Behind the Shadows is a Korean historical BL drama with a gay main character. A young noble from a wealthy family is best friends with his male companion. They remained close despite their class differences. Once the pair approaches adulthood, their families expect them to settle down with wives. The protagonist seems conflicted as he represses his same-sex desires. Meanwhile, his future bride wonders whether she wants to marry him.
Historical BL dramas are rare, so Behind the Shadows stands out with its novelty. I appreciate seeing a gay protagonist from a different era as he navigates the societal norms at the time. The plot tackles intriguing themes like gender identity and class differences. However, there are some instances of theatrical melodrama in a rushed narrative. Also, the love story is tame and offers few romantic interactions.
Behind the Shadows Summary
South Korea (2023)
Behind the Shadows is a sad & emotional drama.
Yoon Ho is a young noble from a wealthy family. He lives with his father, stepmother, and younger brother. His best friend is Jae Woon, who's around the same age as him. They have known each other since childhood. Both are scholars focused on their studies.
Unlike his childhood friend, Jae Woon doesn't come from wealth. Despite his father being a nobleman, Jae Woon is an illegitimate child. He lives with his mother, both exiled from the family. Jae Woon isn't financially well-off. However, Yoon Ho's father pays for his schooling, allowing him to study with Yoon Ho.
Yoon Ho and Jae Woon are friends with Seol. She also comes from a noble background, but her household is poor. After her father's passing, Seol stepped up to become the breadwinner for her family. She sells cosmetics to women. Her clientele includes rich wives and courtesans. Seol aspires to make money by being a great merchant.
Seol has a secret crush on Yoon Ho. They get along splendidly. However, Yoon Ho doesn't reciprocate her feelings. He is smitten with Jae Woon and has romantic feelings for him. Yoon Ho represses his same-sex desires, knowing that society discriminates against homosexual relationships. He has witnessed the homophobia around him.
As Yoon Ho and Jae Woon grow older, their families start matchmaking plans. They want their sons to settle down with wives. Yoon Ho's superstitious stepmother seems determined to marry him off as quickly as possible. She eyes Seol as a potential candidate. While Seol likes Yoon Ho, she wonders whether they should get married.
Behind the Shadows
Behind the Shadows Cast
Yoon Ho is a young scholar from a wealthy noble family. He lives with his father, stepmom, and younger brother. Yoon Ho has a poor constitution and often gets sick. He is best friends with Jae Woon, who has known him since childhood. Yoon Ho has a secret crush on Jae Woon. However, he tries to repress his same-sex desires.
Park Sang Nam (박상남)
Jae Woon is Yoon Ho's best friend. He is the illegitimate son of a nobleman. Jae Woon lives with his mother after both were cast out of the family. Yoon Ho's father provides financial support and pays for Jae Woon's schooling. Jae Woon is athletic and skilled with sword training.
Hong Seung Hee (홍승희)
Seol is Yoon Ho and Jae Woon's friend. She comes from a noble background, but her household is poor. After her father passed away, Seol became the breadwinner for her family. She sells cosmetics to rich wives and courtesans. She aspires to be a great merchant one day. Seol has a secret crush on Yoon Ho.
Ham Eun Jung (함은정)
Yoon Ho's mom
Kang Kyung Hun (강경헌)
Jae Woon's friend
Yoon Ho's dad
Jo Seung Yeon (조승연)
Choi Eun Jun (최은준)
Behind the Shadows Review
Drama Review Score: 7.0
Behind the Shadows stands out since BL rarely depicts love stories in a feudal period. There's an exciting novelty to see unique backdrops, traditional wardrobes, and a fictional universe with many cultural nuances. Straight couples typically dominate historical K-dramas, so having a gay protagonist is a bold departure from convention. This main character brings a poignant perspective on navigating same-sex attraction in a complicated time. I was intrigued by how Behind the Shadows would unfold.
