53

[Changing Tastes] Real life is sometimes more bizarre than makjang dramas


Birth Secret

[Editor’s Note: The term makjang gets tossed around a lot and has become shorthand for a certain type of storytelling—the kind with over-the-top plot twists, often designed to take the story in hairpin turns, all for the purposes of eliciting strong reactions (and high ratings). Not all makjang dramas employ tropes like birth secrets, revenge-facelifts, or kimchi slaps, and not all dramas that employ those tropes are makjang dramas. But the correlation is high, because the makjang style loves devices that help drive its extreme, emotion-provoking storylines. -javabeans]

 
By night owl

Birth secrets? Amnesia? Cleared my schedule and ready to watch! When I was younger these tropes seemed utterly silly, but as I have gotten older, I find makjang dramas extremely entertaining and riveting. It’s a bit of a catnip for me, and I was actually surprised and disappointed that no one included it in their catnip list. I’ve discovered that makjang dramas are soothing in their over-the-top dramatic antics and can make you giggle and keep you on the edge of your seat at the same time. It’s a little like garlic ice cream—a hilariously surprising and amazing combination!

My appreciation for makjang tropes like birth secrets and amnesia came slowly as I became an adult and realized that real life is often way more dramatic and bizarre than fiction. However ridiculous these makjang dramas can seem, birth secrets and amnesia do happen in real life.


Scandal

I was a guest at a wedding as a friend of the groom’s family once. While interacting with the bride’s side, a friendly uncle shared that his daughter had suffered from amnesia after an accident. In her early twenties, she had to re-learn everything from scratch. Running into old acquaintances and friends who were now strangers she didn’t recognize took on drama-esque angst for her as well as for the family. Trying to re-enter the workforce became a question mark as she had to navigate learning to read and write again. How does she handle interviews? What skills can she use to land a job as her university education lacked meaning after her amnesia? The journey to be herself was as difficult for her family as it was for her.

When I heard the uncle talk, I was reminded of all those amnesia dramas and gained an appreciation for them—however ridiculous it seems in dramaland, in the real world, amnesia isn’t a common cold that comes and goes. There is real trauma involved in waking up from an accident with a blank slate, and it can happen all of a sudden to anyone. It made me think of Birth Secret, where the heroine forgets the husband she married and the child she gave birth to, only to meet them a few years later. How fascinating is it that she didn’t remember being the woman who chose this man, when the person she is now would never even look at him twice?

In the drama Scandal with Kim Jae-won, a five-year-old child is kidnapped and grows up as the kidnapper’s son and forgets he had a different birth family. While discussing the drama at Soompi, I discovered that childhood amnesia is actually common. One of the posters who was a psychologist challenged us to think of memories from before five years of age. To our surprise, many of us found that we didn’t remember as much as we assumed. (Try the exercise yourself—you will be surprised at how little you actually remember.) We may recall one or two events, but they are nowhere near as elaborate as the memories we have of our later childhood years and beyond, and this is why lost and kidnapped children in the real world have a tough time recalling details about their families as time passes.

Knowing this made me appreciate these types of storylines in dramas, because while they are tropes, dramaland didn’t invent the angst—it is sadly all too real. In Scandal, the genuine love between father and son brought me so much heartbreak and tears when the truth came to light. Forget the angst and breakup of OTPs! Now what grips me is wondering if the fractured relationships between parent and child can be restored.


Flames of Ambition

This could be a TV drama! was my reaction to hearing the story of my mom’s friend. When she went to give her wedding invitation to a far-off relative, she was shocked to discover the truth that she had been adopted and these far-off relatives were actually her birth family. During World War II, her family had given away their daughter to a rich family that had no children. Growing up, she had not known that she was adopted and had only been aware of the birth family as far-off relatives whom she met occasionally.

