Discussion: Weirdest K-Drama Posters?

A few months ago, an astute reader raised the question of favorite and least favorite posters, and why K-drama posters are so often bad. The question has been haunting me ever since. Why do fans have to put up with so many lousy publicity images? Will there ever be a good K-drama that also has a good poster?

Choosing a K-drama often requires ignoring the poster. I learned this early. The second K-drama I ever watched was Me Too, Flower, with this surreal poster:

Me-Too-Flower-Poster1 4web

Are they flying? Jumping? Falling out of an airplane? The description of the show says it’s about a depressed policewoman and an “undercover boss,” but the poster suggests it’s about professional trampoline artists.

In the end, this poster turns out to have nothing to do with the show it’s advertising. Me Too, Flower is relatively dark, more of a melodrama than a romantic comedy. The whimsical mood of the poster belongs to a different show entirely.

Me Too, Flower has a poster that is bad in two ways: 1) it doesn’t relate to the show, and 2) it makes me think the person who designed it was taking hallucinogens. But most bad posters are merely bad in the first way—because they don’t connect to the show. This is especially annoying when you like a show with an awful poster.

The best example of this is Secret Love Affair, which many readers here have commented on. The poster makes our heroine look like a predator, which is far from the truth.


But I’m equally annoyed by the poster for It’s Okay, That’s Love, which turns a poignant image from the show—the bathtub—into a prop for this misleadingly happy-go-lucky image:

It's Okay that's love promo poster jo in sung gong hyo jinIt’s a good poster in one sense—it’s sexy and sweet. But the mood here is way too cheerful for this bittersweet series. If you expected the series to be like the poster, you’d be confused and disappointed.

Those are my nominees for Weirdest and Most Hopelessly Misleading K-drama Posters.

I don’t have a good explanation for the Bad Poster. My working theory is that the publicity departments work completely independently of the production team. How else to explain that the people making the posters don’t even seem to know if the show is a comedy or a melodrama?

Another possibility is that no one cares whether the posters are misleading or not. The point of the poster isn’t to suggest the mood or narrative, but to send one simple message: “There are attractive stars in this show.” The poster for I Remember You is a great example. It tells us nothing about the show except that there’s eye candy. We can’t even guess the genre, much less that it will be a sophisticated detective story.

Hello_Monster-i remember you poster web

I suspect the budget also determines the mediocrity of most posters. It’s tough to show mood or narrative twists in a two-dimensional photo. A really amazing poster requires time, money, and great graphic design, which is a separate art from making dramas. It’s cheaper and easier to keep it simple. Take some good pictures of your stars and leave it at that.

Are there actually any good K-drama posters? Posters that make us want to watch?

I’d like to nominate this poster for Orange Marmalade. No single image could fully convey this show’s crazy smorgasbord of teen romance, vampire parable, Joseon-era fusion sageuk and twenty-first century high school musical.

But this image (which comes from the first episode) does capture the show’s mood and style. Orange Marmalade gives us sympathetic teenage vampires who are just trying to fit in. But the heroine’s tendency to look at the hero’s neck just a little too intently is also part of the story. The show is sweet but also a little unsettling, and more than a little strange. Just like the poster.

Orange_Marmalade-poster medium for web

Another one that makes a good poster all by itself, while also capturing the spirit of the show, is King of High School Savvy. It might be unfair to give Seo In-Gook another shout-out here, but I have to. This poster keeps it simple—no crowds of characters, just our hero and his double identities. If a character is going to have an alter-ego, shouldn’t the poster show that fact? (The Kill Me, Heal Me poster completely fails on this front.)

king of high school savvy 4web

I think most of us try not to let posters mislead us. Part of the fun of K-dramas is the incomprehensible titles and illogical posters, right? But it’s hard when these are our first impressions. And it’s too bad that for my friends who don’t watch K-dramas, these images are as far as they will ever get. Good shows deserve good advertising! Of course, then maybe we wouldn’t need bloggers. ♥

What are your favorite and least favorite posters? Which posters have totally given you the wrong impression? And do the images make a difference in how people think about K-dramas in your country?

17 thoughts on “Discussion: Weirdest K-Drama Posters?