Yoon Ho's sexuality is central to Behind the Shadows. The story uses a creative euphemism to describe him: "He's gentle like a willow." This lyrical phrase has entered my lexicon forever! Various scenes portray the challenges of living as a gay man in a conservative era. To its credit, this K-drama isn't coy and depicts Yoon Ho's same-sex desires without ambiguity. However, the romance is tame by regular BL standards. The mild-mannered leads share minimal affection. Also, the majority of this tragic love story is angsty. Don't expect too much joy from the couple's exchanges.
Beyond a gay romance, Behind the Shadows tackles other insightful topics. From gender norms to class differences, this intricately woven story has multiple layers. I enjoy the parallels between the protagonist and his female love interest. Like him, his future bride belongs to a marginalized class and struggles with her secret love. Both must compromise while dealing with torment. Their sympathetic journeys trigger emotional responses in me. Seol's actress (Hong Seung Hee) delivers a solid performance, although her stiff costar (Ren) doesn't emote convincingly.
Behind the Shadows can be melodramatic. As the plot unfolds, several theatrical events leave me bewildered. Anything to do with the wicked stepmother seems particularly cliched. This one-dimensional villain aggravates me with her conniving schemes and malicious meddling. Likewise, some scenes don't feel organic, as if the storyteller wants to create deliberate tension or conflict. The incredulous moments in the narrative occasionally pull me out of immersion. I'm reminded it's a fictional work with a fair share of heavy-handed contrivances.
The story feels rushed. Despite its ambitious ideas, this short special doesn't have enough time to explore each theme thoroughly. The narrative only treads water without taking deep dives. It must spread the eighty minutes across three protagonists, each with different backgrounds and a wealth of experiences. The most fascinating parts of their lives are condensed into several lines of dialogue or quick anecdotes. Jae Woon receives the least amount of character development. He remains a frustrating enigma, not inspiring me to care much about him.
Behind the Shadows boasts polished production values and gorgeous cinematography. It benefits from being created by a bigger studio with more resources, outshining many low-budget dramas in the BL genre. The visuals dazzle me, especially in the outdoor scenes. I also love its use of colours to evoke emotions. Although beautifully filmed, I wish the story was longer and more comprehensive. Instead of rushing to the ending, all the character arcs deserve further development. Due to its abbreviated narrative, I only have faint feelings for Behind the Shadows.
Behind the Shadows tells a historical romance, a rarity in the BL genre. Despite its ambitious ideas, there isn't enough time to explore the themes deeply. The story also relies on theatrical melodrama.
Don't expect much flirtation from the couple's interactions. The mild-mannered leads only share minimal affection in a tame romance. Also, this tragic love story becomes increasingly angsty.
Seol's actress (Hong Seung Hee) delivers a decent performance, but Yoon Ho's handsome actor (Ren) doesn't emote convincingly. Their costar (Park Sang Nam) is limited by his shallow characterization.
Behind the Shadows has a sad ending where all the main characters face tragic circumstances. Many angsty and melodramatic events occur in the finale, almost coming across as contrived.
This drama is beautifully filmed, from the gorgeous outdoor visuals to the polished production values. I love its use of bright colours and intimate close-up shots to evoke emotions.
Behind the Shadows is an angsty historical BL drama that explores meaningful themes. Everything is beautifully filmed. However, the short narrative and tame romance limit its storytelling potential.
Behind the Shadows Episodes
Behind the Shadows has a total of 1 episodes. This special is around 80 minutes long. It is a short BL drama, and you can finish the entire series in around an hour. Behind the Shadows was released on December 9, 2023.
Behind the Shadows is one of the specials released as part of the KBS Drama Special anthology series. It releases numerous installments each year, featuring different short stories and actors. You don't have to watch the other episodes to understand this specific story. Only the Behind the Shadows special contains BL content.
Behind the Shadows Information
Lee Dae Kyung (이대경) is a Korean director. His first BL project is the 2023 drama special, Behind the Shadows.