While the reveal came as a shock, her husband’s love and support helped her get through the turmoil. Despite the sudden birth secret twist in her life, nothing much changed over the years and she continued to be very close to her adoptive parents and identify as their daughter, while her birth family remained in the fringes as far-off relatives. It turns out that dramas like Flames of Ambition aren’t as far-fetched as they seem at first. A woman who abandoned her daughter loves the son she raised as her own deeply, but what happens when the past and present collide, and her secret daughter becomes her daughter-in-law?

Such real life stories and discussions have given me a newfound appreciation for seemingly outrageous makjang tropes. There is a speck of reality to them, even if we might not think so at first. Of course, writers take these real life tales as inspiration and add a lot of spices to cook up their drama concoctions. But now instead of rolling my eyes, I relish the angst and heightened melodrama of these standard makjang tropes. I still giggle at the silliness when things get over-the-top, but that’s part of the enjoyment too.

At least in makjang dramas, all these bizarre twists like birth secrets and amnesia are resolved and the audience can heave a sigh of relief at the end. Real life can be lacking on that front at times, no?

 
RELATED POSTS

Tags:

53

Required fields are marked *

I don't know about makjang dramas, but reading your post was very entertaining. You have a very engaging writing style :)

22
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

thank you. :)

5
reply

Required fields are marked *

So true. Real life is actually even more makjang than dramas. I haven't watched an actual makjang for a while now but reading your post made me miss it. Any recommendations?

7
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Baker King Kim Tak Gu and Come Jang Bori are two I enjoyed.

7
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Baker King is still on the top of my all time favourite dramas and I did catch a little bit of Jang Bori. I'll add it to my to watch list since I like both leads. Thanks!

4
reply

Required fields are marked *

Comment was deleted

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Yaaaas Flames of Ambition. imo the difference between makjang and high drama comes down to whether the people behind the scenes (and the actors lol) really believe in or care about the world and the people they're creating, or not. However wretched or perverse his subject is, Jung Ha-yeon always writes from the heart. And the performances! Shin Eun-kyung, nuff said.

5
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Hear hear! Keep the Jung Ha-yeon flame alive....

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

This was a really fun post. Even though I don't really enjoy makjangs, I definitely did enjoy reading it! Thanks for sharing.

10
3
reply

Required fields are marked *

good to hear it was enjoyable. :)

3
reply

Required fields are marked *

Comment was deleted

4
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

weirdly enough, I had heard of two cases where something similar happened like with "hundred years inheritance"; so watching the drama wasn't really a surprise and more like "yea that happens". it is difficult to describe but most of those who watch makjang don't take the characters or situations too seriously. there is also a kind of comfort in knowing that in the end, all these moron characters will get their karma.

and strangely enough, I have learned a lot about the nature of people and relationships -- there is something about makjang that elicits a lot of aunty wisdom when you watch as a group. for whatever reason, this aunty wisdom is absent with more brainy drama discussions. guess the majority like to keep silent? :D

5
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Comment was deleted

2
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

just FYI - not sure why my reply ended up as comment #20 when I hit the reply directly. glitch or me hitting the wrong button? hahahah... anyways!

1

A lot of people use the term makjang to negatively refer to a drama, but makjang isn't a bad thing at all. Some writers don't know how to write it well, but makjangs are so good when done right.

11
3
reply

Required fields are marked *

waaaah, I tried to respond to you but it got kicked off to comment #8. :)

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I'm glad JB put in a note. She has an article on the site explaining the meaning of makjang.

Most beanies use it as a synonym for cliche and trope-filled, which is not at all what JB explained in her article.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

To be honest, even with all the love for the Hong Sisters, their dramas include some extreme and over the top situations. I still remember in "Best Love" a scene where an ex-manager punched the heroine. It was outrageous. But generally (except Warm & Cozy and I have heard Big) their makjang elements are a part of a much better story. So yes, makjang elements can be used to enhance a good story, but it is a very narrow rope to walk over.

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Is garlic ice cream a real thing? ?

#FocusingOnTheWrongThingHere

11
6
reply

Required fields are marked *

Our brains are wired similarly. I couldn't stop thinking about that even as I was reading the article. Haha!

