[Dramaland Catnip] The magic of bad drama magic
by Guest Beanie
[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]
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.
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.
Tags: Theme of the Month