at least cast an actress in her late 20s. 

  •  Beautiful Mind - Jang Hyuk (39), Park So Dam (24)
    • I'm at episode three now, and while I like Jang Hyuk's character, I'm more than a little annoyed with Park So Dam's. She behaves like a child, which doesn't help the case of her getting together with Jang Hyuk, especially when she literally looks like a teen. It's the same issue with Ji Sung and Hye Ri in that I don't buy any of their romantic interactions to date (e.g., him catching her on the stairs) because the age gap is so freaking noticeable. If you're going to try and pretend like there's no age gap between the characters, at least cast people who look closer to the same age. 

  • Mirror of the Witch - Yoon Shi Yoon (29), Kim Sae Ron (15)
    • I keep hearing great reviews on this show, but how exactly do people get it out of their heads the fact that Yoon Shi Yoon is literally double the age of Kim Sae Ron, and that she's still a minor? It's so weird and disturbing, especially as she looks every bit as young as she is. I also found the opening two episodes a bit draggy and not interesting (especially as I can't invest in the lead pair), so am giving this show a pass.

  • Bring it on, Ghost -  Taecyeon (27), Kim So Hyun (16)
    • Kim So Hyun at least looks older than Kim Sae Ron so this pairing isn't quite as disturbing to me, but there's still the issue that she isn't legal. In this case, I've heard the two leads have good chemistry so am curious to check it out. But I read a recent article on how they had to be very careful in editing the kiss scene given her status as a minor. See how much trouble could have been avoided had they just cast a bit more appropriately?   

  • Flower in Prison - Goo Soo (37), Jin Se Young (22)
    • I strongly dislike Jin Se Young for her emotionally vapid performances regardless so would rather she not get cast in anything, and this casting does her no favors. I don't understand it. And I bet you again they're not going to so much as speak a word about it in the drama.

  • Beautiful Gong Shim - Nam Goong Min (38), Minah (23)
    • I watched the first seven episodes of this drama, and found it cute though dropped once it was clear the family drama was coming. While this is an example of a pairing that at least works visually (Nam Goong Min looks incredibly youthful), it's also another example of the age issue getting no mention. Literally zero mention. They might look close in age, but we know that Minah is 15 years younger than Nam Goong Min, and that alone is a problem for me. 
  • Doctors - Kim Rae Won (35), Park Shin Hye (26)
    • This is one of the few age gap dramas that I'm completely fine with. First of all, Park Shin Hye is one of the oldest women on this list at 26 and her 9-year age gap with Kim Rae Won is almost laughably small compared with the others. Second and most importantly, the story addresses the age gap and it serves an important purpose. This isn't just about the casting department getting antsy for a young fresh face next to an old veteran, this is a purposeful gap that was necessary for the plot. I also find it hypocritical how so many people claim to be bothered by the drama's teacher-student scenario, but are then perfectly fine with dramas like Mirror or Ghost that literally have high-school age girls romancing men old enough to be their teachers.
  • Love in the Moonlight - Park Bo Gum (23), Kim Yoo Jung (16)
    • This is at least the smallest age gap among the not-legal girls, but it still bothers me on principle. Why is there such a mad rush to get these young girls leading roles? I just feel like there's so many promising actresses in their 20s that could play the part, especially when Kim Yoo Jung is in my opinion a very average actress. She also totally looks like a kid still, including in the poster above.

The actor-actress age gap problem is definitely a 2016 issue, and I want it to end soon. Remember those days of Secret Door, where they actually swapped out Kim Yoo Jung because it felt icky for her to be seen romantically with a 30-year-old Lee Je Hoon? Oh how things have evolved since.  

Where are all the age appropriate and quality actresses like Kim So Yeon, Moon Chae Won, Yoo Inna, Moon Geun Young, and countless others? It's as if they've all vanished in thin air, leaving only a mass of teenagers and young idols in their stead. I need this to stop, because I want to love dramas but I can't watch something that I'm inherently against or that makes me feel gross. Can we just start having age appropriate castings again?


  1. Beautiful Mind really picks up at episode 5, so I hope you hang in there! Park So-dam's character starts toning down and really becomes much more likeable. Interestingly, I didn't feel the age gap there, because I think the difference is implied in their characters and profession - she's a young traffic cop, idealistic and green to the ways of the world, while he's a doctor in his thirties, has a fairly cynical worldview and definitely acting his age. While there are some 15 years between Park So-dam and Jang Hyuk, the difference is down to 10 in the drama - Jin-sung is 26 and Young-oh is 36. Also, the actors have some very nice chemistry and I didn't feel they were mismatched.

    I do agree about the disturbing casting of the three Kim girls with actors significantly older. I was only reading recaps for Mirror of the Witch, but found it difficult to read scenes of the leads showing affection for each other. It just didn't seem right.

    As for Jo Deul-ho, there is no age-gap issue at all.

    1. This is very helpful to know about Beautiful Mind actually (which I finally started yesterday), I'm glad that at least it's somewhat consistent with the characters' ages. I'll be sure to stick around through episode 5.

      And yes, I feel really bummed about the Kim girls taking these roles because I love Yoon Shi Yoon and really wanted to see his comeback drama. Same with Park Bo Gum who I adore from Answer Me. These castings are literally making it impossible for me to watch and enjoy otherwise potentially good shows. And since they're getting these leading roles already, they'll probably be taking at least one leading part a year into the future, which means even more dramas that I can't watch. Hopefully they migrate to movies!

  2. There's definitely been a lot of talk about and this and I can see why. It really is odd and super annoying that they choose to do make these huge age-gaps. Of course, I'm never surprised that drama producers are using the fanbase of young idol girls because art is often sacrificed for money in the entertainment business. It really does mess up the quality of a show and takes away roles for real actresses, which is so sad.

    It's kinda crazy but I can think of countless classic Hollywood movies with hilarious age gaps. Why just look at Fred Astaire. At 58 he was romancing 28 yr old Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, or at 49 romancing 26 yr old Judy Garland.

    Even today, Hollywood is just as bad as Korea. In fact, much of this isn't even "new". Adam Sandler is known for the ever increasing age gap between him and his co-stars (in Just Go With It he was 20 yrs older than the girl). I remember laughing at Emma Stone and Colin Firth's romance in Magic in the Moonlight as he's 28 years older than her. I looked to me like she was having a romance with a father-figure.

    Also, underage girls having romances with older guys is something that Hollywood has done a lot as well. Take Another Cinderella Story - Selena Gomez was just 16 while her love interest Drew Seeley was 26. Lol. And there were definitely kiss scenes. In A Cinderella Story Hilary Duff was 16/17 while Chad Michael Murray was 23. I remember reading a magazine interviewing Chad back then - one of the questions they asked was if he and Hilary were having an off-screen romance. He told them no, she's like his little sister. And yeah, she wasn't even 18 lol! It's funny but back then I honestly thought nothing of it. I do wonder now why the magazine didn't do some research and not ask such a stupid question.

    I guess in the end it's really, sadly an ongoing issue in many entertainment places that's far from new and far from disappearing. Still, I hope entertainment starts thinking about this more and works to make better casting decisions. :D


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