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The “death” of the K-drama hero

  
The threat of death to a story’s hero is a common storytelling device that adds dramatic tension. It exists in everything from Greek myths to Victorian novels to Hollywood superhero movies — sometimes we’re so accustomed to it that we don’t even notice it anymore. But K-dramas? They often take this device one step further by actually killing off the hero. But not really — they were just kidding. He’s fine in the drama’s epilogue. Sometimes this is effective and compelling, sometimes it kills the dramatic tension that’s been so carefully built up, and sometimes it’s just flat-out infuriating.

The death of the K-drama hero can be divided into two courts: first, stories where the hero dies (for keeps!) at the conclusion of the drama; and second, stories where the hero dies in the last minutes of the final episode, only to magically return in an epilogue. I have no bone to pick with stories that kill their hero intentionally and finally. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but tragic stories require tragedy, and you might be crying in your living room for a while, but at least you got a solid story.

  
The second kind of hero death — the kind that frequently deploys last-minute shenanigans to “kill” and then resurrect the hero — that’s where we have a problem. As someone whose choice dramas frequently deploy this technique, I had to give it some serious analysis, lest it ruin the story that I’ve been deeply (perhaps too deeply?) invested in. If you have seen shows like That Winter, The Wind Blows, W – Two Worlds, and Nice Guy, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

  
In the 2013 melodrama That Winter, The Wind Blows, Jo In-sung plays a con man named Oh Soo opposite Song Hye-gyo. She is a blind heiress, and he masquerades as her long-lost chaebol brother, with the aim of taking advantage of her for nefarious and revenge-filled reasons. The story grows more complex, of course, when he falls for her. Jo In-sung becomes a wonderful mess of guilt and love, caught somewhere between trying to protect her, protect himself, take advantage of her, and save himself (it is a melodrama after all).

  
That Winter, The Wind Blows drama did some crazy things, but I loved it. Right up until the ending, anyway. Jo In-sung’s character is stabbed to death by his best friend, played by Kim Bum, and left to die on a rooftop. It’s dramatic, shocking, impactful, wonderfully over-the-top, and seals up the whole drama with a gasp.

  
But wait — it’s not actually over yet. We have an epilogue set one year later, where Jo In-sung is reunited with Song Hye-gyo. It’s a dreamy sequence full of cherry blossoms of happiness; they’ve found each other again and live happily ever after. Talk about a rollercoaster. The audience has barely processed his violent death and what it means for the story when the drama quickly snatches it back and gives us our happy ending instead.

  
The 2012 melodrama Nice Guy starring Song Joong-ki and Moon Chae-won, pulls similar stunts. In this drama, Song Joong-ki’s character sets out to seduce Moon Chae-won’s character as revenge against her stepmother, who betrayed him. A complicated tale of love, betrayal, car wrecks, and inheritance ensues.

  
Like Jo In-sung’s character in That Winter, The Wind Blows, Song Joong-ki’s antihero Kang Ma-roo is stabbed at the end of the final episode. Similarly, he’s shown dying when our drama closes, and it’s positively galling because the heroine is right there, but totally clueless. The stabbing elicits gasps, disbelief, and possible jaw-dropping. But — as you might have guessed — Ma-roo somehow survives this brutal stabbing. In an epilogue set seven years later, our lovers meet again. Though there’s a bit of a reversal in their circumstances (and some memory loss thrown in for good measure), they are together, and we are left pretty darn certain they will fall in love again.

  
Why do That Winter, The Wind Blows and Nice Guy end like this? Is it because they think we need a happy ending that badly? Was the assumption that the only happy ending we’ll approve of is one where our romantic leads are united — or even better: reunited? The answer, for these dramas, lies in the genre and how its themes function.

Melodramas are often revenge stories, usually complicated by history and circumstance, but generally concerned with wrongs done, retribution, and redemption. Class A themes, if I do say so myself. But what does the hero’s “death” contribute to the playing out of these themes? In the dramas discussed above, the wrongs done comprise the bulk of the drama (one protagonist cruelly cons a blind woman; another seduces a girl for revenge and puts her heart through the ringer). Then, when all the chips have fallen and the reveals have been revealed, it’s time for the retribution — and getting stabbed to death, or stabbed to almost-death, definitely covers that.