3
4
reply

Required fields are marked *

hahahahha... yea, it is. I went to a restaurant once and they had a garlic theme which means that everything had a huge dose of garlic. I love garlic and so it was entertaining.
the garlic ice cream was sweet initially and then it has a kind of spicy kickback a second later -- really interesting combo. it is a bit like a cold version of garlic milk (which is very good for when you have an ulcer and any tummy problems)

4
3
reply

Required fields are marked *

All I can say is "You are one adventurous beanie!" ?? And of course I never heard of garlic milk either haha

Now that my curiosity has been answered, this is a very well-written piece! I enjoyed reading it!

3
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

hahaha.... garlic milk is really good as it cleans out your tummy in a natural way. so you can have it at night before you go to bed if you are feeling really queasy/gaseous/constipated or sick from anything tummy related.
it is easy to make -- heat a glass of milk over a saucepan in low heat. add one or two spoons of sugar along with a few cloves of garlic (2 or 3 large cloves will do). Keep boiling the milk over low heat till it gets creamy and reduced by half. that's it!

2

I can't imagine putting garlic in milk? I guess I'm boxed in the idea that garlic is for cooking. Haha! But I wanna say too that this is such an engaging piece, nightowl. Loved reading it!

0

I was surprised with the garlic ice cream too! And garlic milk?

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I tried the exercise you mentioned and it's actually true! I recalled about three events and none of those contained my mom nor my dad's face. I'd like to think that a child's brain is like a flash drive and mine happened to hold a memory of only 1MB.

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

so true! makjang when done right can be highly entertaining and even make you think about what people are like. I have learned more about relationships and people's natures from discussions of makjang dramas than in brainy dramas. ofcourse, they are a bit silly but that is part of the fun! :)

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This is great! Sometimes makjang dramas are my guilty-pleasure dramas. And it's interesting how those dramas captured my attention and made me stay until the end to know what's the ending. I remember watching Scandal, and I binged watching that drama in 3 days because it's entertaining. The angsts and feels are so good.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I'm working in a field that requires me to listen to someone's else life story, many of them have life more makjang than makjang dramas. Because I have watched many makjang dramas, I realize watching those make me more grounded and think matter-of-fact-ly when I'm working, not get carried away and become too emotional. Makjang dramas become one that prevents me from crying while working because some those 'makjang' real life stories are just sad..... TT

5
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

2
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I would not know about birth secrets and amnesia but real life can be really interesting and dramatic at times. ?

Makjang dramas are not usually my go-to dramas but when I do stumble upon one. It can be a real fun watch.

5
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Comment was deleted

0
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I can say I've had my share of watching makjang dramas and though it can be tiring sometimes(emotionally) I really did enjoy it a lot.
Thank you, that's a good read! :)

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I've encountered many supposedly makjang things in real life,

I know a family, a new couple that gets married before the man caught up in gambling things but he is a public worker, it's like in national asset but not a big position, the wife makes a deal with the police and the gamble owner and she takes the blame and go to prison so the man career isn't jeopardised.

I also see know a family who has 4 kids but the youngest kid is actually the grandson of the mom, the 1st child got pregnant in high school but the things is, they don't tell the 3rd and the 4th and we all know when everything is so loud in that house.

Another one is from my mum's friend, she adopted the baby girl 25 years ago and when she was 19, she wants to know why, she lets her go, apparently it because her biological family is too poor but the problem is they still didn't want her even if they aren't right now, I don't understand much but the girl back to her adopted mum when she was 23.

I also see a girl (A) get dumped by his longtime boyfriend because his mum doesn't like his family, she 's been doing that for years and they still going strong until on the engagement day. Her father is sick and can't go but the wannabe MIL saw the father walk to the bathroom and take something to eat, he still sick but badly need to pee and eat, so he withstands the pain.

