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[Dramaland Catnip] The magic of bad drama magic


W–Two Worlds

[We’re pleased to be sharing reader-submitted contributions to our Theme of the Month series, and will be posting entries throughout the month, so stay tuned for more! If you have yet to submit but would like to, we will accept submissions all month through June 25. Happy writing! –javabeans]

 
By @rinny

About a year ago, a friend asked me to suggest some good Korean dramas to watch, and I gladly welcomed them to the world of noble idiots, sageuks, and conveniently timed amnesia. As I compiled an obsessively indexed and annotated list of shows that I had watched, I noticed a trend I had never seen before in my viewing habits.

One thing in dramaland that is almost guaranteed to keep me following a series to the end is some type of “magic” involved in the plot that seems to lack a defined set of rules. My type A personality needs all the rules, and I will keep watching until the show gives them to me. Often, if a show decides to throw logic out the window when it comes to magic, I will watch the entire series. Even if a plot lags, I will stick with a show with bad logic behind the magic.


Bring It On, Ghost

In my opinion, poorly defined magic rules, which are resolved by a show in later episodes, have a greater reward value plot-wise than the classic trope of birth secrets. This is why I will stick to shows with bad logic for magic and hold out hope.

This sometimes leads me to excellent shows. One of the good shows was Mirror of the Witch, with its total mess behind all the magic rules. Why were some items imbued with magic properties, but not others? What were the rules behind how quickly a potion’s effects were metabolized and wore off? Was evil magic always black (because to be honest that is not always stealthy)? How far could magic be used against a person’s will, before they could fight it off?


Mirror of the Witch

I was also glad that my obsession pulled me through W–Two Worlds, when I may have dropped it sooner. I still do not understand quite how the timeline worked out. I also wonder if there is a limit to how long a comic character can survive in the “real world.” If a comic character can will themselves into existence, can a “real person” will themselves into a comic? And how functional was a body with no face (besides the incredibly creepy factor it provided)? And the mystical factor behind the show made a rather pat ending also feel simultaneously open.

Other times, my obsession leads me through a not-so-good show, such as Tomorrow With You. That show turned me into a time-traveler as well, who sat through sixteen episodes, ending with inadequate payoff. And in my opinion, it never did give a satisfying reason for why So-joon could time travel, but Ma-rin could not.

Or Lucky Romance, which was just problematic on all levels. What did the fortuneteller have against Bo-nui? Did he ever have any real power? Did Bo-ra actually get better due to anything superstitious Bo-nui did or was it all just chance and miracles? I have so many questions, and I do not think any of the answers would have improved the show since it had too many other flaws.


Lucky Romance

As for the friend, whom I introduced to the wonderful world of chaebols and makjangs, she agrees with me about poorly defined logic sometimes pulling you further into a show. It’s a side-plot mystery that comes bonus with the show. We occasionally watch a show together and then try and come up with our own rules for the magic to follow based on the information given. When my friend finished Secret Garden, I got a series of text messages that were more question marks than words.

Because in the end, if you are just told that the reasoning behind the magic you have questioned the entire show is deus ex machina in disguise (hello firefighting dead dad who has magical powers just because), it severely undercuts a large part of the show. But then you finish the show and search for the next one that maybe-this-time-please will fill that hole the previous show left. This is the sign of true catnip because, without good reason, your search for your next hit is inescapable.


Secret Garden

 
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I totally agree with you on this point. I have also stuck through many a supernatural drama just because I like the fantasy element... and the sometimes badly defined rules behind it all.

But luckily for me I have enjoyed most of them and have finished all of them because like you I'm also OCD about the rules stuff and want to know everything.

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I find it offensive that the writer for this piece picked a screen cap of W of all dramas for its stub. Even at its worse that show was of a much higher class than any number of other shows this past year that have been forgiven a lot worse in terms of writing. Goblin, Moon Lovers, Legend of the Blue Sea and uncontrollably fond not being the least of them.

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For someone who has magic as a catnip, you're missing a great deal by not yet watching Nine, Queen In-hyun's Man, Arang and the Magistrate, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, The Devil etc. ;)

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And Goblin!

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I LOVED Goblin!

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I don't think magic is her catnip. No logic behind magic is!

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I have watched other shows with magic elements besides the ones I mentioned, but I would gladly accept recommendations for more! (The good ones anyway!)

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I so agree with you here and you remind me, I need to continue watching Mirror of the Witch. I would definitely recommend Nine and Queen In Hyun's Man. Others I think of you haven't mentioned yet is I can hear your voice, Faith(also time travel...seems to be my catnip :D) and My Girlfriend is a Gumiho .