  

Dramaland is usually a just place: baddies are punished, and good people are rewarded. But, unluckily for them, wonderful antiheroes like Soo and Ma-roo blur the distinction between good and evil, creating a gray space that dramaland doesn’t often tolerate. So, their “deaths” exist as a way to take our antiheroes to the concluding theme: redemption. Whether it’s a shocking stabbing by your best friend, or an act of self-sacrifice to save the woman you love — our antiheroes need to suffer (sorry, guys) before they can earn their redemption.

 
But don’t worry, that’s where the epilogue comes in. Dramaland justice may be blind, but it’s also merciful. Our heroes have gone through the harrowing process of paying for their wrongs, and they’re rewarded with life. Suddenly, the fake-out death isn’t so cheap: it’s the linchpin of the entire story. Wrongs can be mended. Forgiveness is always possible. If you’re lucky, you might even get to spend the rest of your life with the woman you love.

  
So is the “death” scenario of the K-drama hero only a function of the melo genre? K-drama evidence suggests otherwise. We’ve looked at how it operates in melodramas, but it turns out there are more of these fake-out deaths in other genres as well.

  
Let’s take 2016’s W – Two Worlds as our next example — it’s a genre-bending fantasy and action drama. Lee Jong-seok plays the fictional manhwa hero Kang Chul, and Han Hyo-joo plays the real-world heroine reading the manhwa. This drama took the rules of storytelling and bent them to the breaking point: Han Hyo-joo’s character enters the world of the manhwa, and throughout the story there is this amazing (and mind-boggling) overlap between the manhwa world and real world.

  
The drama works itself up to a peak where the “rules” of the real versus manhwa worlds basically disappear. As we watch the show, anything becomes possible. Then our hero Kang Chul battles his maker and nemesis… and is defeated. He’s bleeding out on the street, and Han Hyo-joo’s character is rushing to find him. Just as she’s running across the street towards him, she is zapped from the manhwa world and back to the real world. Kang Chul dies. Unreal, right? Our hero was beaten by the bad guy. It was shocking, yes, but it ties up the rhetoric of the drama beautifully.

And then we have our epilogue. Rather than having died in the manhwa world (or perhaps because he did?), Kang Chul re-appears in the real world. He and Han Hyo-joo’s character are reunited, and again, we get our happy ending.

  
We’ve got a similar set-up in another awesome drama, City Hunter. In this story, Lee Min-ho plays Lee Yoon-sung, the eponymous City Hunter and taker-down of government corruption, sometimes with a spoon as his only weapon.

  
In the final scene of the drama where birth secrets, subterfuge, and treason are all converging, Yoon-sung takes a bullet for his father and presumably dies. It was another epic scene to wreck your heart, and possibly have you jump up from the couch breathing fire. (Don’t worry, as in our other examples, Yoon-sung is alive and well and reunited with his love in this epilogue, too.)

  
W – Two Worlds and City Hunter are two favorite dramas, so I don’t count these endings against them. But there’s still the question of why. Instead of serving a thematic purpose (as in the melodramas), in W – Two Worlds and City Hunter, the “deaths” of the heroes serve a purely dramatic purpose. We can all agree that life-and-death stakes are important for upping the ante in dramas. After all, drama (from ancient storytelling to the entertainment of today) is about distilling life into a cohesive and meaningful story. So in these examples, the “deaths” are used to further the play between alternate realities, or to solidify a message about the power of love.

  
But did these dramas really need the fake-out death device to finish strongly or to nail their themes? When faced with these kinds of endings, I often ask myself which alternative would have been the most satisfying. Would I feel more or less aggrieved if the drama ended with the hero actually dying? The answer depends on the story, or on how I’m interpreting it, but sometimes, I can’t even tell. Maybe K-dramas aren’t sure either, and that’s why they try to pull off both a tragic and a happy ending in one swoop.

When you think about it, it’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser. You get all the drama and catharsis from a story about heroes who have died while fighting the good fight, or while earning their forgiveness — all while getting a happy ending, too. These dramas want to take you on a rollercoaster, but they also want to prove that good triumphs over evil, and that love is more powerful than hate. After all, that’s the message that we really crave, and want affirmed. So, the next time your K-drama toys around with the “death” of the hero, just think of it as the sincerest kind of fan service.

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Damn @missvictrix, thank you. I love it when DB gets intelligent on such a "mindless" thing as K-dramas. We are paving the path towards a society of enlightened individuals crusading for philosophical drama watching.

