[Short but sweet] A promise of unpredictability
by Guest Beanie
After spending 8 years as a K-drama fan, I couldn’t help recognizing its familiar patterns: the kinds of characters dramas use, the ways plots unfold, the problems they explore, and how they wrap stories up. At one point, I even started to see where and what kind of plot twist might strike. Watching dramas then, became more about finding comfort in familiarity. Of course there are still some twisty dramas to content myself with, but most often than not, drama watching became something I enjoyed but didn’t always relate to emotionally.
This is where KBS’s Drama Special shines as a drama format. The show broadcasts anually towards the end of the year and specifically deals with one-hour-long stories. Characterized by smaller budgets, recently debuted writers and directors, and relatively unknown casts, the format has freedom to explore more unusual narratives and tell them in unexpected ways. Each year, Drama Special gives a new promise of unpredictability in the K-drama landscape by focusing on smaller moments without following the typical patterns. The general absence of pressure to build ratings and buzz helped this program thrive and produce a continuous stream of gems.
My first encounter with this yearly program happened when I was busy searching for my next crime-themed drama fix. While there were many quirky and dark procedurals around, the drama specials left the biggest impression on me as the stories told were about everyday, normalized crimes that we might’ve committed in real life.
Legendary Shuttle talked about the crime of willful ignorance as it pertained to a school bullying incident. Unlike other dramas that focus heavily on the perpetrator and victim’s point-of-view, this little story brought us to the world of the silent bystanders. It asked us viewers in a hilarious, yet cutting way what would we do and how would we feel if we were “re-positioned” and had to experience each other’s designated roles.
Then departing to a darker story, we got A Culprit Among Friends, a tale about the crime of abandonment. Starting with an alleged murder of a young woman, the story quickly delved into the aftermath of an assault and rape that might’ve been behind that shocking incident. At first, I thought this was just another whodunit drama, but it left me stunned by showing how often we hurt people and cut them deeper by projecting our own feelings and stop listening to what they actually need. In this case, it was guilt and shame for not being able to help. That rape might’ve been the thing that ripped protagonist Chae-ryung’s world apart, but it was her close friends’ defensiveness around her and their unwillingness to reach out their hands that ultimately prevented her from putting her broken life back together.
Forgotten Season is a drama special that still haunts me because of its frank depiction of ordinary people committing crimes of selfishness in their daily lives. It’s a story about people living tough lives, struggling to survive that they put their heads down and refuse to see what’s happening around them. It’s about people who so doggedly pursue an elusive happiness that they aren’t willing to let anything deter their progress. But what if that “anything” involves ignoring a shout for help from the girl next door? Turning a blind eye to the disappearance of the helpful and kind part-timer downstairs? What’s the meaning of success then when it has happened at the expense of others’ lives?
The Long Goodbye
This sense of unpredictability wasn’t exclusive to crime-themed dramas. It was also apparent in the extensive collection of their love stories. Given the relatively narrow topics full-length romance dramas delve into, it’s probably to be expected that the most memorable stories for me were those with profound “love doesn’t conquer all” message. The Long Goodbye with its office romance gone wrong. Dancing the Waltz Alone and its exploration of a couple’s last stage of dating before their eventual painful yet somehow peaceful breakup. Then there’s the sci-fi romance My Happy Home, which makes the angsty phase in recent robot dramas look comparably tame. These stories successfully took advantage of the short episode format to touch upon difficult but relatable themes that are rarely being explored. It offered another perspective about romantic love and told it matter-of-factly, unexpectedly cutting in its frankness.
Another form of unpredictability comes from dramas that focused on exploring problems instead of offering solutions. It was a novelty to get into these people’s heads and experience what they are going through for an hour. These specials showed a deft and strong directorial touch, letting us feel what those characters felt and making us process information they way they did.
Chagall’s Birthday took us into painful but eventually liberating journey of a widow who found out that her late husband had been attracted to his younger coworker. Hurt by the betrayal and frustrated by the impossibility of having a proper confrontation, she tried to re-define the meaning of love and affair. Is it truly an affair if one never actually acted on it? What about the fact that the girl also liked him back without knowing about his feelings?
Meanwhile, Slow took a dive into the world of a young promising baseball athlete who experienced mental block and extreme anxiety. It was a dreary and tense world where even the smallest action and word made a loud, distressing impact. It felt like a huge success when our lead finally learned to loosen up a bit, punctuated by the unraveling tension in the scene that let viewers also take a deep breath.
No matter the genre, these short tales continue to incorporate a touch of unpredictability in their stories. But instead of coming from carefully placed plot twists; it was simply a result of frank story telling. That in itself was the outcome of an acknowledgment that life isn’t as polished and structured as dramaland would suggest. Life is messy with too much uncertainty. It’s only through embracing that reality that we get to experience life’s bursts of brilliance and have something precious to look back on.
Dancing the Waltz Alone
Tags: Theme of the Month