[Dramaland Catnip] Fish out of water
by Guest Beanie
When the call for dramaland catnips came around, I thought immediately of time travel. I love the confusion, the slow realization that the character has been transported to an era completely different from their own, the cluelessness, the embarrassing hijinks, the desperation to survive, the character showing resourcefulness and quick-wittedness to prevent being discovered, the shenanigans, and of course, because this is dramaland, the inevitable star-crossed romance with someone from that different era. But as I was getting ready to write my submission, I realized it’s actually the fish-out-of-water trope that is my catnip, and that was the aspect of time travel stories that I liked.
The trope can be used with a supernatural being such as a gumiho trapped in a painting freed into the modern world, who pesters an adorable aspiring actor to feed her meat and provide her lodging while her fox bead heals him, such as in My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho. Mi-ho thinking that the toilet was a well had me crackling with laughter, and her naiveté in buying a poster of a camera thinking Dae-woong wanted that instead of the actual camera endeared her to me like no other.
Legend of the Blue Sea
In the case of Legend of the Blue Sea and Surplus Princess, we have actual fish (well, mermaids) out of water, with the heroines who come to land to live among the mortals. The mermaids in these two dramas are vastly different, which made their fish-out-of-water antics quite different too. Everything was new and unknown for Shim Chung in Legend of the Blue Sea—forks, car horns, tissue paper—and we saw her encountering them for the first time. Her cluelessness led to comedic scenes that I still chuckle to remember, like how she tried to mimic cars honking and went on a spree pulling tissues out of boxes like they were magic. On the other hand, Surplus Princess’ Ha-ni knew about the modern world from a smartphone that fell underwater. The drama didn’t heavily rely on the mermaid’s naiveté, but still had me rooting for her quest to find true love and a job in order to survive on land.
Lastly, we have the topic that started this all, time travel. There are people from the modern era traveling to the past such as in Faith, Dr. Jin, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo and Splish Splash Love. Despite being only a two-episode drama, Splish Splash Love won me over and is seated at the top of the list of K-dramas I can watch again and again with its perfect blend of comedy, romance, time travel, and poignancy, as well as its smart plot. A high school senior travels back in time to King Sejong’s era, and ends up teaching him math and anatomy and astronomy and everything under the sun while pretending to be a eunuch. I could gobble that up for 14 more episodes.
But by far, I enjoy it more when people from the past travel to the future, as with Rooftop Prince and Queen In-hyun’s Man. When Crown Prince Yi Gak ended up in jail with his minions over asking for some ramyun at the local 7-11 in sageuk speak, I was in stitches. Honestly, all the hijinks in Rooftop Prince had me rolling with glee, from learning about running water to thinking an elevator was a changing room. This is why I love time travel: so embarrassing, so hilarious. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, the situation can also result in building tension too. Just thinking about the hero of Queen In-hyun’s Man needing to be in mortal danger for his time-traveling talisman to work stresses me out, even now. See what I mean by high stakes?
I guess placing characters in a situation completely unfamiliar to them just makes me sit up in excitement and keep my eyes glued to the screen. Preferably if the unfamiliar is also illogical and impossible, which heightens everything—the comedy, the danger, the stakes, the romance, and my feelings. Nothing gives me as much joy as the humor brought about by the character adapting (or not!), and nothing stresses me out as much as the tension and/or danger faced by the character when he or she is inevitably found out. Most importantly, nothing beats the drama and poignancy of star-crossed romance. How are they going to overcome this great divide? Would their love transcend time? The land-water divide? Looming death?
Queen In-hyun’s Man
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Life is about dealing with unfamiliar surroundings, so pretty much any drama will involve some kind of fish-out-of-water situations, whether it’s a cross-dressing girl, the guy with a secret identity, or Gu Jun-pyo making kimchi. It’s how characters deal with unexpected circumstances that I find interesting. I like wacky, so often fish-out-of-water situations are downright hilarious. It’s not enough to make me finish dramas, but it certainly compels me to start them. I’ve grouped them into three main catnip species:
First is the time-traveler. My brain cries out against watching these because often the romance doesn’t work out (unless your phone has magical time-traveling properties). Splish Splash Love aside, I know there is a possibility the plot might unravel into a mess, and that there will be major pain. Yet time and time again, I come back to these. (I must like a bit of pain.)