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I LOLed

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I loved how you ended this with the death of a hero as the "sincerest kind of fan service." I couldn't agree more. This is bringing me back to the ending of Just Between Lovers. I remember people debating on whether our hero should die or not. If he dies, it sends the message that society fails those who got left behind which is a realistic and important message to make us think. Even though the sociologist in me tried to justify the potential tragic ending, the romantic in me can't stand the idea of our main characters not ending up together. I've also been thinking about this too for Soo Yeon in Where Stars Land.... but instead of death... a more realistic ending where he doesn't get the girl and get the use of his leg/arm back.... (still processing this)

But then I remember this is dramaland and not the real world. Because really, who am I kidding? I want a happy ending even if logic tells me it doesn't make sense. I already know how unkind and unfair the world can be especially these days, so why not give my fictional characters a happy ending. Watching dramas is a relaxing and fun hobby for me to get away momentarily from the world so I don't need reality all the time. I'll take my feel good happy endings to remind me that sometimes miracles can happen.

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Definitely agree with you. Read the news in any country these days and reality will be there ready to greet you with its unjust and cruel truth. Korean dramas offer us solace and hope in humanity when real life can't. And having a happy ending, even a somewhat forced one, is definitely not a bad thing or a lie. I think ending with joy and love can help viewers contribute to happy endings in their own lives and the lives of others.

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I agree. Sometimes, things in Kdramas don't make sense or leave me scratching my head in confusion. Or the writer pulls a Deux ex machina move and I rolled my eyes at how easily everything got fixed.

But let's be honest, if I wanted realism, I would watch something else. What I truly want is 16 hours proving me that in the end, good guys survive and bad guys get punished.

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And then there's Hundred Million Stars From the Sky 😭😭😭
(Sorry, still not over it)

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😭😭😭😭 Will we ever be over it??? 😭😭😭

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Never~~~ 😭😭😭

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Okay, let me add my own 😀
NEVER!!!!!!! 😒😢

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Never watched it but I know what you guys are talking about... :'((

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This is the reason I am stuck at ep 14. My heart can't take what I know is coming up. 🙈

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Whaaaaaaaaat?! 😮😵😩

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And here I am still hoping.. waiting.. for Hundred Million Stars From The Sky's "set to N years later" epilogue but to no avail </3 Maybe they aren't lucky enough to have a happy ending 😭 or maybe the writer's not a fan of "fan service" lol. Good read though @missvictrix! :D

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Wait, City Hunter uses a spoon as a weapon?! I gotta see that 😄

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Shades of MACGYVER, and I mean the original with Richard Dean Anderson, dang it. ;-)

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Is there any other? ;-)

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Yep Lee Minho in the Korean version, City Hunter. 😃

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Personally I'm not a fan of the fake death trope. It undercuts the story told. Of course I'm (temporarily) happy about the happy end but I feel ultimatly unsatisfied with the outcome. It makes me not want to think about the story anymore...

I remember that the hero dies in Cruel City. And then in the epilogue we see someone that could be him somewhere alive. I think fans were debating if it was him or not.

Anyways, I liked that even though there was no happy end for our couple, the story stayed true to it's mellow mood. That the hero lived (or not, depending on your interpretation) gives a bit of hope to the fans. I also wanted him to survive the last episode but then I was so confused by the epilogue that I wondered if the ending wouldn't have been better with him definetly dead... Am still debating. Although it's been a few years since I watched this show.

So in many cases the death of the hero leaves a lasting mark on kdrama fans hearts. Sometimes that leads to us never wanting to rewatch that show again (but it hurts so good) or it makes us think really long and deep about what we just saw.

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This is how I felt about Iljimae (Lee Junki version). The epilogue ruined the drama for me and I prefer not to think about it with the rest of the story.

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I loved Nice Guy\Innocent Man, but it had the absolutely worse ending. How did he become a doctor again? I’m not sure if he had amnesia or face blindness or whatever. It was a happy ending but it was some alternative reality. Both leads ended not as their characters. And rather than feeling happy, I was scratching my head.

Also a notable resurrection, Cruel/Heartless City. I don’t care what the director wanted — he’s dead to me.

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For me, he left in USA to become doctor and he faked his lost of memories to have the life he always wanted before he went in prison.

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Nah... It's Lee Kyung Hee.. Lee Kyung 's drama used to lack logic just to get her message. . Just throw logic out of the window, and enjoy the ride.... Ahhahahhaha.