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does strong woman do bong soon also count? her powers disappearing still leaves me confused... i mean how could her powers just go away because of an accident? had she never caused an accident with her strength all her life? no complaining though as her powers came back only when she needed to save Min Hyuk :)

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This is a good analysis of the supernatural drama...you just watch in hopes that the writer has thought it out and logically provides an explanation for the crazy happenings. It's what pulled me in to Oh Hae Young Again, the possibility of what the explanations could be therefore it was pretty disappointing how it ended. It was the first drama that I live-watched and everyone had these awesome crazy theories that I hoped would turn out to be true. I still have a very soft spot for Oh Hae Young Again as it had an awesome cast of characters that were part of the charm of the show so I have re-watched it and enjoyed it, but this time well aware that the visions are more of a convenience thing for the romance instead of a grand supernatural world. Sometimes the characters or other drama elements are just so great that I don't mind the flimsy supernatural explanations or lack thereof such as in Secret Garden.

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In my opinion, poorly defined magic rules, which are resolved by a show in later episodes, have a greater reward value plot-wise than the classic trope of birth secrets. This is why I will stick to shows with bad logic for magic and hold out hope.

That is quite similar to my situation. More often than not, I get into a show because one or many parts of the show stick out to me and attracting my interest, it could be bad or good, anything goes as long as it's interesting and pique my radar. For me, it's not about the magic, rather the need to satisfy a curiosity, like say if I was expecting a certain resolution in the plot, I will keep chasing it until I get it, and if I don't, that's when I get pissed at a drama and vow to stay away from the writer/PD (example School 2015).

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Oh to clarify, I did vow to stay away from School 2015 writer, but then she brought Moonlight Drawn by Clouds and suddenly, she's on my good grace again.

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Yeah, I really like how "magic" opens a unique window for hope my curiosity will lead good places. Because it is magic, if it is well defined, it can provide a really unusual solution.

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Logic fails in drama propel eternal optimism that the next one will be without? I love how this catnip brings hope for salvation to all of us addicts.

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My younger self would have agreed but now, I'm just craving for well-executed plots. I still looked back at W and Goblin, and think how I would have absolutely love it if only the story was just developed properly. When a drama gives me rules and complicated things I expect them to come through with some logical reason.

But then again when my heart reigns over my mind and the show wasn't presented as something that shouldn't be taken seriously, I turn my brain off and just enjoy the fun ride.

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Trying to make sense of drama convolutions is part of what attracts fans to a site like this. Even when the resolution is mixed, having experienced it and parsed it over with fellow enthusiasts, the journey's end can still be satisfying. Sometimes another fan's imagination fills in the holes the writer left.
I have always loathed ambigious endings. It is more "arty" to be mysterious or is it just lazy storytelling?

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True. I look first to supernatural, time travel, and fantasy dramas, but sometimes the rules don't carry through the whole way. Although sometimes there is no logic behind those magic filled moments, I tend to find myself still watching the show for the rest of its plot. Of course, I loved Mirror of the Witch despite some of the magic twists not adding up and I also loved Goblin, The Master's Sun, Oh Hae Young Again, Chicago Typewriter, Hi School Love On and last but not least, Tunnel. There were many fantasy elements in each of these shows and that was what originally caught my interest, but I know that in many other shows, the magic qualities just don't seem as reasonable as they're supposed to be anymore. This was a great catnip and I'll definitely be looking for more. Pleas continue to feed me some more catnips.

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I liked Tomorrow With You, W Two Worlds & Bring it on Ghost too much, even with the lack of rules. Secret Garden is on my "dramas that are popular in dramaland but didn't appeal to me" list. But the body switching was hilarious, the leads pulled it off spectacularly.

On a side note I've noticed how well written this article is & I'm suddenly wishing I had waited to see this post before sending my submission. The way I've compiled my article makes it look like I was writing it for an English paper in the last 5 minutes of the exam. I should've given it more thought. I hope team dramabeans give it a glorious makeover; if they find it worth sharing at all >.<

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this is an interesting take. i think i'm similar in that magic also first pulls me and it's interesting to see the rules being explained, or sometimes not, as I watch along. i do, however, drop it when it starts making nonsense to me. for instance, i was deeply disappointed in W and Secret Garden.

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Yesss. I love fantasy dramas with magic - and you are so right, most of the time there's absolutely​ zero logic or continuity governing the laws of magic. I still watch anyway because I cannot stop myself. Catnip indeed!

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I didn't specifically like Tomorrow With You, but lucky romance, bring it on ghost were likable and good despite some flaws!!!!
For me Secret Garden is love!!!!

