Gifted Characters In Korean And Japanese Dramas

The Korean Wave, known as Hallyu, has been sweeping Asia and the rest of the world in terms of entertainment for years, and there is no sign of abating. With East Asian countries placing strong emphasis on academics and other areas such as music, it is no wonder that some of the lead characters in dramas are gifted.

Many of the characters are young male students who easily top their studies, and good looks are mandatory. Many are portrayed with mega memories. Some are talented in sports as well. They are sometimes portrayed with inflexibility, with a strong sense of justice. Some have poor social skills. Some might be caricatures, but the actors and actresses who portrayed them were usually convincing. Most of them become better characters at the end of the show.

gifted characters in korean and japanese dramas header

Since romance is a key component in dramas, sometimes the male gifted characters are paired with female characters who are very weak in their studies, and are full of romantic ideals. The two female gifted characters mentioned here have to hide their identities in one way or another. The last time where there was a very strong female gifted character, it was Jang Guem (Chang Jin) in Jewel in the Palace (2003), a girl in historic Korea who manages to be an expert chef and then a medical doctor in the imperial court.

Who are some of the gifted characters in some of the Korean and Japanese dramas in recent years? Let’s check them out. Note: I have not watched that many drama serials, so these are based on what I have watched and enjoyed recently.

1. Choi Taek, professional Baduk player in Reply 1998 (2015/2016)
park bo gum reply 1988
This highly successful third installment of the Reply/Answer Me series, where the audience tries to guess who the husband of the lead actress is, showcases Choi Taek (played by Park Bo Gum) as a professional Baduk (Go, or Weiqi) player. He is said to have an IQ of 139 (if I remember correctly). He is a teenage world class player who beats much older Baduk players from Japan and China. Despite having dropped out of school just to turn professional with hordes of ardent fans, he remains grounded when he is with his family and friends.

When it comes to Baduk, he behaves like an adult, masking his feelings and playing with a poker face, during competitions. He frequently has marathon matches, and gets headaches easily. With his highly competitive nature, he solves Rubik’s Cubes easily and gets the highest scores in arcade games. However, when it comes to daily activities, he is unable to handle them and depends on his family and friends to look after him. He needs help with tying shoelaces, boiling water and other simple tasks.

Park Bo Gum, the actor, memorises Baduk moves from real competitions, and has received high acclaim for his performance in this show.

2. Trash Oppa, Kim Jae Joon, medical student in Reply 1994 (2013)
jung woo reply 1994

In this second instalment, it is not explicitly mentioned that Trash Oppa, played by Jang Woo, is gifted. However, he is shown to be extremely good in his studies without having to put in extra effort. As a first year resident, he is quick to identify the problem in a patient based on medical charts and prescribes a detailed diagnosis when all the other students are unable to do so.

However, he is nicknamed as Trash, because he is extremely messy in his habits, and is able to eat expired food and spoilt food without having any problem to his health. His house is so dirty that it is filled with garbage, empty beer cans, old food packages, and dirty and clean clothes in the same pile.

Nevertheless, he is able to interact very well with people and patients, showing his high EQ as well. Elderly and young patients ask for him due to his good bedside manners. He is also an excellent soccer player, who easily turns matches around with his deft soccer skills.

3. Yoon Yoon Jae, high school/law school student, judge in Reply 1997 (2012)
seo in guk reply 1997
In this first instalment, Yoon Jae, played by Seo In Guk, is the top student in his high school in Busan, and is the quiet brooding type. Apart from being good at studies, he is good at sports too. He is the top scorer in the whole of South Korea for his high school examinations. However, he wants to be an airforce pilot because he wants to impress a girl whose grades are average, but great at writing fan fic. In the end, he goes to the law faculty in Seoul University, and becomes one of the youngest judges who is extremely impartial and inflexible. He has a close group of friends.

4. Yoon Tae Woong, teacher/computer programmer/CEO in Reply 1997 (2012)
song jong ho reply 1997
Tae Woong is Yoon Jae’s elder brother. He is also the top scorer for the national examinations, but gives up his chance to go to Seoul University to remain in Busan to look after his younger brother since both parents passed away. After his brother finishes his studies, he starts his own company and set up ILoveSchool website, similar to Friendster, to connect friends with their old schoolmates. He becomes very rich. He is a gifted computer programmer who can debug easily and codes in a very short period of time, sometimes even doing his employees’ work. After that success, he goes on to create another big success, similar to Myspace. At the height of his company success, he sells off his shares and goes to be a lecturer in the university. He even becomes a presidential candidate.