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Boy, that's exactly what i feel towards Nice guy end, and to this day i'm still mad over it. As you said both weren't themselves at the end, and that's what annoyed me the most. But somehow the drama was still a fun ride.

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About Nice Guy, I think The writers intend to make this kind of ending regardless of the logic how tp get there. The narrative fit. The opening credit when Ma Roo smile and the clock moving forward is the indication Writers Lee was planning the happy ending from the start

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If they wanted him to survive and live happily ever after, make them finally realize how much they love each other and let go of the past. Don’t wipe their history. The amnesia for the nth time was stupid. That didn’t even feel like Maru or Eungi. It was all about making the audience wonder if they will end up together til the very last minute.

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I think the dying scene is necessary. It shows the old dark Ma Roo is died, and ready To be reborn, ready to moving forward. Something like a metaphore. We also can pretend that the time jump is only a dream what could have been.

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I’ve rewatched it so many times. Always stop when he’s laying on the street. I enjoyed it up to there.

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Thanks for a great writeup, @missvictrix. I haven't seen any of these dramas, which is what I get for starting out as a sageuk watcher. ;-) I have encountered various shows in which the protagonist or another character bites the dust. Sometimes it is a shocking but apropos turn of events necessitated by wrongdoing that has to be corrected by karma. I'm looking at you, Moo-yeon in 100 DAYS MY PRINCE, and Moo-young in HUNDRED MILLION STARS FROM THE SKY. I was not entirely happy with the way it played out in the latter, and am still a bit twitchy over the ending of LOOKOUT, although the writing had been on the wall well before then. On the other hand, I could accept the resolution of the just-ended BAD PAPA, a drama that I enjoyed a lot.

In addition to the misleading or even faked death trope that comes in so handy in espionage shows, there's also the Reincarnation Gambit. You know, the one that the audience was cheated out of in MOON LOVERS. -- The one in which the heroine croaks in Goryeo, but her Doppelgänger shows up in 21st-century Seoul at an art exhibition looking at a piece showing Wang So's solitary form dwarfed in the empty palace grounds. The End.

(What, moi bitter, you say? Yer darned tootin'!)

I do appreciate it when True Love extends across lifetimes. BUNGEE JUMPING OF THEIR OWN was my introduction to the concept. It's quite a movie, one of the first Korean films I watched. Another very touching one is WILL YOU BE THERE?

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Me: JUST KILL HIM. I don't need your flowery sickly sweet happy ending epilogue.

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I like happy ends but if it doesn't bother me if the hero died if it's logical with the story. In Bad Guy, I hated so much the end >_<

Personaly, I'm more bothered by the drama that transforms the villain in a nice person at the end and ask us to forget all it happened during the story...

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Good article!

I'm just going to say it. :)
These examples are great but most of these dramas were terribly written. The stories were just plain bad. Nice Guy was possibly the worst. It's just my opinion, sorry people, don't mean to upset anyone. Anyway, some of these even started great, like W, or Cruel City, which should have been there, but the second half went crazy so they belong in the list. I guess the conclusion is the same, fake death is great fan service, but I'm curious as if a good, honestly decent writer has used it in a nice kdrama.

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Punch.

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Then there was LOOKOUT. I’m still pretty sure our antihero, Do-Han, is convalescing in a crypt under that Catholic Church under the caring and watchful eye of his brother while orchestrating the Lookout team as they take down political corruption. Here, the forgiveness and redemption arc was almost complete with a priest right there. But the forgiveness was unspoken and death was his final redemption.

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Ah, I'm still so sad about that.

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As someone who often administers death, THIS!

So, the next time your K-drama toys around with the “death” of the hero, just think of it as the sincerest kind of fan service.

Thank you @missvictrix for your eloquence and insightful analysis.

Serving as the vehicle of plot propellent, i.e. death fakeouts, my action is often the episode's cliffhanger. I demand an apology from those of you who have egged me before finding out the next week that the lead ends up breathing again. Those eggs are seriously hard to wash off my body, and no, they do not condition my skin!!!! 🥚🥚🥚🚐😡

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@sincerelytod Hilarious!

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There, there, @sincerelytod, TOD. You truly are the Rodney Dangerfield of plot movers and shakers (i.e., You don't get no respect). Dopey audience should be throwing eggs at writers and directors who hide behind you. Harumpf!