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I did like Secret Garden, it just had a few elements that left me wishing it was a little different than what I got at the end. So it will never be one of my all-time favorites, and I will likely never re-watch, but I did enjoy watching it the first time.

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Yeah, I really liked Lucky Romance, even with the unanswered questions and the myriad of flaws. Ryu Jun Yeol was perfection, and the secondary couple was cute, and there was enough humour and sweetness to keep me watching til the end.

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I rage-quit SG precisely because the magic factor was so badly construed it drove me crazy. SG is the one show that almost killed my kdrama obsession which...guys? that's quite the feat! For almost a year I couldn't watch any of them. ://// Then again, maybe it was the KES factor rather than the magic factor? uhm, idk. I guess plot, characters, settings, directing, acting...etc all have to click into place to make me like a kdrama.

I found Mirror of the witch, W, Queen In-hyun's Man, mgiag, I hear your heart and so many others to be enjoyable, some excellent even

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Kudos, @rinny-- you did a great job on the post!

Bad drama magic can be hit or miss for me-- sometimes I'm dying of curiosity to find out how something's gonna be explained, and sometimes I get a headache from all of the eye-rolling. OTOH, if a drama has other redeeming features, bad drama magic becomes less important to me. Like in Lucky Romance, I didn't care too much about the bad drama magic because I was enchanted by the magic of Ryoo Joon-yeol, and having fun reading everyone's snarky comments about HJE's wardrobe. :)

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Thanks!
I think magic with loopholes is the catnip-laced icing on a drama. It can cover up other flaws with distractions, or it can highlight really good parts of the show. In Goblin for example, I felt like I was discovering the magic with Eun-tak, which really highlighted her great acting and the solid writing behind it.

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The magic of Ryu Jun Yeol, yes indeedy. Utter perfection right there :-)

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Well, there's magic and there's the OTP or even just one of the pair to suck you in. I'd be happy catnipping away with an enjoyable pair!

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I'm SO with you on that, performer/performance magic has become my key catnip 😽

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Despite the failure of this catnip to be logical or at least to make sense most of the time, I prefer this over makjang any day.

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Me too!

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I've read thousands of fantasy and sci-fi books and I can say with certainty that Korean dramas get a "fail" when it comes to plot and "world" consistency. I struggle through anyway if the romance is strong enough or other things are happening I enjoy. I will never be tricked again like I was with W into thinking the writer actually knew how to write in the genre and would make sense by the end.

I think it would be much harder to make a list of "good" drama magic, where you might have been scratching your head but all was explained satisfactorily as far as the magic/supernatural/weird science was concerned. I actually can't think of one from those I've seen, though I'm holding my breath for Circle!

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I always think that fantasy dramas have no logic...but enjoy the ride anyway....

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Strangely, some of these dramas listed is what I would consider "good magic," maybe because I didn't find them to be illogical and the rules pretty clear. Admittedly, I've read and watched a lot of fantansy, so it's entirely possible that I'm so used to them, I don't see them as strange :)

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Arang ...and Queen In hyun's man were two of my favourite supernatural dramas

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" I also wonder if there is a limit to how long a comic character can survive in the “real world.” If a comic character can will themselves into existence, can a “real person” will themselves into a comic?"

There didn't seem to be any reason why a person couldn't stay indefinitely in either the comic or real world--however, real people don't fade when they stop fulfilling the set parameters of their existence. So I think that for Kang Chul to be free of that constraint, there needed to be some way to level him up. And I think the rules did absolutely work out there. *SPOILERS* Because OSM with his creator powers (whatever mystical thing it is that lets him have deity powers in the comic world) did fully swap places with him so that KC could fully be a "real boy." I think only OSM had those powers. So I do think there was logic and rules and stuff with that one. How OSM got those powers, and how KC could become self aware in the first place, though...I think we just take those on faith. :)

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The catnip for me is pretty much just plain "magic," rather than bad magic. :D

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I would rather have a sad ending like Mirror of the witch than a deus ex-machina happy ending, honestly. At least, then, I would find closure and wouldn't end the drama feeling like something is missing.

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Aaw, you forgot Legends of the Blue Sea - which has the fantasy element.

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Ooo thinking of the lack of explanations in some of those is so frustrating! Good pick! I didn't even think of it but it really does keep you watching and waiting!

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I such a sucker for shows with that fantasy element...and like you, stick with a show just to hope for more answers. This was a good, relatable, catnip.

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The biggest drama magic fail ever: BIG.

Seriously. I would never forgive this. That's all I will say.

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