  1. Great topic!
    Several posters come to my mind.
    Visually stunning were the posters of Joseon Gunman. But alas they had nothing to do with the show. The posters gave off a movie feeling, the show was so mediocre I didn’t bother to finish it, although LJK is the one who brought me into Kdramaland.



    Another example. The most blatant rip-off: Doctor Stranger


    Clearly ‘inspired’ and badly executed it’s a copy of the poster to Kiran Rao’s masterpiece Dhobi Ghat


    Mumbai’s outline with the faces of the protagonists directly connects with the stories told in this movie. The city and some inhabitants being the leads. Not so sure about Dr. Stranger, as I never watched a second of the show.

    Remembering a good poster is difficult, but I think one example could be Queen In Hyun’s Man.
    We see both protagonists standing at the same place yet not at the same place in time. Loved the show, like the poster.


    • Poor Joseon Gunman! That show got some of the best-designed posters in K-drama history. Whoever designed those posters needs to win some kind of award. It’s so sad that the show itself didn’t deliver.

      I’m fascinated by your Dhobi Ghat/Doctor Stranger comparison. I didn’t know about the Dhobi Ghat poster, because I’m not very good at keeping up with the stuff out of India, even the really good stuff. Dr. Stranger’s poster is clearly a total rip-off (or homage?). Though I avoided Dr. Stranger, it does make sense to use the outline of the Korean Peninsula for a story that is supposedly about North and South Korea. How awesome is it that a graphic designer for South Korean TV was inspired by an Indian movie poster? I just love this planet sometimes.

      Totally agree with you about Queen In-Hyun’s Man. The poster suggests the story concept, and also suggests the mood of the show. Which makes me wonder: QIM is from tvN, which seems to avoid the worst posters. Are some networks better than others in the advertising department?

      • Surprisingly every now and then a reference to Hindi cinema will pop up in a Kdrama. For the life of me I can’t remember which drama it was, but there was a couple on a movie date and they watched 3 idiots (lead actor being Aamir Khan, coincidently the husband of above mentioned Kiran Rao). A small world indeed.

        I highly recommend Dhobi Ghat to people interested in modern Indian movies. No song and dance sequence – promised! Only plain, old, awsome story telling. Should you be like the folks of the Berlinale that didn’t want those scenes cut, but asked for only them given a choice, I could recommend some really good films, if you are interested. 🙂

        About the better advertising department of tvN. Established networks got a core audience they cater to. The younger, hipper cable networks need to deliver great work and production value to get a slice of the cake that has long been devided. I think, they handle every aspect of a production with outmost care. For the big companies a poster could only be a necessary evil they want to get over with. Casting the right, big names and showing them off seems to still work.

        Otoh said tvN had a set of the worst posters ever for its Three Musketeers. They looked like they let the intern do the job.



        So maybe there is no company maxime, but it is pure luck which creative team is hired, and the folks in charge say ‘yes’ to pretty much everything they present due to time restrictions?

        • I wondered why I couldn’t remember the Three Musketeers poster, and now I know why! But maybe it still bears the tvN touch, in that it’s bad in an ambitious way, like they went crazy trying every feature on Photoshop. I like your theory re tvN versus the big three.

  2. Agree with you on QIM, great poster. I also quite like the Liar Game poster. It meets the two criteria of accurately representing the drama and being aesthetically appealing. How sexy was Lee Sang-Yoon in this drama (*fans herself*)?:

    I also quite like the poster for Scholar Who Walks the Night, it’s pretty and moody. The series was disappointing though:

    Another good one is Joseon X-Files / Secret Investigation Record. Which was a fascinating series; the X-Files but set in the Joseon era. In five sentences or less: Visually gorgeous, intelligent and tightly plotted, littered with recurring motifs and resonating themes that beg a re-watch, great characters and great acting, an homage to X-Files but still uniquely its own beast. A couple of episodes were terrible and the series asks more questions overall than it answers, leaving you with many threads to try to untangle and respool in your mind, but episodes 7 and 8 were so brilliant that they retroactively elevated the whole series. Here’s the poster: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1b/Joseon_X-Files-poster.jpg

    • I love reading your comments on Joseon X-Files. I’ve wavered on whether or not to give it a shot, but you’re not the first to say it’s worth it. Darn it, I don’t need another show on my list! But I was always so into the weirdness of the X-Files, a Korean riff on it is so intriguing. 🙂

