[Changing Tastes] Real life is sometimes more bizarre than makjang dramas
by Guest Beanie
[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.
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?
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- [Changing Tastes] I’m sorry for ever doubting you, family dramas
- Theme of the Month: How have your K-drama tastes changed over time?
- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
Tags: Theme of the Month