Korean chaebols in K-dramas vs real life

Korean dramas love depicting stories of chaebols, but are they an accurate reflection of real-life sons and daughters of business empires? 

In Korea, chaebol is defined as a large and wealthy industrial conglomerate. People who run these businesses are all blood related family members and relatives. Chaebol refers to the rich but is different from Buja. Buja simply means an individual with a lot of money while Chaebol is a higher level, referring to the system where one person/family leads an empire of companies in different industries. This large corporation has the ability to control many small businesses.

uhm ki woong
Chaebol is often portrayed in Korean dramas 

Some most well-known real-life Chaebols in Korea are Hyundai, Samsung, LG, Lotte, etc. There are also many other Chaebol groups on smaller scales. Needless to say, every chaebol has a mind blowing net worth. For example, Lee Kun Hee – Chairman of Samsung has more than 10 trillion won as inheritance tax.

lee kun hee
Lee Kun Hee has inheritance tax of more than 10 trillion won. 

Chaebol is also a favorite topic of K-drama producers, so many viewers are curious as to whether there are many differences between what is presented on the screen and chaebols in real life. Judging from many aspects, fictional chaebol characters are mostly inspired by reality, but there are still exaggerated parts. 

Female chaebols 

There have been more chaebol K-dramas with female characters as the leads lately. The number of female chaebols is still outranked by male counterparts, but has been increasing. Some women with important positions in real-life large corporations are Lee Myung Hee (Chairman of Shinsegae Group), or Lee Boo Jin (Chairman of Hotel Shilla),…

More dramas with female Chaebols means the number of chaebols who are women in real life also tends to increase. 

Fashion style

On screen, Chaebol characters are always dressed in fancy and luxury clothes. Park Joon Geum (Secret Garden’s Moon Boon Hong) once shocked the viewers by wearing a 100 million won jacket. 

Surprisingly, in real life, Chaebols seem to be thrifty and they all have their own favorite brands.

park joon geum
Playing a chaebol, Park Joon Geum wore expensive clothes 

Fashion show at home

The in-house “fashion shows” are completely based on reality. Chaebol’s houses often have grandiose interior designs and look more stunning than the actual runways.  About 30 – 50 outfits will be displayed from clothes worn at home to going out, partying,…

Chaebol houses are like fashion runways 

Wearing shoes inside the house

In the dramas, many Chaebol do not take off their shoes inside the house although most Koreans do not keep their shoes on once they enter the house. In fact, real-life Chaebols also have that habit.

The habit of wearing shoes in the house is common. 


Chaebol is also portrayed as having a lot of employees working for them. In fact, each case will be different, but they don’t deny that they also have a personal lawyer, a company lawyer, a housekeeper, a maid, … like in dramas. 

lee min ho
Chaebol usually has many servants. 

Private jet

In dramas like Secret Garden, Boys Over Flowers or Royal Family, chaebols often have their own private jet. In fact, the heads of corporations like Samsung, LG, Hanwha,… also have private jets with a value ranging from 50 to 60 billion won. However, the case of bringing a special plane to pick up a lover like in dramas is not common. 

hyun bin
Pampering your lover is a natural thing, but the grandiose investment like in the dramas is not always real. 

Focus on education

In Sky Castle, Penthouse, the topic of studying is of interest to the parents and students of the tycoon and in fact they are also extremely focused on this issue. Even from the 3rd generation of Chaebol, the main standard is to study undergraduate and abroad postgraduate studies. Even if you are the son of the head of a corporation, but if you don’t go to a prestigious university, it will be very difficult to receive an inheritance

sky castle
The priority of education in the high class world is real. 

Prejudice about Chaebol 

Chaebol in dramas is also often seen as people with an unpleasant, mean personality. This makes viewers have an unfriendly view of Korean tycoons. In fact, there are still cases in real life that Chaebol is very sociable, humble and often does volunteer work. Thus, it depends on the individual, and cannot be subjectively assessed for the whole.

lee min ho
On screen, they are often depicted with an unapproachable image. 

From real life, it can be seen that the producers and screenwriters have created extremely majestic tycoon characters on screen. However, for many different reasons, sometimes they can flexibly change a few small details to serve the story they want to convey. What do you think about this topic? Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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