WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!
If you are interested in watching any drama/movie listed below, I advise you to skip the part in which the particular drama/movie is discussed. Although I don’t reveal the ending of the story, the relationship explanation may be a major spoiler.
Sequence of dramas/movies that contain spoilers: That Winter, The Wind Blows; Go Ahead; Ani ni Aisaresugite Komattemasu and My Brother Loves Me Too Much; One Year 365: Wan Ban Chun Ban Tur; Devil Beside You; Liar x Liar; My Bromance; Marmalade Boy; and Kill Me, Heal Me. Kill Me, Heal Me‘s spoiler is also mentioned in the last part of the article.
Nowadays, nuclear family is hard to find in many cultures. Nuclear family is the traditional type of family structure that comprises two parents and children. Single-parent families and blended families become more and more common because of breakups and divorces. Blended family creates complex family relationships through remarriage, cohabitation, adoption, and fostering. One issue faced by blended families is the possibility of romantic interest developed between two non-biological related siblings.
The idea to write about this topic came after I watched C-drama My Dear Brothers (2021) and J-movie Liar x Liar (2021), in which there are some comments/discussions/arguments regarding this non-biologically related sibling romance. I will discuss the J-movie below but not the C-drama as the latter is more a fantasy story that is not applicable to the real world. Watching these two shows above, as well as other related dramas/movies, made me contemplate whether romantic interest and/or relationship between two siblings who are not related genetically, despite being legal, is forbidden or not.
There are quite a handful of dramas and movies focusing on non-biological sibling romance as the main couple. Below is a list of categories from the least taboo to the most taboo, subjective to my opinion. Each non-biologically related sibling romance category other than step-siblings will have one drama/movie as an example. The step-sibling romance category will have several examples. The dramas/movies were found by running MDL’s advanced search with the following tags: Step-sibling Love, Step-sibling Romance, Fake Step-sibling Love, Fake Incest, and Adopted Siblings Love. The definition of Fake Incest on MDL is stated below:
Fake Sibling Romance
That Winter, The Wind Blows (2013)
The Male Lead in this Kdrama, Oh Soo (Jo In Sung), is a conman. He has the same name as the deceased heir of a conglomerate group. He approaches Oh Young (Song Hye Kyo), the real Oh Soo’s sister and the last remaining heir of the group. Oh Young and her brother were separated when they were young. She doesn’t know that he is fake. Moreover, Oh Young is blind. Oh Soo needs her money to pay off his gambling debt.
The GIF above is taken from an early episode in the drama. It shows clearly Oh Soo is smitten by Oh Young’s beauty. You don’t normally share a cotton candy together intimately with your adult brother, do you? However, Oh Young only knows some childhood memories with her brother, so she wants to reminisce about them. One of those memories is eating cotton candy together. Soon enough, Oh Soo falls for Oh Young. How can he confess his love, though? He is supposed to be her biological brother.
Foster Sibling Romance
Go Ahead (2020)
Three individuals with no blood ties grow up together in one household: Ling Xiao (Song Wei Long), He Zi Qiu (Steven Zhang), and Li Jian Jian (Seven Tan). Their mothers are not involved in their life since they were young. Ling Xiao’s parents are divorced. Although he lives with his father, who is a police officer, his father often works long hours. So, Ling Xiao also stays with his downstairs neighbors, Jian Jian and her father. Jian Jian’s mother passed away. Zi Qiu’s mother abandoned him, he is raised by Jian Jian’s father. Or, more likely, they raised each other. Their bond is thicker than blood.
As brother and sister, they used to share a bed and sleep together since they were little. At 18, Ling Xiao develops romantic feelings towards Jian Jian. To suppress his feelings, he forbids Jian Jian to sleep in his bed, as seen in the GIF above. Her statement on liking his body smell freaks him out. Jian Jian is a late bloomer. At 16, she still thinks and acts like a little girl. She’s unaware of Ling Xiao’s feelings since Ling Xiao, and Jian Jian were raised as brother and sister. Also, in China, high-school students concentrate on studying to pass gao kao, the national college entrance exam. Dating is discouraged.