5. Lee Sun Jae, gifted pianist in Secret Love Affair (2014)
yoo ah in secret love affair

He is a gifted pianist in his twenties, having picked up the piano on his own through watching videos online and downloading sheet music. To learn a piece, he listens to a recording hundreds of times and memorises it. He does not realise how talented he is since he comes from a very poor family. He improvises music meant for duets, and he changes notes due to his finger injury.

A former talented pianist, a married woman in her forties, discovers his talent and gets him into a university music programme on a scholarship. In the process, he connects emotionally with her when they played duets together and they fall in love with each other. This drama series has a lot of virtuoso performances.

The actor, Yoo Ah In, learnt to play the piano for the drama and has been lauded for his performance. He would memorise the difficult pieces and play it for real, instead of many actors who pretend to play.

6. Kim Yoon Hee, gifted female scholar who disguises as a boy in Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
park min young sungkyunkwan scandal

This is a fusion period drama set in the late Joseon period (18th century). Only men were allowed to study. Kim Yoon Hee (played by Park Min Young) cross dressed as a boy in order to earn a living as a writer. She ghost writes theses for scholars in Sungkyunkwan, a prestigious Confucian institute for top scholars. When she loses a script, she writes it out again from memory. Her late father was actually a professor at the same institute. When she was young, her father would read to her baby brother difficult works in a room while she stood outside to learn on her own. Her father soon realised her giftedness, but was unable to do much at that time.

Through a series of events, she is ordered by the king to enter the institute. Due to her eagerness to learn, with the promise of food and medicine which she could give to her family and sick younger brother, she assumes her brother’s identity, Yoon Shik, to enter it. She continues to be one of the top scholars in the institute. She even learns archery in a week just to prove herself through sheer determination and hard work.

7. Lee Sun Joon, gifted scholar, son of Left State Minister in Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
micky yoochun sungkyunkwan scandal

Lee Sun Joon, played by Micky Yoochun, discovers Yoon Hee’s talent when she is taking the test on the behalf of a client. He exposes her so that she has a chance to go to the institute. At that time, he does not know she is a girl.

He is a gifted scholar as well, and is known for being inflexible.He has a strong sense of justice, and is willing to expose the truth even if it means implicating his own father. Apart from being academically gifted, he is also equally talented in sports. He trains himself to shoot with his left hand after injuring his right shoulder, and is able to shoot the bull’s eye. In order to win the competition, he trains his roommate, Yoon Hee.

He falls for her, thinking he is a homosexual, and even thinks of entering a political marriage just to escape his feelings. However, he could not go through the wedding and chooses to run away just to maintain Yoon Hee’s honour due to the highly conservative nature of the society then.

8. Moon Jae Shin (Geol Oh), gifted scholar and martial arts exponent in Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
yoo ah in sungkyunkwan scandal
This character is acted by Yoo Ah In (same actor mentioned earlier). He challenges the system by dressing up as the Red Messenger and is extremely upset by the death of his elder brother, who was the top scholar in Sungkyunkwan. He would leave provocative messages about the truth of the death crown prince Sado and he gets seriously injured from clashes with the military.

Apparently, he is an even better archer than Lee Sun Joon, and he is even smarter than both Kim Yoon Hee and Lee Sun Joon, as he could tell who had the right answer in a competition held by the king. He had read all the books in the library, but he skips classes, refuses to do his work, and pretends to be an average student.

The three scholars and another student, acted by Song Joong Ki (who acted in the recent highly popular Descendants of the Sun and is an extremely intelligent person himself) form Joseon F4, famed for their looks.

9. Jo Min Ja, gifted hacker in Healer (2015)
kim mi kyung healer

This is a rare portrayal in Korean drama land as the gifted characters are usually good-looking young males. She is a woman in her late forties, and she is an expert at hacking into various computers, including the police’s internal computer system, street cameras, and other organisations.

She hides in a room with many fast computers and the latest IT gadgets, including all sorts of tracking devices. Without revealing her identity, she assists Healer, a young guy who is great at Parkour and running all sorts of errands for rich people including the triads for a high fee.