The guy's mum make a fuss and shame to the girl family like "apparently he isn't gravely ill and he doesn't want to attend the engagement", the girl is a doctor, she knows better but they broke up. Just 2 weeks after, the guy married a chaebol, a governor's daugther, rumour says it, the mum's prepare everything. Funnily, the guy just hated this whole thing and even sleep in different room with his wife on their honeymoon, 2 month after, the wife asks her father for divorce because her husband treats her as invisible and they get divorce [the mum of the guy still crying because of their present for marriage is a land that just picked for a development, means it has 10X the original value].
I also heard the guy's father gets a stroke and she really value the girl and she ask her specifically to treat him from home, she comes, idk why and I feel like this is a whole lot different story if I can ask them what exactly happening.

4
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

The first story you said about the girl going to prison on behalf of the guy sounds like 'Secret' with Ji Sung and HJE.

0
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

that actually makes me believe in Secret more cause it has the possibility to happen,

the original story as I remember is more complicated, like the gamble owner give the idea to the couple cause [I hate to say this] but from their perspective, they don't want that man to get caught in a bar and lose their string as inside man, even with small position in that office.

this is like in early 2000 iirc

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you @night owl I enjoyed reading this post , very interesting. I haven't watched makjang dramas, but I've recently begun family dramas, so I think slowly my tastes change and diversify and see dramas in a different way.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

hahaha.. 1MB. exactly. none of the events I could recall had my parents face either. instead I remembered absolutely trivial details like playing with a red toy telephone. I was left wondering why on earth I remembered such random insignificant details. guess, our memories house is a much more stranger and complex place than we can understand.

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thanks for the article. Indeed real life is stranger/more making than dramas. I remember a few years ago on dramabeans comment section on drama You're the best Lee Soon Shin, some commenters sharetheir family birth secret which was stranger than fiction!
I was on the soompi thread for 'The Scandal' an remembered some of those discussions on childhood amnesia/memory.
The baddest MIL trope, another fav making trope, I have seen in kdrama is the 100 year inheritance and th still-airing You're too much kdrama is another dramatic one!

2
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I can remember a lot before I was five. I remember things before I was three. (However, I do have Prosopagnosia, so maybe the part of my brain that "ought" to recognize people I know has been turned over to the part of my brain that contains "memories before the age of five.")
But what I wanted to comment on was a friend (and no, this isn't me) whose father had a wife and daughter and then remarried another woman and had my friend and her brother. They had very little contact with the father's first family. And in her teens, she met a young man. They were attracted to each other and after dating for a while discovered that he was the son of her half sister--her father's daughter with his first wife. Doesn't this sound like a makjang? If I saw it in a drama I'd think, "no way!" But it is my friend's life. (She married him after visiting two different clergy, a medical geneticist, and a lawyer.)

1
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

I am not trying to be funny. But she married her nephew? Her father's grandson. Or his grandson is now his son in law?

My mind is completely blown. Even makjang doesn't cover it.

3
reply

Required fields are marked *

Wow! Crazy story

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I agree that sometimes real life is stranger than makjang, and while I generally don't like makjang dramas, I think they can be good and very entertaining if done well. The only makjang drama I like so far is "That Winter the Wind Blows"

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

LOL.... makjang is bit of acquired taste sort of like vegemite and so I understand if it is not for you. :D

but yea, you get great aunty advise with family dramas too but with makjang dramas, they tend to be on the hilarious cheeky side. kekekeke.

to watch with the family can be really amusing. makjang dramas always remind people of something or someone and then suddenly the family tree becomes a whole lot more interesting. and as a bonus, your mom even will throw in a nice proverb that you can use later as a zinger hopefully. hahaha

3
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

waaah, this was in response to la plume. (under comment #4)
I don't get why it gets kicked off into another comment even though I was trying to reply directly.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Your right! Sometimes that's the only way you learn about some obscure family fact.