Adopted Sibling Romance
Ani ni Aisaresugite Komattemasu (2017)
and My Brother Loves Me Too Much (2017)
In this J-drama and its movie sequel, Setoka (Tsuchiya Tao) is adopted into the Tachibana family when she is little and grows up together with Tachibana’s son, Haruka (Katayose Ryota). However, Setoka is never told about the adoption. Haruka is protective towards his sister, and even more so when they’re in high school. Her love confessions to more than a dozen schoolboys are all rejected. Not that they don’t like her, but because of her brother. He is feared in school and doesn’t like boys dating his sister.
One guy is persistent, though and shows that he is serious. He is Serikawa Takane (Chiba Yudai). Later in the story, Setoka finds out that she is adopted. As shown in this GIF, after Setoka helps him with ofuro, Haruka starts kissing her and begging her not to go with Takane. Knowing that Haruka is not her real brother, Setoka starts to have mixed feelings.
Note: ofuro (お風呂) is a traditional ritual bath Japanese people take at home for relaxation, using a deep-set wooden bath filled with water heated to around 40 – 42°C (104 – 108°F).
Soon-to-be Step-sibling Romance
One Year 365: Wan Ban Chun Ban Tur (2019)
Family is most important, more than love, in this Thai drama. Mook (Mam Kathaleeya McIntosh) is a divorcee with four biological daughters and one foster daughter. Tum (Sanya Kunakorn) is a widower with a son and a daughter. They are long-time friends and have been dating each other. When they think about marriage, automatically, their children’s interest comes first. There are mixed responses, and finally, everyone agrees to live together for a year. If after the period ends anyone opposes, Mook and Tum will not remarry.
Of course, as expected, a romance blooms amongst the blended family, between Mook’s eldest daughter Petch (Cherprang Areekul) and Tum’s son Boom (Kao Jirayu La-ongmanee). In order to make the cohabitation process smooth until the one-year agreement ends, Petch and Boom keep their relationship a secret from anyone. Unexpectedly, one of Petch’s sisters falls for Boom and pursues him.
There are four examples to be observed below, each with a different plot and relationship/family situation.
Devil Beside You (2005)
In the Taiwanese classic romcom Devil Beside You, two high-schoolers, Qi Yue (Rainie Yang) and Jiang Meng (Mike He), start off on the wrong foot. The school’s bad boy, Jiang Meng, confiscates Qi Yue’s love letter to a popular student and blackmails her into becoming his minion. Later, they find out that her widowed mother is dating his divorced father. When love blossoms between Jiang Meng and Qi Yue, they keep the romance a secret from their families. They don’t want their romance to become an obstacle to their parents’ relationship if things go wrong. Besides, they’re still in high school, and… Jiang Meng’s father is the school principal.
The plot becomes murkier when their parents’ relationship becomes serious, and they live together. That makes Qi Yue and Jiang Meng practically step-siblings. How to keep their hands off each other and act like a stepbrother and a stepsister? Moreover, Jiang Meng is arranged to marry someone else.
Liar x Liar (2021)
Different from the example above, this J-movie tells about step-siblings who have lived as a family since they were little. After their parents remarried, Minato (Mori Nana) takes after her step-father’s surname and lives with them and her stepbrother Toru (Matsumura Hokuto). When they are in high school, Toru is a player. Minato is uncomfortable with her stepbrother and his womanizing ways. When they attend university together, she makes Toru sign an agreement to be not too close to each other, nor acknowledge each other as siblings.
As seen in the GIF above, Toru had a crush on her when they were young. In fact, they were best friends. However, during high school, their relationship changed. Toru became a player, and Minato was often bullied by girls at school because of him. That’s why she hates him.
One day, while disguising as a fashionable high-school girl to be a model for her photographer friend, Minato runs into Toru. Her stepbrother falls in love with her at first sight.
My Bromance (2014)
In this Thai movie, Golf (Fluke Teerapat Lohanan) is a lonely, rebellious teenager since his father is always on business trips and he only lives with his aunt. His mother passed away. One day, his father comes home, bringing a new wife and a stepbrother, Bank (Fluke Natouch Siripongthon). Bank’s father also passed away. They live together, become roommates and desk-mates since Bank goes to the same high school as Golf does. Golf, who is a single child, has to be an older brother, pee-chai (พี่ชาย), the native title of the movie, to Bank who is also an only child. They start as enemies, become brothers, and later lovers.
In this GIF above, when Bank faces his stepbrother later after his love confession text message, Bank worries that Golf would hate him because of his romantic feelings towards Golf as a man and a stepbrother. Golf’s reaction is endearing: how can he hate his own brother?
