[Escapism vs. Realism] When realism is what draws you in now

Because This Life Is Our First

By @whoopeeyoo

I’d been watching K-dramas for escapism even when I didn’t know what escapism was, at ten years old. I was escaping from the usual Filipino telenovelas, from homework, and from my mom checking to see if I did it (because we were both busy watching K-dramas). In college, not only did I escape in the love stories K-dramas offered, I also used fansubbing to procrastinate. Instead of writing and editing my own school papers, I edited subtitles for 49 Days and Protect the Boss. K-dramas meant escaping the real world, be it real-life events or real-life obligations and responsibilities. With K-dramas, I forgot my own problems and concerns because all I had to worry about was how the hero and heroine would get together in the end. Or if the subtitles appeared long enough for people to read them.

Surprisingly, with my tendency to run away from real life and escape into fiction, I have never gravitated towards fantasy. I have always favored K-dramas (and in general, stories) set in the real world, populated by characters who resemble people I actually know. Of course, contemporary K-dramas don’t always fit this mold because I don’t personally know a Candy or a third-generation chaebol (Or do I? Maybe he’s just keeping it a secret?). K-dramas already tend to present the real world as just a tad bit more magical than its drearier version that I’m familiar with. Up until now, I wanted fantasy out of realism. Specifically, all I wanted was fluffy romantic comedies. Little to no romance in the plot? Pass. This made me picky about the K-dramas I watched because I stayed away from a lot of workplace dramas, medical dramas, and legal dramas. Those were all too real and heavy for my fluff-loving heart.

Chief Kim

This year though, a shift has happened. I did something that my past self would have never even considered. I picked up Chief Kim, even though my brain was telling me to stay away. First of all, it’s a workplace drama and it’s about a small department saddled with receipts and finances and accounting. With no romance in sight. On paper, it seemed like a snoozefest to me. I only picked it up because of Namgoong Min and because I got curious about how a workplace drama was raking in the ratings in South Korea. How delighted I was to be proven wrong. Chief Kim was such a great mix of office hijinks and heartwarming stories. The characters were ones anyone could root for and even the supposed villain was layered and hard to hate. But really, it was gut-bustingly funny at times, and then sometimes I wouldn’t even notice that I was crying because I was so moved. So warm, that show.

That was a turning point for me. I became more open to trying K-dramas I would never have touched before. I never thought that I’d watch a show like Forest of Secrets, but the hype was too difficult to ignore. I started it and ended up binging it until the wee hours of the morning. It was mind-twisting, heartbreaking, and definitely one of the best K-dramas I have ever seen. It was far from the fluff that I was used to and unlike Chief Kim, it wasn’t entertaining or amusing. It was stressful because corruption is real.

Forest of Secrets

I got into Falsify after that. Basically, you could say that Namgoong Min has singlehandedly widened my K-drama horizons. Corruption! Journalism! An evil conspiracy plot! Sign me up! I also loved Bad Guys so much that I don’t even know myself anymore. Where was the girl who only watched fluff rom-coms? Long gone was my aversion to non-romantic plots. I was now open to darker themes and conflicts.

Of course, I still continued to watch my romantic comedies, but I found myself appreciating them now for how well they portray real life. Like a lot of fellow beanies, Because This Life Is Our First has taken over my life now. And what I love most about it is how close to home everything is. From Ji-ho’s career struggles to all the gender norms and expectations the characters face to that frustrating mix of love and a bit of resentment between parents and their children. I used to love K-dramas for how fantastical the “real world” its characters lived in was, but now, what reels me in is that my real world is being represented—my struggles, my woes, my personal issues—in such an accurate way that I end up almost catatonic from seeing my life on TV. I used to wish that I could be K-drama heroine, bringing over all the boys to the yard. Then here comes this drama where I don’t have to wish because I feel like a part of me has been donated to make this heroine. Although of course, it still leaves me wishing for a roommate like Lee Min-ki.

So while I still watch K-dramas for escapism, now it’s only to escape obligations and responsibilities and deadlines. Nowadays, I try to spot and appreciate how a drama grounds itself in the real world, be it with its realistic and relatable characters, or the social and political climate it tries to subtly criticize and subvert. Maybe it’s growing up, I don’t know, but I now have a newfound appreciation for fiction mimicking real life and for real life itself.