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

It took me a really long while to actually watch or rather finish makjang-type dramas, because as the author has said, most of the stuff that I would start watching would hit too close to home. Birth secrets, completely random people who turn out to be related to you, deaths no one like to talk about, betrayal, affairs, etc. the whole gamut of issues portrayed in these dramas hold true for our family (especially those in the generation of my grandparents) hence it is quite difficult for me to find amusement there, particularly since those issues still have lingering side-effect on the younger generation—and no, unlike in K-dramas, some of them are better left unsaid albeit unresolved (out of sight, out of mind). The neighbourhood where I grew up in can be a breeding ground for every kind of makjang drama out there, had a writer come there and observed and immersed in the environment. Ha! Those over-the-top antics aren't quite far from reality, at least for me, so seeing them on the telly just makes my insides groan (‘Not here too!’). Having anxiety doesn't help either so normally these types of dramas are still clumped in the watch-for-the-sake-of-watching group. On the flip side, I do watch these kinds of dramas whenever I am in really low spirits or in a really dark place (consequence of anxiety/depression) since as twisted as it might sound, I am often able to pick myself up whenever I see the dramas, have a good cry and realise, ‘Life can be bad, but man, I still have my insert-whatever-here’ (memories, family, home, etc) or if I see the main character still persisting after all that have happened to him/her. Heh. It's a wee bit of a toss really but there a lot of good things about life that can be taken from these dramas.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thanks for this contribution!!! It is a nice post.
Now, let me tell you: i have also heard some stories thay could fit into a drama, most exactly into a makjang (which by the way i dont watch at all anymore), and which "ending" is far from "watchable" or resolved, because as you said, that pretty much doesnt happen in real life... actually... in real life we have these long conflicts that burden us, and we long for the time it is ok... resolved like in a drama, but it simply doesnt happen!!! Life can also be frustrating.

On the other hand i also have to agree with other beanies who commented on the resolution of a makjang by being so easy, frustrating and absurd. I have to agree with that too.
The candy heroine is not candy and good and noble all the time, and i also cannot believe the evil ones have nothing else to do with their time than being evils...
These type of dramas could entitled this very interesting perspective you pointed out in your post, but they are most of the time half not good. LOL...
Thanks anyway for your very entertained post.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Great post! I loved your explanation. Becoming more aware of life's complexities lead to you being open to the strange, absurd but also familiar. I think Makjangs are the closest to Mexican novelas and American soap operas. ::cough:: Big fan of the tv show Passions back in the day. I might have also learned to record VHS just to watch. They had everything plus a witch.
These shows have crazy situations and intense acting but it can be super captivating. They can have complex heroines/heros who are sometimes awful or "bad guys/gals" winning over and over...like life.
In my family there are multiple secret birth parents, young deaths, inappropriate marriages/relationships, brain injury, addictive gambling, elder abuse with nefarious plans, drug use, ridiculous levels of jealousy and the list goes on and on. I've seen the "bad people"and they've been blood. Most of the time there is no satisfying comeuppance for them. Maybe a consequence or set back here or there but nothing that stops them permanently. Soooo I get the connection that sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.
I also understand why watching these types of shows can be frustrating uhh because from a reality perspective I get upset at these problems too.
Also I too love to dig deep into my tv shows and sometimes it is quite a lot of emotional energy to invest when watching alone.
I think it's like with you said nightowl watching in a group or with a friend shifts it to that outrageous fun place.

0
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

enjoyed reading that folks had fun reading the post :) - I am trying to resist the temptation to post too much by responding to each comment but thank you.

@toramona -- yea, you described it well. makjang characters and situations can be complex and this results in this kind of aunty wisdom where folks often share how they have dealt with such dragon characters and difficult situations in real life.

no one ever seems to be surprised by the makjang drama situations -- every time someone says "who does this in real life?", someone will inevitably respond "actually, I know of this one person where this happened....." and the group then gasps and says "wait, what??"
Some of the real stories that folks have posted on top can totally be plots for tv dramas!
and something about the absurdity of makjang means that when you watch as a group, you laugh and giggle a lot. the zingers and sarcastic comments really can be a ball! :D

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Comment was deleted

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Makjang is everywhere arround Asian, from my country to Korea to India to China,..

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I have to say: brilliant writing !!!
I will never watch an amnesia scene in a kdrama with an up-turned nose ever again !

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *