On September 25, 2021, KBS2 premiered its new 50-episode weekend K-Drama Young Lady And Gentleman—featuring familiar faces like actor Ji Hyun Woo and actress Lee Se Hee. The show’s synopsis revealed it to be a unique love story between a headstrong woman in her 20s and a single father in his 40s.
Initially, when the producers shared the synopsis prior to the premiere, Young Lady And Gentleman received mild criticism from the viewers. Upon hearing the premise of the show, viewers voiced concern over the “glorification huge age gaps between the male and female lead characters.” The buzz seemed to cool down when the male lead, Ji Hyun Woo, said in an interview that he hopes the viewers will see that “love doesn’t come with an age limit.”
Q: How do you feel about your role being in love with someone 14 years younger?
A: Well, love doesn’t come with an age limit. I hope the viewers can find Young Lady And Gentleman to be a heartwarming, emotionally healing show.
— Ji Hyun Woo
Unfortunately, when the first episode captured the beginnings of the male and female lead characters, the show has sparked another heated debate online. In this episode, the two lead characters meet for the first time—when the male is 27 years old and the female is 13 years old. The young, rising child actress Kim Min Seo played the female lead as a minor.
After the encounter, the episode fast-forwards a decade. And over the course of the next 49 episodes, the female lead character—now in her 20s—is set to fall in love with the male lead character from her past, in his 40s.
Following the premiere, some viewers huddled online to share that they found the setting “creepy.”
- “I would not have been this offended if the leads met in their adulthood. They could have been 30 years apart and I wouldn’t have minded. But this is not it. What a bunch of pedos…”
- “Wow… Okay. They did not have to include this scene with a child actress.”
- “A lot of international viewers watch K-Dramas too. I wonder what they’ll think of this portrayal. I feel like this would be seen as problematic wherever in the world.”
- “What in Lolita hell is this disgusting sh*t?”
- “Looks like the director is very forgiving of pedophilia. Good going. Isn’t KBS a public broadcasting channel [for everyone to watch]?”
- “Uh… These producers must be out of their d*mn minds.”
Over 1.5K comments quickly accumulated, pointing out that it is even “borderline pedophilic” to have portrayed a grown man’s interaction with a teenager to be the start of something romantic.
- “I could not believe my eyes when the camera zoomed in on their hands clasped together around the hammer when they started playing the arcade game. What the actual f*ck?”
- “When the child actress appeared, I pointed her out to my mom who was watching with me. As soon as I told her she’s the younger version of the female lead, the grown version of the male lead appeared on the bike… in the same scene. Like, what?”
- “This is how it all begins though. 14 years difference? That’s not too bad. Man in his 40s dating a woman in her 20s? That’s not too bad. A woman in her late teens? That’s not too bad. And like that, the line gets pushed so far back—they’ll still say ‘not too bad’ about literal children too. It’s disgusting.”
One viewer strongly urged the screenwriter and director to think about the impact that an episode can have on “how the society perceives what is obviously acceptable vs. what is obviously questionable.”
I get it. There are celebrity couples who are 10+ years apart. So it does happen in real life and that’s fine. The point is not that these characters are so many years apart. The point is, it is incredibly dangerous for a television program to broadcast a scene that captures a man and a teenager in a romantic light. What is the screenwriter/director thinking, showing an actual child with a full-grown man in a uniform?
Just think about how television has constantly changed the way society perceives what is acceptable and what is questionable. It may not seem that deep, but it is most definitely this deep.
The producers of Young Lady And Gentleman have not responded to the backlash.
Watch the scene below.