I, like most people, watch dramas to escape my busy life. It allows me time to fully disengage my brain from the linear, highly organized, scheduled, and structured work day and lets me exercise my emotional, intuitive, and musical side. What’s great about it is that I can still feel “emo,” without actually having to deal with the aftermath. I prefer romances for this reason. Being in a relationship myself, I can feel the angst, without actually having to live it, which people would think is crazy that I crave angst, but I do. But I don’t crave real-life drama—not in the least. I don’t deal well with stress in my personal life. I shut it out. I ignore or avoid confrontation until it can’t be ignored (which is usually much worse than if I would have just taken my head out of the sand and dealt with it in the first place). There’s a reason I don’t work in a highly stressful environment. So when three dramas came flooding out of my screen and into my real world, I was not prepared for the effect it would have in my real life. Effects that I couldn’t ignore.
I continue to watch more dramas every year. I’m still relatively new to the Kdrama scene, so I’m still unsure what genres I really enjoy. I saw nine currently airing dramas to completion, two that I dropped over half-way through (Pretty Noona, I’m looking at you) and two older dramas this year. I enjoy beauty: in cinematography, in music, in actors, and a good, angsty story for the most part. So when I started LIVE, for a beautiful actor (Shin Dong-Wook), I wasn’t prepared for what it would do to me. This was very close to real life, which I tend not to like much in my dramas. In my profession, I get to know all my patients personally, and sometimes I see people who have been abused and neglected who tell me their trials. I am also a director of a student rotation where we require a day spent with a victim advocacy clinic, where they see and hear firsthand accounts of children who have had atrocious things happen to them. I normally avoid stories in fiction that remind me of these real life atrocities. But then came LIVE where a precinct of law enforcement individuals took on human trafficking, murder, abuse and neglect, everything I try to avoid, came out of my television and into my living room. But I didn’t stop watching. I saw a broken marriage repaired in front of me. I saw lost people find a purpose in life. I saw those at the end of life repent and be forgiven for their past abuses. I saw relationships between parents and children healed. I saw how much love each of these individuals had for each other. And all those things that I had a hard time reconciling in my own life seemed not so daunting anymore. I saw the good which was born out of the bad, and a Korean adoptee I recently met reminded meof this as well. It was her birth that brought to light the unspeakable tragedies her mother endured, and a better life for her mother’s family.But ultimately, a better life for her.
Then came a pair of dramas that surprised me, dramas that I didn’t have the time to be watching at the same time, but every week, I found time for them. I couldn’t ignore them, because they spoke to me. Let’s Eat 3 and Thirty but Seventeen were both on my radar for, of course, the leads in them (Yoon Doo-joon and Yang Se-jong, respectively). but they ended up being much more.
I started following Kpop this year. It was the Kpop meta-references in Let’s Eat 3 that strung me along for weeks, until the story found its footing, and I forgave it for killing off one of my favorite characters. It’s mix of comedy and melodrama, about a love permanently lost, but not quite love found which was very real and palpable, which only was compounded by the news of Yoon Doo-joon’s enlistment a week before the show’s finale, in a similar fashion as his alter ego, Dae-young. And this is where the show and real life collided for me as it did for him. I was in active duty service to the military for four years. I know how to say, “How high?!?” when my commander says, “Jump!” I know what it’s like to go to base at 3:00 am for a drug test in full uniform with an infant and a toddler waiting in car seats because the phone tree lit up. I, all of a sudden, had a great deal of empathy for not onlyDae-young, but Doo-joon too. The mandatory two-year enlistment of all young males in Korea is no joke and I felt as if my own family was going into service. So I sent him a Christmas card telling him so and have been following his enlistment.
But it was Thirty but Seventeen that unexpectedly charmed me. I had no idea what the premise was, or if I did, I had forgotten by the time this aired. But two people stuck in time for 13 years finding each other, being each others’ sounding boards, best friends, and understanding what makes the other “tick,” pulled me out of my life every week and into theirs. The make-shift family that supported them was no less endearing, from Jennifer’s surprising life pearls to Chan with his innocence and genuine happiness and empathy with everyone around him; it was the show that gave me peace for the week. Yang Se-jong’s arrested development also reminded me of someone very close to me, someone in my own family, who struggled with debilitating emotional distress and like Mr. Gong, lost more than a dozen years of his young life to it. You can lose hope being in such a dark place for so long, or seeing it in someone you love, and when Yang Se-jong broke down or cried, it was almost more real to me than my own life, and that was wrong. Remember what I said about real life drama and how I deal with it? But there was hope, and it’s never too late to make amends and change. So just as these characters came out of their intermission, I found the motivation to step out and confront the intermission that had been plaguing my own family’s life. And maybe, just maybe, he has found his own person and passion, his own sounding board, someone who understands him, and someone he can be that to as well.
So there it is, 2018 in three shows for me. All three were overflowing with depth that I would have never guessed when I started them. We bring our own experiences to our Kdrama watches, but sometimes Kdramas bring experiences back into our lives, to contemplate and apply. Here’s to 2019, to more kdramas that make us think and feel, and impossible to ignore!