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The emotion of the ocean

Location and setting are used in powerful ways to help tell stories. Korean dramas in particular often capitalize on foreign settings or location changes to give depth and context. But there’s a particular location featured in almost every K-drama that’s become a familiar part of each story: the trip to the ocean.

Because the ocean trips are so omnipresent, it’s easy to grow numb to them as viewers. But there’s more going on in these scenes than great cinematography, the beauty of nature, and pretty people frolicking on the sand. There’s a metaphor going on, too.

So often in life we crave a change in scenery, and getting out of our usual environment often perks us up, and brightens our mood. In K-dramas, trips to the ocean serve a similar purpose. They can break up the monotony of what we’re seeing as viewers on the screen, since scenes usually rotate from interior sets, to neighborhood walks, coffee shops, and bus rides. Ocean scenes can also break the more metaphorical monotony for our characters as well. And when characters are brought into a different setting, they are able to act differently, too.

But it’s not only the change of scenery that’s important here — it’s the emotional and psychological impact of where our characters are, as well. Finding solace (or “tranquil restoration” as poet William Wordsworth called it) in the majesty of nature is also a big part of the ocean metaphor. There’s a reason so many important discussions, decisions, break-ups, make-ups, and realizations happen at the sea. It gives everyone scope to think.

The idea of nature acting as a comfort, and as a place to reflect on life, is actually a part of the tradition of Romantic literature. Many poets and writers of the time told stories or shared thoughts that were triggered by being alone in nature. Romantic literature often features the ponderings of narrators as they gaze at vistas, oceans, and landscapes. What do all of these places have in common? Wide open space that you didn’t realize you were craving. Room to think, even if you don’t know you’re thinking. And space to make decisions, even if there wasn’t one on your conscious mind.

In K-dramas, the ocean has become the place where this happens for our characters. They’re so often drawn, dragged, or called to the sea. Though it sometimes seems tangential, I think there’s something important that happens on a certain level of the story. It can be as simple as a kiss, as structural as a break in the action, or a heavy-handed metaphor on the desire for freedom. Either way, the ocean scenes are there to tell us something.

Park Shin-hye’s heroine in Flower Boy Next Door found a sense of space and freedom when she was at the seashore. A shut-in by choice and out of fear, she slowly starts to interact with the world again, and the scenes of her seeing the ocean are quite moving. The ocean trip in Flower Boy Next Door signals an important shift in the story geographically (getting her out of her apartment), emotionally (she’s highly impacted by the experience and even tears up), and logistically (the hero, played by Yoon Shi-yoon, proudly declares he is going to force her back into the world from now on).

In ocean scenes in The K2 were also used to express freedom for the heroine, played by Yoon-ah. Her character was finally beginning to experience freedom from her fears and phobias — not to mention the elation of falling in love with Ji Chang-wook (can’t blame the girl). Silly though it be, watching her run around the beach in a flowy white dress getting play-chased by Ji Chang-wook provided a nice break in a story that capitalized on the sense of capture and confinement.

The ocean acts as a place of refuge and consolation as much as it does a place of freedom and space (it’s amazing that there are places in nature that can provide all of this!). In Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju, our heroine (Lee Sung-kyung) is taken to the ocean by the hero (Nam Joo-hyuk) in an attempt to cheer her up from the humiliation of her situation. With the help of a beautiful ocean vista, meaningful conversation, and a good companion to share it all with, our heroine’s trip to the sea does her a world of good.

Of course there’s the romance of being at the ocean, as well. In many dramas, it serves to bring lovers together, and offers them a playground. Whether it’s a place where they first confess, where they enjoy each other’s company, or where their relationship recognizes its challenges, you don’t have to look far to find a drama example. Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food, Boyfriend, While You Were Sleeping, Shopping King Louis, Strong Woman Do Bong-soo, and hundreds more — the genre is irrelevant. It’s the place that’s important. Our characters need the ocean as a backdrop for their stories.

If the ocean often acts as a place where couples are drawn together, it can also be a place where they start to pull apart. In Nice Guy, leads Song Joong-ki and Moon Chae-won meet up at an idyllic beach location, but it becomes a place where painful truths are revealed. After all, the ocean is a good place for heartbreak and tragic goodbyes, as well.