What really tickles my funny bone is the culture shock of a character dropping into another time period. The first two episodes of Faith were a perfect example of this, with deadpan Goryeo general Choi Young braving traffic in modern Seoul, and Eun-soo as the modern doctor in Goryeo. It was enough to keep me watching all the way, although the ending almost had me screaming.
And how cute is it when the time-traveler adapts so well? Like the Rooftop Prince gang who packed their backpacks with essentials to take back to Joseon… which included ketchup, of course. Again, pain hit when I saw no hope for the OTP in this life (I hate reincarnation endings). Out of recent dramas, I think Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo could have done more with the fish-out-of-water situations because I often forgot that Hae Soo was a modern woman trapped in a Goryeo body. Actually, the whole drama scarred me so badly that I swore I’d leave time-traveling dramas for the time being. But then The Best Hit snuck up on me. I didn’t know it would be a time-traveler drama, and before I knew it I had been sucked into Hyun-jae’s typhoon-like arrival into 2017 and his love affair with his handphone. May it never end.
The second type is the traveler from distant places or different species. I don’t mean characters with awful English who pop up here and there. I mean the true foreigners to this world. In these cases, we see the first shock of encountering human life, such as in Vampire Idol when Mukadil thinks he’s dying and is being dramatic about his symptoms because, poor little vampire, he’d never had a cold before.
I’m not a sci-fi girl, but this catnip drew me to our particularly swoony alien in You From Another Star. It also made me anticipate the mermaid floundering on land in Legend of the Blue Sea. Although that turned out to be a bit of a let-down overall, I was in stiches seeing the mermaid adjust to land and how she learned to collect her pearl tears in a plastic bag. And My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho probably best exemplifies the shift from fish-out-of-water comedy to the angst of wanting to live and love as a human. Ah, the pain!
My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho
And third, we have the fish out of water who is a sensitive soul or introvert. In Introverted Boss, I could emphathize with Hwan-ki’s struggles since I’m also the kind of fish that doesn’t want the rest of the fish tank to invade my little bubble. Jang Geu-rae had a quiet strength that I really admired in Misaeng, but he was another fish that felt he was different from the others around him in the cutthroat company he worked out. Watching him learn to appreciate himself while never changing his quiet and steadfast character was inspiring.
Speaking of inspiring, Chief Kim walked into TQ Group earlier this year and gave me the most glorious fish-out-of-water office hijinks I have ever seen. He wasn’t thrown into the office unexpectedly and he was quite the opposite of the introvert, but I’ve included him here because his enemies made it clear that he did not belong in the company and that he should play by the rules. Instead, he proved that a fish can jump into another fish tank and swim just as well with a little help from his friends and reluctant bros. Sometimes we try too hard to adapt to unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. Chief Kim taught me to laugh at those situations and just be myself.
- [Dramaland Catnip] Surprise, you’re a daddy!
- [Dramaland Catnip] Supernatural powers and mind-reading abilities
- [Dramaland Catnip] Strong platonic friendships
- [Dramaland Catnip] When the hero eats his words or is forced to grovel
- [Dramaland Catnip] Stories featuring ordinary people
- [Dramaland Catnip] Friends turned enemies… turned friends again
- [Dramaland Catnip] Childhood loves and backstories
- [Dramaland Catnip] Bromances and girlfriends
- [Dramaland Catnip] Sibling love and fauxcest
- [Dramaland Catnip] Beta males and the alpha ladies who love them
- [Dramaland Catnip] The bad boys of dramaland
- [Dramaland Catnip] Prickly marshmallows and tsundere heroes
- [Dramaland Catnip] Reverse harems
- [Dramaland Catnip] Noona romances
- [Dramaland Catnip] Secret identities and alter egos
- [Dramaland Catnip] Disastrous first meetings
- [Dramaland Catnip] Cohabitation shenanigans
- [Dramaland Catnip] Enemies turned lovers
- [Dramaland Catnip] Crossdressing and gender-bending romances
- [Dramaland Catnip] Opponents turned allies
- [Dramaland Catnip] Marriage before dating
- [Dramaland Catnip] Swooning for dramatic height differences
- [Dramaland Catnip] Ragtag bands of misfits
- [Dramaland Catnip] Finding satisfaction in sad love stories
- [Dramaland Catnip] The magic of bad drama magic
- [Dramaland Catnip] The stinging embarrassment of thinking someone likes you… when they don’t
- [Dramaland Catnip] When the hero falls first
- [Dramaland Catnip] The angst and thrills of dramaland’s reunited lovers
- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
Tags: Theme of the Month