  3. Let’s bring the laugh….
    cause I suggest this post (sorry if you already did) and see some funny edited poster

    from this
    to this
    cr: to kkuljaem

    Maybe it’s the experience or just the casual feeling that doesn’t make me take too much hope for the poster. It can really hype me up but sometimes it just a good picture/photo shoot/editing but can’t capture the heart of the show. It maybe due to the unfinished script so the PD for poster just need to take a look of early episode and judge, aaah I think this may gonna be a happy story after all or it’s so sad that this may become a suspense drama……let them all cry!
    My example is if you Yongpal until ep 6 ,the poster match it, but if you watch till the end you really need to questioning , is the drama go towards battle of medicine ability or actually just a romance? then think…oooh there’re the drowning blue poster too…..

  4. I think this post match today’s topic (sorry of you already read it)

    but it has some funny things like this shark parody

    KDrama somtimes just give a good photoshoot/image than thinking what it really represent. Part of if maybe due to unfinished script so the PD just think with 4 episode that shoot early to accept the poster when it actually doesn’t depicted what actually being told, like
    “aaah they really happy this 4 episode , it must be a happy drama after all…(KMHM),
    woaaah this is really intense with odd romance, make two theme poster (yongpal),
    It’s high school and love triangle, make it obvious!! all about them! (who are you: school 2013)
    ooh it’s creepy , make the poster creepy (master sun)
    aaah the acting and the star is what make the drama, don’t waste it too much on poster, just the two of them is enought (MLFAS, seriously… the stop time scene is better )

    • Hi! Sorry it took me a few days to notice that your message had gotten caught up in my overactive spam filter! I love that Shark parody poster. (Thanks for the Kkuljaem link! Some of those posters are merely boring, but some are awful.) I think you’re right that not much thought goes into these things. The happy Kill Me Heal Me poster almost made my list of worst posters, because I can’t stand that poster. (I call it the ugly sweater poster.)

      I forgot about Yong Pal, but talk about a show that you can’t summarize with one poster. That’s often a problem for posters–shows that end radically different than they started.

  5. Speaking of Kill Me Heal Me, the gals over at Dramabeans posted the annual Beanie Awards and there’s a special new category that you’ll love: “Favorite Ji Sung” … lol! Mine is Yo-Na by a mile : )

  6. In this same vein, I hope you’ll do a segment on misleading promo trailers. I rarely watch them because they can ruin a show with wrong expectations. See Faith’s original trailer with the originally planned actor and see how the excitingly hyped up Ji Sung in the Entertainer trailer set up fans for disappointment. Entertainer is a great show (so far) but it made you expect a manic Ji Sung, which for the most part, he’s not. This caused some fans to drop it prematurely.

    I’m new to your site so if you’ve already blogged about this, I’ll find it eventually. 🙂

    • Hi Beez! Thanks for commenting. You’ve given me lots to think about. Promo films are seriously nuts. I haven’t seen the very first Faith trailer, but even watching the standard ones is enough to break your heart with “what could have been.” So much amazingness that didn’t materialize. I tend to not watch the promos at all!

  7. Then you’ve GOT to watch this thing. If I had seen this before I actually watched the drama, I would’ve hated the drama. I only became aware of this trailer later as other fans and bloggers posted the trailer and listed all of the woes the drama faced, including the fact that the stars were never paid for acting in the stands. But I suppose that’s the least of the problems when the director/producer committed suicide behind all of his financial problems. So sad. But here is what could’ve been his masterpiece: https://youtu.be/0jpbCm0wYo8

    You’ll note this is not Li Min Ho, but a different actor (whom I think they said the military would not delay his enlistment so that was one of the first problems to beleaguer the project).

    • Whoa! Thank you for sending me that link. After watching it a couple times, I’m going to have to break my no profanity rule, because all I can think is “WTF?” I can’t tell if it would have been a masterpiece or a “Heaven’s Gate,” but that trailer is even weirder than the final product. I’ve heard that Lee Joon-Ki was originally cast before Lee Min-Ho, but that was Kang Ji-Hwan in the preview, I think. So there were even more casting problems than I knew about. And then there’s the big shadow that hangs over this show: director Kim Jong-Hak’s suicide. “Faith” is the ultimate “what could have been.” Definitely a reason to avoid previews, or at least take them with a grain of salt.

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