[2018 Year in Review] Finding myself in dramas
by Guest Beanie
I’ve been watching dramas for quite some time now, and though I’ve loved and related to certain characters, 2018 marked the first year that I actually found myself in a drama. It wasn’t a character I expected to connect with either, especially considering that this year’s dramas included several characters who seemed a closer fit.
In 100 Days My Prince, Hong-shim is the unmarried “spinster” romanced by the hilariously straight-laced and “uncomfortable” Lee Yul. Despite falling on hard times as a displaced-noble-turned-mystery-solving-vegetable-forager, she maintains a bright, cheery optimism pegging her as more of a sageuk Candy. Though certain details of our lives might overlap, I did not fully recognize myself in Hong-shim.
While I also remain unmarried past the culturally expected age, our personalities are basically polar opposites. While I fully enjoyed Hong-shim’s antics, I did not see myself in her because if there’s one thing I’m not, I’m not someone who always looks at the bright side of life. Instead, I’m the one staring directly into the void just to see how black the darkness actually gets. You know the type.
100 Days My Prince
For the same reason, though I found the plight of the eternal optimist Woo Seo-ri in Thirty But Seventeen entirely relatable, I did not truly see myself in her. Like Seo-ri, I face real physical limitations that hamper my ability to chase down my dreams. Though my issues do not stem from having spent years in a coma, I’m quite often faced with a significant gap between what my brain believes my body can do and what it can actually do. The gap is disconcerting, and I found Seo-ri most relatable when her hands couldn’t respond to her brain’s signals as she struggled through complex musical passages on her violin.
Also, like Seo-ri, I often feel as if I’m not a “real adult.” Though I’d technically qualify as an ajumma in the Dramaverse, adulthood has turned out to be nothing like what I expected. I’d always imagined that when I reached this age, I’d have a better sense of how to handle myself and my issues, yet here I am, still flailing.
Thirty But Seventeen
Despite these similarities, I didn’t really see myself in Woo Seo-ri, mostly because throughout Thirty But Seventeen, Woo Seo-ri carried a brightness with her that I could never hope to match. Even when she cried, we knew the storm clouds would quickly part, allowing her joy to burst through like sunlight. While I do hold on to hope, my efforts are less obvious, low and soft like an ember in a dying fire; easy to miss because the glow’s half buried in ash.
With this image in mind, it may come as no surprise that the drama in which I recognized myself this year was My Ajusshi.
For me, this was the drama of 2018.
The stark, melancholy tone sounded a note that resounded deep in my soul. This was a world in which it was difficult to hold onto hope, a world I knew down to the bones. These were struggles I recognized, with people I could relate to, and messy, complicated relationships that felt familiar in all their glorious dysfunction.
Though I sympathized deeply with Lee Ji-an and rooted for her to find a measure of peace and safety, it was to Park Dong-hoon with whom I found myself truly empathizing. His life wasn’t so bad, but it wasn’t all that great. Park Dong-hoon is competent in his job, yet largely unrecognized. He’s knee-deep in a dissatisfying marriage and forced to take care of an emotionally needy family. He’s obviously thoughtful and kind, yet My Ajusshi showed him slogging through a rough patch of adulthood and on the receiving end of very little personal care and affection.
His tight-knit friend group (including his brothers, soccer friends, and drinking buddies) are an exception. Yet like all real friends, they’re often exasperating, even downright unhelpful at times. But they always have his back—even when they’re really annoying about it. As we are to discover along the way, Dong-hoon’s friends are both the balm for his troubles as well as the root of some of them. As in real life, it’s complicated.
I won’t try to summarize My Ajusshi because that would be impossible—you really must watch it. One of the main premises of the show is that it’s not necessarily what happens to you that makes the biggest difference—it’s who you love and how you show that love.
One of our deepest desires is to be loved. Because we want people to love us so badly, we’re often tempted to hide our shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures. We erect walls to keep our friends and family from suspecting our true depths. Only after we’ve successfully hidden the worst of ourselves do we realize we’ve actually facilitated a false love—a love based on an illusion. This is a true tragedy, for to be loved without being known is nearly worse than not being loved at all. To be truly known and truly loved is actually our greatest desire, and this was the need that Park Dong-hoon and Lee Ji-an met for each other.
I saw myself in a drama this year, and the truth is that it wasn’t at all what I expected. I’m neither a brave noblewoman in disguise nor a plucky young heroine. Instead, I’m an ajumma version of Lee Sun-kyun’s ajusshi. All things considered, I suppose it could be worse, and I walk away from this year in dramas with the opportunity to take a powerful lesson to heart.
While many factors impacting my life are beyond my control, I must remember that I am an agent of change and that the choices I make can have long-lasting impacts. Moving forward, I hope to leave behind the ajusshi of the drama’s opening and instead model Park Dong-hoon of the final episodes: perhaps a bit world-weary, but still warm, kind, and actively invested in making a difference on behalf of lonely souls.
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