Marmalade Boy (2018)
This J-movie tells a weird plot. Koishikawa Miki’s (Sakurai Hinako) parents got divorced, and they swapped partners with Matsuura Yu’s (Yoshizawa Ryo) parents, who are also divorced. Miki and Yu are forced to live together with their four parents! Since they’re both at the same age, Yu and Miki become friends and eventually fall in love with each other. However, their parents seem to disagree if the kids end up falling for each other.
Later in the movie, Yu finds out that he is not the biological son of his father. His mother was pregnant with him before she married his father. While searching for his biological father, Yu suspects that Miki’s father is also his father! So that makes Yu and Miki half-siblings and their relationship a forbidden love and incest.
My First Encounter with Step-sibling Romance
Kill Me, Heal Me (2015)
Initially, I wanted to discuss this K-drama at the beginning of my article. However, I soon realized the relationship in this drama is quite complex as there are two, so I leave it for the last to cover.
First, it is the unrequited love of Oh Ri On (Park Seo Joon) towards his adopted sister Oh Ri Jin (Hwang Jung Eum). Ri On’s parents adopted Ri Jin through a specific circumstance that is revealed in the latter part of the drama. Ri On knows all along about the adoption, so is Ri Jin. But she pretends she doesn’t know for the parents’ sake. She also has an inkling idea that her brother likes her; however, she doesn’t feel the same. They go along well as a family until they’re adults, with one suppressing his feelings and one pretending not to know.
Soon as the story goes, Ri Jin falls for Cha Do Yun (Ji Sung), who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Audiences are so captivated by this unique character, along with his seven personalities, and we all ship Do Yun (or his other personality Shin Se Gi) with the heroine. Hence, we forego the fact that the couple actually has family ties, as revealed later in the drama. Somehow, Do Yun and Ri Jin are half-siblings according to Cha’s family registry, although Ri Jin doesn’t have any blood ties with the family. This is the second non-biologically related sibling romance I’m talking about.
I wonder, if the fact above was revealed to the viewers earlier in the drama, would we still ship them together? Would there be any criticism about their relationship?
Observation, Reflection, and Conclusion
From watching all the dramas and movies I described above, I observed that although it’s legal for two individuals who do not share blood ties to date and marry each other, there is still a taboo around them doing so. No matter how modern the society they live in is. Either one party who likes the other party hides his/her feelings, or even if they date, they may hide their relationship from their family specifically. And they rarely reveal publicly that they are family-related before becoming a couple. Although these dramas and movies are fictional, the stories reflect what happens in society, no matter how small percentage of the possibility is.
I assume the taboo comes from surrounding people’s opinion, having seen the siblings live and grow together in one family and under the same roof. While watching these dramas/movies, the characters are concerned about what parents, other siblings, and friends think about their relationship. I also observed, the longer the couple live as siblings, the more taboo their relationship is. For example, a couple who have been step-siblings since they’re little is most likely reprehensible, in contrast to a couple who date before or right after their parents marry each other. The preference also goes with a couple who, although family-related, never lived in the same house.
A reflection inquiry for us as romantic drama watchers: do we watch these dramas/movies because they are taboo, or do we avoid watching them because they are taboo? Personally, I didn’t have any problem when watching Kill Me, Heal Me. It’s a given that Oh Ri Jin has to end up with Cha Do Yun because he is the Male Lead. I didn’t even realize their relationship may be forbidden since they share the same family registry. South Korea did a smooth job presenting non-biological sibling romance in a somewhat traditional culture. Viewers’ acceptance is possible due to the plot background: Do Yun and Ri Jin were never known as siblings before nor lived in the same house.
We’re back to the start of my article with the big question. Is (any type of) step-sibling romance forbidden? I’m not a sociology professor, not a religious teacher, nor a law-maker with credentials to answer the question. I don’t have any personal experience nor direct knowledge, so that might be the reason I don’t feel uncomfortable watching those shows. I have wondered: what if I experienced, heard, or saw a non-biological sibling romance in real life? What would my reaction and opinion be?
What about you?
Acknowledgement and credits: Thank you to the editors who edited this article. I do not own any of the images; credits go to their respective owners. The images are from drama/movie posters and screenshots. Feature Image: FavPN. GIFs are self-made from drama/movie scenes.
Edited by: Sumi (1st editor), devitto (2nd editor)