Back when HIStory2 was airing in 2018, I ruminated that its appeal was that it made standard Taiwanese romcoms that just happened to have two men in them.
There’s something about the formulaic nature of BL stories that has become a problem for the genre. And this year has not been a good one for BL, especially with everything that’s coming out of Thailand being quite generic.
So what if Korea suddenly made a short web series that was a standard Kdrama in a microcosm, one that just happened to feature a romance between two men?
Like me you’d probably be thrilled they waded into the genre and think that the effort – the four-episode Where Your Eyes Linger – was a welcome contribution to the genre.
Korea doesn’t have the best history with representations of gay and lesbian characters. While I’ve often joked that “there is no gay in Korea”, overall it’s not really a laughing matter. While there are a smattering of gay characters, only a few of them are well-written and even fewer have more than minor roles.
For Korea to produce a BL series at all was unprecedented. But while Where Your Eyes Linger at first threatens to embody the tropes of a standard BL, it ends up forging its own, distinctly Korean, path instead: a Candy/Chaebol romance that happens to be between two men.
The poor Kang Gook (Jang Eui-soo) is the best friend and bodyguard of Chaebol heir and wannabe teen playboy Han Tae-joo (Han Gi-chan), for whom he has secret feelings. The two live together, go to school together, do martial arts together. They’re basically inseparable in a dynamic that harks back to the feudal Joseon bromances shown in standard Korean dramas. It’s one that didn’t entirely work for me at first due to the power imbalance between the two boys, and I found the beginning very rough.
However, once the show settles into itself and stops finding excuses for the two boys to grapple with each other, it begins to deal quite realistically and even movingly with the emotions of the situation. Gook is Tae-joo’s servant and nothing – not their feelings or their friendship or anything else – can change that. Instead of using this power dynamic to set up the somewhat uncomfortable and unequal relationship I started to fear, the show instead treats it as the barrier that it would be.
All those standard tropes…
You all know the plot of the standard old-school Korean drama. The poor hardworking Candy falls for the wealthy tsundere Chaebol. She then struggles with his interest in other girls and – eventually – with acceptance by his disapproving Chaebol parents while being supported unconditionally by a perfect second male lead whose love for her is selfless.
It’s a story that has somewhat had its day. But what if you told the same tale with the Candy and Chaebol both being men? It would become fresh, not just because it’s using the tropes in a new way but because it would be treating a gay relationship in the same way it would treat a heterosexual one.
One trope the show drew on that I particularly liked was its treatment of its second female lead, who is textually treated in the same way as a traditional kdrama second male lead. It’s a refreshing decision, not just from a kdrama perspective but from a BL perspective as well, which has mostly treated female characters poorly.
…but far too short
As a web drama, Where Your Eyes Linger suffers most by being far far too short. At only four 20-minute episodes (broken into eight of only about 10 minutes each) it’s trying to cover ground that the average Kdrama would cover in 16 in a heavily truncated vehicle. The episodes are short and the narrative is very rushed. There’s little time for character development and as such the editing is choppy. The music choices are also not the best and some of the music was bemusing to say the least. It would have benefited from longer episode lengths or even being a full-length series.
While I appreciated the show unfolding as per a standard Kdrama romance, it does mean it has some elements that an audience will find just as frustrating in a BL as they do in a standard drama. In particular, the weird lack of skinship and the almost antiseptic kiss we eventually get between the two leads. If you want passion, well, Korea’s never really been the country to produce it anyway and it’s sticking to those traditions here as well.
Despite a rough start and the use of some truly questionable music decisions, this is a classic Kdrama romance scenario that happens to have two men in it. And that’s the best thing about it. It means that some of its peculiarly Korean narrative decisions worked for me when I would have found them tiresome in a standard drama. I think it’s great that they made a drama that treats homosexual romance in exactly the same way as it would have treated a heterosexual romance.
With Thailand producing duds like Why RU? and My Engineer (and Taiwan barely producing anything at all), Where Your Eyes Linger could easily be the best BL this year.
Where Your Eyes Linger is available for streaming with full English subtitles on Viki