I’m not sure where to begin in giving an overview of my newly found TV appreciation. When I began watching K-dramas, I had favorites, but over time the shows have fallen into more complex categories. What to do.
The last show I loved, Kill Me Heal Me, was not on that list but is a good start, since it is one that I would recommend to any friend who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, as a fairly safe-bet. It has the addictive and fun quality of Coffee Prince, which was my very first and largely responsible for the rabbit hole I don’t wish to find my way out of yet, but is simultaneously more serious and more cartoon.
KMHM manages to be funny, sweet, and beautifully poignant nearly all the way through, while introducing 7 distinct character dimensions under the umbrella of “Cha Do Hyun”. Each character becomes quite real and deeply loveable over time, which to me seems a writing/acting collaboration miracle. It also couldn’t have worked without an equally strong actress who was able to react and respond quickly to all the antics, as well as creating her own. Nor without the eccentric family her character was given.
Everything is big: the idea, impossible to pull off well yet managed; even the tight rope poignancy that never loses its quirkiness and joy, nor its irresistible sexiness; the deeply cathartic revelations and emotions.
And so many wonderful lines, even in the music.
I’ve been surprised to find that K-drama watchers are not necessarily women who like romance novels. The closest I myself get to reading a romance novel is Jane Austen, which is equally about intricate character details, subtle cruelties, and class distinctions. Even Outlander, which so many of my friends adore, I haven’t been able to finish; it just never took me sufficiently away from myself.
My hugest peeve is for a romance string to be tacked onto a project obviously after the fact, which I found to be the case with the film Interstellar recently. While others may have parsed apart the science, I took no issue with that. It was the “moral of the story” that didn’t seem necessary nor even appropriate.
So it is fair to say that I’ve spent a good deal of time analyzing my own interest in shows that can be cheesy, materialistic, and outdated with regard to gender dynamics and accepted child raising or work practices. Perhaps they get a pass for their unique-to-me cultural context, but it is more than that.
The wrist grab:
In theory, I hate these. In dramas, they hit some nice growly places. Why? Not to get too philosophical, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this has to do with the difficulty of sharing an imagination completely with another person, which is not an easy thing to do. Timing and intuition is a subtle art. It isn’t that the male is trying to excite her by grabbing and dragging her around, at least I don’t think so. Wrist grabbing in a drama is as common as a partner in the US walking out of a setting without communication, but with a clear expectation that they’ll be followed. Or maybe I’m just trying to justify my visceral reactions. : )
There is something about being able to embrace many sides of gender role multiple reality, including the one where a girl might be okay with giving reins to the assertive boy. The main thing is communication, and how that unfolds between the parties themselves.
Again, time is key. These shows almost never get physical quickly. It takes an average of 7-8 episodes before a kiss, if it happens then. And it might be a kiss on the forehead. Or cheek. In this kind of context, even holding hands can be erotic.
The wrist grab isn’t the only consistent dynamic that has caused my conscience wrestling matches. There is also an over-protectiveness I have disliked in relationship, that absolutely melts me in drama. This appears when the lover becomes micro-attentive, not to mention has the means to set aside everything to tend and fuss over small things.
Sleep watching is another thing, but I don’t need to elaborate much. It can be the sweetest or creepiest thing, depending on various factors. Most of the time it is used as a device to allow someone to share their heart without embarrassment, and the other may not actually be sleeping.
But here is an important one: overt class-based bullying:
How I wish to have seen these shows before I was married quite young, and had to contend with antiquated class dynamics. They’d been invisible to me before, or at least it never seemed all important where one came from or how many generations of family had kept well to script. My own background was not exactly bohemian, because bohemian lifestyles had more intention behind them than my family had, and I would certainly never have been chosen as a good candidate for an arranged marriage. Still, even in the US I needed better preparation for large family politics and its unique weaponry, such as ridicule, that others were well-versed in. It turns out that “fake obliviousness” was not a good strategy.
I write this with a smile, but to be honest I have far more understanding and appreciation for preserving lineage now. It never quite sank in before, what the Zen Buddhist texts I’ve studied grew out of, in terms of what a Confucian society meant and still means, and I’ve been ravenously hungry for every detail thrown my way. I find myself reading about military strategists and heroes, even down to equipment, with great fascination. Out of character for me, to say the least.
Regarding lineage, it isn’t uncommon for a character in a K-drama to remind another character not to be too bold with their lately acquired American sensibilities – which is not necessarily an insult. There is progression, but thoughtful, regarding and appreciating previous generations’ social architecture and placing a high value on filial duties and values. To find and do well in one’s place in society is an honor. “Remember that this is Korea” someone will say.
This was something I experienced in Japan. Although we in the US can look with amazement upon so many people falling into strict order for schooling and career paths, and both admire/regard with horror, the strictness of dress codes and projected personality homogeneity when it comes to assigned roles, there is something grand about the dignity with which even simplest tasks are regarded. High creativity can emerge from those strict constraints. Visitors may remark on the absence of garbage, but it is far more than that. Ritual hasn’t been abandoned each time it has been questioned, so there remains a stream one can tap into … an unbroken transmission. No garbage, in a society aware of surroundings in equal measure to self, is a given.
The integration of times and classes isn’t easy for those experiencing it. When a wealthy family tries to buy off the poor-but-heart-of-gold love interest, as in Secret Garden, I rightly cringe and root for the underdog, but more and more I root for her only if she tries to understand… if her capacity for empathy is awake, because isn’t easy to change beliefs once we are older, even when we accept progress logically. We step forward, but maybe there remain contradictory or uncomfortable feelings, generation to generation.
It interested me to learn recently that with patients suffering from some kinds of epileptic seizures who have elected to have their hemispheres decoupled, there can be an entirely different response to the question, “Do you believe in God?” The left hemisphere might answer a sure “NO” while the right gives an equally enthusiastic “YES.”
And THIS brings my rambles back once again, to Kill Me Heal Me. The central character is suffering from Dissociated Identity Disorder, but he is close to being healthier than some who live in smaller compartments of themselves, trapped into prejudices that may be the natural effect of intellectual and psychological inflexibility.
Many of us break down to break free, and benefit from meeting persons who share like capacity. Only someone who understands can impart true validation, and in KMHM there are several free-range characters, healthy, multi-dimensional, and kind.
So this is that kind of story.