10. Lee Hyun, criminologist, I Remember You/ Hello Monster (2015)
seo in guk hello monster

Acted by Seo In Guk (see number 2), Lee Hyun is a gifted criminologist. When he was young, he was already very mature and could run the household, looking after his younger brother. There was a family tragedy. However, his father, who was a policeman, thought he could be a psychopath, as there were numerous disturbing drawings, and mutilated animals. A mass murderer was on the loose, and due to various circumstances, the father was killed, and the brother went missing.

As an adult, he became a criminologist and was able to profile criminals based on their modus operandi and signatures. He was able to spot details that nobody else could, and crack codes left by criminals, such as latitudes and longitudes coordinates.

However, he is shown to be rather dismissive of people who are not smart, and has a rather abrasive personality at times.

The serial killers in the show are shown to have high intelligence as well, but I will not reveal them here in case it spoils the mystery for you.

This show, and another excellent show, Signal (2016), led me into profiling of criminals. I had actually looked up some information from the FBI, and it was quite insightful on how certain things done by criminals could lead to police zooming in on suspects. Whether a criminal brought a weapon to the scene, or used items from the scene as weapons showed whether the criminal was an organised one or disorganised. This field is fascinating, but extremely gruesome, so I think it will take certain types of personalities to take up such jobs.

11. Irie Naoki, gifted student in Itazura Na Kiss (Love in Tokyo) 2013
furukawa yuki itazura na kiss

There are other versions of this show, It started with a kiss (Taiwanese) and Playful Kiss (Korean). This show is adapted from a manga, and in the Japanese version, Irie-kun is a gifted student, with a rumoured IQ of 200 (What test are they basing this on?). He can memorise things after he has read them once. He could cook a dish after looking a recipe once, and plate it just like the picture.

He tops the examinations easily, and even tops the national entrance exams despite being injured and groggy from medication, with only just 30 minutes. He had demonstrated excellence and interest in various fields, such as science and technology, literature, languages, marketing and medicine.

He is the target of many high school girls, and he gets involved with a girl, Aihara Kotoko, who professes her love for him in front of many people and cruelly rejected. The girl is an average student who is in the last class. Due to an incredible situation where her new house collapses from a meteorite and shoddy workmanship, the girl and her father moves into Irie’s house as the parents are best friends.

He is shown to be mean-spirited, but she manages to blackmail him to tutor her. He easily spots the questions for her, sets her questions to do, and explains them to her. He is also a top tennis player with shots that are extremely powerful and fast. Due to a competition, he is forced to teach her as well, and puts her through a gruelling practice.

12. Hoshikawa Takane, Buddhist monk, From 5 – 9 (2015)
Yamashita Tomohisa 5-ji kara 9-ji made

Takane (played by Yamashita Tomohisa) is a handsome Buddhist monk who is slated to be the next head monk. He is extremely intelligent, having graduated from Tokyo University. He is proficient in English as well, but he attends English classes in order to pursue Sakuraba Junko, an English language teacher. (Note: Monks in Japan are allowed to get married.) He is extremely good at cooking and a lot of other things, and he also shows a very strong interest in natural history, especially dinosaurs and animals. He easily memorises the scriptures so that he could conduct various religious ceremonies. He could remember everything about Junko and has a kind personality.
The only fault is that he is extremely persistent, and is verging on the point of stalking despite Junko telling him she does not like him at all.

13. Hyuga Toru, IT whiz, CEO in Rich Man, Poor Woman (2012)
oguri shun rich man poor woman

Hyuga Toru owns an IT firm, Next Innovation, with his friend. He is extremely intelligent, and able to code extremely well. He has many big hits, and then tries to come up with something that could benefit the public. He can code complex databases, but then he is also able to really identify the users’ needs and rebuilds the whole system just to make it more user-friendly. However, he cannot remember faces, and can be quite rude to people. He suffers betrayal, but is able to bounce back.

14. Yukawa Manabu, Physicist in Galileo 2 (2013)
Fukuyama Masaharu galileo 2

Played by a multi-talented actor/composer/musician/singer, Fukuyama Masaharu, Yukawa is a physicist who is roped in to help the Japanese police solve mysteries by using physics. He is a little eccentric, and is more interested in solving science problems than murder mysteries. Strange occurrences are explained, and it is interesting to see how his brains works. Apparently, the first season was even more exciting.

This blog post is part of a blog hop on Gifted in Pop Culture by Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.

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