I’m not one to be swayed by the third-leg in a romantic triangle(“thirdies”). It’s very rare that I ever entertain the second male lead in dramas and I have never admitted to have ever contracted Second Lead Syndrome(SLS). Honestly, it has always eluded me, how so many fans of my favorite dramas were toiling at their computer screens crying, wishing, hoping and praying that said heroine would fall for the idiot in the corner. Not to say that some “men in the wings” weren’t wonderful like Lee Seon Gun’s Choi Han Sung in Coffee Prince or Lee Joo Hyun’s characters in both Ja Myung Go and When It’s Night, but highly unlikely I’ve respected many “thirdie” characters or felt they truly deserved the heroine’s romantic attentions.(Plus, in some cases they were just too good for her.)
However, I can’t say I’ve NEVER been swayed. The 3rd wheel is a hard position to be in and for me, I’ve found I’ve appreciated those characters that recognized their position in the equation early on yet handled themselves well.
Since this is a male category, there is more than one male to choose from so I came up with my Top 5 Thirdies List. I’ve listed them in the order in which I saw them and though I believe each of these men deserve there own post, I will try to keep it brief.
1. Lee Chang Hwi
If you’ve seen Hong Gil Dong, then you know why this prince made my list. Chang Hwi isn’t the most friendly guy and he has a lot of baggage but he finds himself constantly entangled with a clumsy silly girl named Heo Yi Nok and starts to care for her. His caring is birthed out of her inability to think properly, incessantly finding herself in a tight spot but her bubbly innocence brings a waft of fresh air to this brooding loner.
What I like about Chang Hwi is his understanding. He meets Yi Nok and accepts her for who she is and doesn’t try to change her. What she doesn’t understand, he explains and waits for her to process. He was very patient and that patience showed his commitment to loving her. He wasn’t necessarily waiting around for her to love him but rather, hoping she’d put the pieces together that he loved her. He knew she was drawn to another man, a man worthy of that love, however, he still wanted her to acknowledge him and for that, so did I.
Hong Gil Dong was the first drama, I’d seen that made me want the heroine to at least look a “thirdie’s” way, just once. I knew they could never be together, I just wanted her to see him and thank him for loving her. Lee Chang Hwi is a pinnacle for me because he truly is my first second lead crush in a list of about 2. He is memorable for his strong moral character and tongue-in-cheek whit, not to mention a stinkin’ great theme song!
2. Kusano Akira
I consider “thirdies” to also be “the other guy,” the forgettable character that hangs around the main leads getting lost in all their wonderful character developments. I can’t say Kusano Akira is forgettable, however his development as a character is nonexistent. In a drama about change, or reinvention, he truly didn’t need any. Nobuta wo Produce isn’t a love story but Akira falls for Nobuko after spending tons of time with her. He keeps his feelings to himself and supports her as she trudges toward change and unrenowned popularity. What I found fascinating about Akira was his resilience and understated wisdom. He unflinchingly clings to the relationships he develops with Shuji and Nobuko following them anywhere, anytime, encouraging them and hanging in there regardless of the outcome.
His romantic feelings for Nobuko become apparent pretty early on to the viewer and like all(most) heroines Nobuko is clueless. Watching Akira deal with this silent rejection kills but experiencing him choose friendship over love, time and time again is moving. Akira was wise beyond his years about the human condition. He listened and guided and though he was a kid himself, you get the sense that his love for Nobuko would grow regardless of proximity or time.
Unlike many other “thirdies,” his commitment to Nobuko seemed to be unshakable and though they may separate and grow older, he would remain constant.What bonded Akira to Nobuko went beyond “butterflies” and the “tinglies” and rested firmly upon respect and admiration. Though Nobuta wasn’t a romance I would definitely love to see these characters grown and dating. It would be lovely to see if/how Akira chooses to reveal his feelings. In a friendship like theirs it isn’t necessary but for a reluctant yet hopeful romantic(like me), it would bring unspeakable joy.
3. Moon Jae Shin aka Gul Ro (Crazyhorse)
I think that every male on my list is special but there is something undeniably magnetic about this character. Moon Jae Shin is the hero of Sungkyunkwan Scandal and like all heroes, he’s smart, charismatic and sexy, making it impossible for any girl with girl genes to ignore him. As a hero, Jae Shin had motivations beyond love and romance. Ultimately, he had a life before he met Yoon Hee and other things on his plate besides bagging the chick. I adored him for loving his girl but more so, for putting things in perspective and achieving his original aspirations.
Though he wanted to protect Yoon Hee as the girl he loved, she represented more to him than his lady love. She embodied everything his cause was birthed to uphold, and therefore held more importance making him a fighter for something larger than a whimsical romantic “happily ever after.” Gul Ro goes down as the most amazing listener I’ve ever seen in a drama, taking in every word Yoon Hee spoke, weighing them and responding with simple, concise, blunt advice each and every time. There was never a time I doubted his love and respect for her or was deaf to his yearning to be with her.
Usually, my biggest gripe with “thirdies” is their inability to confess their feelings, accept reality or pursue worthy targets and Gul Ro debunks all these. No, he never revealed his love but it wasn’t out of noble idiocy or prideful preservation. He made choices that reached beyond the here and now, portraying love a bonus, not a necessity. He was never clouded by his love for Yoon Hee, but spurred along by it. Moon Jae Shin breaks the historic “thirdie” mold, defining “the other guy” as someone aspirational. He loved Yoon Hee, and wanted her for his very own, yet had other pursuits in life which freed him from typical “thirdie” traps and tropes.