*sends gift pass for unlimited washes followed by buffing with Turtle Wax, courtesy of the TOD Fan Club*

It's the latest thing in cleanliness, the vehicle jjimjilbang, started by the CEO of Clean With Passion. After a hard day on the set, repair to the truck spa for a nice relaxing soak and exfoliation detailing. You'll feel like a thousand million won, and any unfortunate meetings with eggs will slide right off. Clean With Passion is open 24/7, and will restore you to spiffiness in jig time. ;-)

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I’d rather the dead heroes stay dead. Period.

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I'm glad to know there are viewers who share the same views about deaths in kdramas. Yes, I want them Dead. I want to scream to the writer why he/she killed my favorite character. I want to wallow in my sorrows for the next few days. So, it better not be a fakeout. Let them stay Dead.

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I love this write-up! Great analysis @missvictrix. No wonder DB is the best site for Kdrama analysis and discussions! <3

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Hmmm, this was quite an interesting and thoughtful write up ~ I enjoyed it a lot, @missvictrix and I hope we get to see more such quality content 🤓😘😊

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Occasionally, a third possibility arises in kdrama. In Golden Rainbow, Jung Il Woo's character shoots himself in the head in a suicide attempt. Later, we see him in a wheelchair, disabled due to the consequences of his actions. That really surprised me as I was expecting either a total death or a miraculous recovery, but instead, it turned out to be more realistic. For that reason, that ending has stuck with me longer than many of the other "miraculous recoveries" in other kdramas.

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So, the next time your K-drama toys around with the “death” of the hero, just think of it as the sincerest kind of fan service.
.
I remember in AM 97, a writer-nim resurrected her hero from the cancer death threat simply because the drama was the only joy of the resident cancer patients' lives, and doing otherwise would shatter their hopes. Talk about fan-service!
And yes, it probably annoyed the "analyser/view-with-brains" viewers of that drama (like us!😜😝) , but from AM 97, I too learned to look at this issue from a total different side. Yes, we who demand our dramas well-balanced, well-written and stuff can totally get annoyed when this trope appears in our dramas and it's totally rational and understandable.
But the viewers who watch dramas as an escape route after a harrowing day, or consider them as the only joy of their depressing lives......them wanting their characters living happily-ever-after lives is TOTALLY understandable too.

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Oh, great example! That was a very thoughtful meta moment. :)

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Um, @mary this is random (and totally silly of me), but when I post a reply and cut the data connection halfway through, the reply gets posted as a separate comment.
I sometimes do that because I get this feeling it would save data, but in the end I have to delete the accidental post and redo it anyway, making me feel quite silly.😅
When I completely reload a DB page(or any other), isn't there anything at all like twice-data spending? Or does cache take care of it?

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I’m gonna check on this issue...

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Uh..okay?
*just so if it helps, I've been experiencing this since forever. Most of the time recaps get stained with "post has been deleted" because of me*
P.S. - There. It happened again. Im posting this for the second time, and now there are TWO ugly stains.
P.S. 2- THREE now. I feel like weeping. And I let me page fully load I guess.

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Sorry, it was 3AM for me and I didn't want you to think I ignored the comment so I left a quick reply. .___. The site uses some caching but I wanted to double check if it's helping in your case since you're trying to save bandwidth.

It shouldn't be sending the replies to the bottom though, slow page load or not. That sounds like a bug. I'm gonna look at the code why it's happening.

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You're sweet!
Fun thing- It was night for me too, so after the last reply I went to sleep too. It's only now I saw your reply.😁
Thanks for letting me know that I wasn't trying in vain to save data. (That's what you said right? I'm not much of an IT person)
Goodluck with catching the bug!

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Yep, that's what I mean by checking. So I have two homeworks hehe (1) checking if how much caching is going on and if it's necessary for you to save, cos I know some people have bandwidth limit; I used to have one too, (2) check the reply-to-comment issue, cos it shouldn't be happening even if you stop the page prematurely.

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Ooh yes I remember how much mom pounded the writer to change the ending so that the hospital would be much happier.

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We can have both worlds! :)
It's all about being honest. If it's a more realistic drama even if set in fantasy world, use logic and choose the ending the makes the story greater, forget the general public, the true audience of the work will love it even more.
If it's more unrealistic, it's fine to use every trope in the universe and have fun doing it.

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That's a great way to approach the issue!😃

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I'm an escape-route drama watcher. When I get attached to the characters, I want happy endings! That's why I stopped reading Game of Thrones after the second one, I couldn't take him killing off all the main characters.

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@peony I love this thought! And the whole idea of if writers are responsible for the message they create, on a societal level.

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Sometimes it's actually a good thing that K-Dramas are now mellowing out than before. I dunno if some people here still remember Memories of Bali, but that ending...was nothing short of disastrous to elicit the taste of a true to life ending.

Plus I think realistic endings don't really belong on screen. What we want to watch on television is far from what we have in reality, and that makes it more appealing. It is, SHOWbusiness for a reason ;)

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I have to say it, the ending is about the only thing I remember from Bali. I thought it really fit the story and the JIS character development. I liked it.

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And then there's Gu Family Book...

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That ending wrecked me. The reincarnation at the end couldn't even make it better.

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@alessar Yes...sigh.

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Amazing piece as usual @missvictrix The reasons why I don’t like such endings is the whiplash I get. I wouldn’t mind it if made sense in a greater context but usually it’s a very jarring, almost unnecessary transition.

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I really like your point about melodramas and how "death" is the last stop before the redemption of these guys that have done all these wrongs and especially to the women they loved.

It reminds me of the Tarot card meaning for death which basically marks a big change in life and not actual life ending. I can usually deal with death in dramas (but still be super sad), but there are sometimes, indeed, where I wish another outcome would have happened. Still, this gave me a lot to think about and I appreciate this surprise little essay. O:

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(SPOILERS)

kdramas aren't nearly as bad at this as Chinese dramas. Whenever I go into a Chinese drama I wonder if this is a drama where a hero will die. Sometimes it's done very well and it's a good ending despite the hero dying (Nirvana in Fire and Princess Weiyoung), and sometimes it's done very badly (Princess Agents). You also have a lot of fake outs and most of the times they are very poorly done (Untouchable Lovers and The Flame's Daughter). It's an annoying obsession and I think Chinese dramas takes it even further then Korean ones because about 75% of the Cdramas I have watched either killed their character off or did a fake-out death and I hate the trend. I wish both kdramas and cdramas would move away from it and not use cheap writing tactics to try and get a rise out of their audience.

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Hi have you watched
Youth in your name...

I know it aired 2017 I think, I don't know the leads real names sorry...Chinese shows in general are very difficult for me to follow as I don't understand anything without having to reread subs.

But I can't judge I like Japanese movies, Korean dramas...and just this one specific Chinese drama: Youth in your name...the crappy thing is it's name is similar to Age of Youth which I could not watch past episode 1 in the first series and I keep on getting recommendations for it, 🤣🤗.

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I haven't completed Youth in your name, however why would the show be called that hope it is not some "I can't find the guy lead or the guy lead is no longer with us"🤔🤐🤞

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Let's not forget 'Goblin' where both the hero and heroine died in the series yet still managed to reunite in the end... I think. That ending was confusing.

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I'm just here to say that I love City Hunter and I'm glad he's alive.

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City Hunter is now my 4th favorite drama...

4. City Hunter
3. Healer
2. Angry Mom
1. Chicago Typewriter

They're all Korean but isn't it weird how the English speaking world all understand Korean dramas better after you've watched just one complete kdrama series...of course recapped on dramabeans.

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Oh don't forget Descendants of the Sun. Can't even remember how many times they killed SJK's character. It got ridiculous by the time the drama was over.

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Ahhhhh City Hunter. I know I like that dram but the only memory I have of it was how it ended for the prosecutor. Whyyyyyyyyyyy

P.S. This was a very good read. Hopefully, there are more coming~

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I got in to kdramas big time because of this...I had to know why a certain character was shot...all I knew at the time about the korean entertainment world at the time was Psy...and some movies and/or their remakes...nothing else...

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They also killed Bong Soo in Healer. But then his death had a purpose. He had to die so that Jung Hoo can live.

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I think both Kang Chul and Lee Yoon-sung needed to “die” in order to be reborn into a new destiny. They were characters who had their scripts written for them (literally in Kang Chul’s case) and whose struggle was to take control of the fate forced on them by the men who created/raised them and attempt to deal out justice according to their own principals.
At then end of the story they were not the men they were at the beginning, thus the symbolic death and rebirth.

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