The shot above is taken from one of my favorite Moon Jae Shin scenes, solidifying him as my first diagnosable solid symptom of Second Lead Syndrome(SLS) to date! I won’t say I ever wanted Yoon Hee and Jae Shin to marry or be together but like Yi Nok with Chang Hwi, he deserved recognition; a hug, a flirt, a wink. Sun Joon and Yoon Hee were (dramatically) made for each other and there was no one that could come between them but Moon Jae Shin was the best rival for her heart that I never understood she didn’t see.
4. He Yan Feng
My experience with He Yan Feng is one I’ve never had before. For, I actually felt that he was better suited for Chen Bao Chu over her first and true love Da Lung. The oddest thing is that I felt the same regarding the female in the square. You see, the way most dramas are written, relationships spark due to a circumstance called timing. Characters meet at “just the right” moment when they are ripe for love, their guard is down, or the “thirdie” just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi the hero or heroine needs or desires. However in this drama, this simply isn’t the case. The love portrayed between the two main characters was understandable, perhaps believable but somehow when compared to other options, not as ideal. That is primarily the reason He Yan Feng makes this list, for Yan Feng was and is Chen Bao Chu’s perfect match.
It’s true, Yan Feng is a “thirdie” to his foundation and inception. No matter how wonderful he is, Bao Chu will always be out of his reach. He has the “mutant super power” to be everywhere his love wants to be before she thinks of being there. And has this amazing way of meeting all her needs, while being an excellent friend, mentor and partner. Truly there was nothing lacking in him as a character or man; Bao Chu simply didn’t love him, even when she tried.
His biggest point of appreciation comes when he chooses to own up to his feelings and confess, only to later admit defeat. He doesn’t back down, instead, he emotionally backs away, and allows his friend to live with the love she has chosen. He realizes like many “thirdies” before him, that his story with Bao Chu consists of him loving and giving all of himself, receiving her kindness and gratitude, but her forever loving someone else. He Yan Feng remains a phenomenal character, for he (like the audience), knows that he is better for Bao Chu than any other man, even Da Lung, yet, he isn’t spiteful, arrogant or deceptive. Rather, he’s untainted, generous and kindly resolved, as he acknowledges that human choices can’t be controlled or manipulated, if there is love.
5. Yoon Pil Joo
Have you ever met a character that you have no words to describe? None that truly do him justice? That is Yoon Pil Joo. As a character, he thinks and acts like no “thirdie” before him, for he’s genuinely just an average nice guy. The sad thing is, nice guys rarely get the girl. And Pil Joo doesn’t but boy, did I think he and Ae Jung could’ve lived “happily-ever-after” if they’d lived in a Dokko Jin-free environment!
A nice guy is also generally boring(top it off with the fact that he’s a geeky, quasi-asexual and we’re in a heap of a mess) but Yoon Pil Joo was simply amazing. Meeting him in Greatest Love was such a refreshing treat, I can’t do anything but gush over him. He’s this Oriental Medicine doctor that has little interest in romance, relationships or women, then he meets Gu Ae Jung and for the first time, he wants to plunge into every frame of existence with her. He’s honest, straight-forward, kind and generous; thoughtful, patient and charismatic; adorable, down-to-earth and normal. So normal it’s kind of scary. He’s seriously perfect! Perfect! However, there was never a moment I wanted he and Ae Jung to make a life together, over she and Dokko Jin. I call that the most magical “thiridie” of all time!
All “thirdies” should take classes from this man. If Moon Jae Shin broke the mold, Yoon Pil Joo took those broken pieces, smashed them into powder and made a medicinal milkshake masterpiece “thirdies” from around the world must drink to stay in the race. He wasn’t well versed in love but gave it his all, freely, without pretension or prideful posturing. He also didn’t try to change or recklessly “one-up” Jin. Instead, he approached Ae Jung with sincerity and heart, and though he fails, he may be the first “thirdie” I actually wanted to have some sort of consolation prize(romance). Not because he was pitiable but because now awaken to love, he deserves to share himself with someone he loves who chooses to love him back.
However, even if he were to journey alone, his experience with Ae Jung is one I feel confident he will cherish, not regret, content with learning from his first bout with love and grow stronger. He won’t be some lonely love pining or tortured ahjussi but the cute bachelor everyone is curious never married. Yoon Pil Joo was a character who was a real man. He was stable, educated and confident, without being belligerent or haughty, a character it was truly depressing to watch love and lose.
Another thing that makes Yoon Pil Joo so magnificent is simply that he shouldn’t be. He honestly should be boring, and I daresay would have been without his portrayer. At times, there are characters that are flat and flimsy on paper but some actors find a way to breathe life and depth into them and that is what Yoon Kye Sang did for Pil Joo. Yoon Pil Joo, drew his Pil-line by remaining true to himself until the very end, never faltering by his desire to win or be right; a trait that makes him one of the best second leads I’ve seen in any drama. A character I am grateful to have seen blow away all expectations and become one of the most memorable “thirdies” out there.
The way I see it, “thirdies” aren’t supposed to get the girl. They weren’t created for that. But when a character is written that vies the hero, you are elated and drawn to him, wanting to hold his hand or be his consolation. The men I’ve described piqued my interest in one way or another, while many have similar attributes, they were used in different dramas, in different situations, for different reasons. The “third-wheel” character should solidify for the audience that the OTP belong together, not because it’s fate or destiny but because two people make a choice to stand with one person, above all others, for life. Sometimes that happens before they meet other options, sometimes after but regardless, the choice is made, whether they are truly aware of it or not.
Not every “thirdie” does this, but for me, the men above fit that bill in some fashion or other and do it in ways that garnered my hugs, kisses and tears but most importantly, my respect.