Speaking of goodbyes, the ocean can also be the place where stories draw to a close — because what says rom-com happy ending like a smooch overlooking the ocean (like in Lie to Me), or your cast of characters staring out into the sunset, as did F4 + Jan-di in Boys Over Flowers.

I always found it interesting how the ocean was portrayed again and again in K-dramas as such a special place. How many drama characters have shouted out in utter excitement, “Look! The ocean!” (like the college crew in Go Back Couple), and how many more characters have carefully orchestrated visits there?

For a country that is a peninsula with quite a bit of water frontage, there’s this innate sense of awe around the sea that I love. (Maybe because I share it?) No one ever arrives there with disinterest. And, no one ever leaves empty-handed. There’s always some sort of emotional shift in the story that happens, no matter how subtle.

The ocean, as a K-drama location, can encompass so much. It can serve as everything from a break in the action, to a turning point in the story, to a place where characters confess their feelings, or seek refuge. But regardless of how the scenes function in the plot or relate to the story, clearly there’s something special that’s evoked by the ocean. It goes beyond being a cinematic location for a drama shoot. The expanse of the sea taps into an emotion that everyone understands.

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I think the last beautiful ocean scene I saw was in The Crowned Clown. It was a very sad scene but the place made it really beautiful.

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Oh yes that was a tragic and moving scene so well acted by the two lead actors. Sagueks as far as I can recall, seldom have views of the ocean, so this setting made it particularly poignant as it was a scene of death and hard choices made.

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There are a few - mainly if they get out of the palace or are exiled to Jeju. 😂
CHUNO has some epic fight scenes on the beach: the guys slashing their swords through puddles and flying through spraying drops. Possibly my favourite fight scene ever.
And I can’t forget the EMPRESS KI horse riding on the beach. I think the drama ended with that scene to show us it was her happiest moment: when was free.
That’s what the ocean does to me too- it makes me feel free to think and put things in perspective.

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Oh I should watch it one more time. I guess I will wait for "MBC World" like KBS et SBS...

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Yes @kurama! For a young actor I know Yeo Jin-goo has been around this business for a long time starting as a child actor.
TCC is the only drama I have seen him in but I have to think he may have given his best performances as an actor in episodes 7 and 8. The scene on the beach between him and Kim Sang-kyung in episode 8 was outstanding.

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Makes me want to rewatch the Coffee Prince ocean scene again. Actually I just need to do a whole rewatch this summer.

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Any excuse is good for this drama :p

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My favourite beach scene is definitely Reply 1988 - Duk Seon and Taek having the time of their life on the beach. I love how Duk Seon told her friends a few episodes back that there was nothing interesting about this Baduk god cuz he doesn’t talk a lot and all he does is work. But there was never a moment she was bored with his company! The beach scene solidified that and that they can totally be left alone all by themselves and have so much fun. Never a dull moment with these two! That scene was also wonderfully shot with the big bright sunset right behind them.

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Yes that's my favorite scene in the drama too. The first time I started shipping Duk Seon and Taek. They just looked so happy that i fell in love with them.

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The ocean scenes in The Light in Your Eyes made me cry. There's nothing more powerful and moving than the beauty and majesty of Nature.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
~ William Blake ~

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It was also powerful because the sea reminded these elderly people of their childhood memories and happy times. Now that I think of it, it has a lot of meaning that the heroine first found the watch on the beach!

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This drama was my first thought when reading the title. The show is bookended by scenes on a beach. The forever stretch of the sea can signal both a beginning and an end (or another beginning at that end). Lovely bit of imagery.

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I actually live next to the sea - Atlantic Ocean and like some characters in dramas, when there's something bothering me I love to go to this wild northern coast and get my had stroke by that violent wind and listen to the waves breaking on rocky cliffs. There I realize that mother nature is stronger as a man who tries to prove opaque.

One of the funny ocean scenes is when Kim Sun-ah is dreaming, joyfully playing in the ocean, about her dream guy and it will happen few episodes later. She is having a blast and Lee Dong-wook is smitten by her playfulness that his worries got forgotten for a while.

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I’m so jealous. My dream is to live by the sea.

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Mine was as well, but I miss my mountains so much! We always wish for things we don't have...

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BC = British Columbia?

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Brittany Coast 😉

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I live near a big lake and mountains and I really like it. I couldn't live without water near me I think.

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I don't need huge surfaces of water, I grew up in hills, under one beautiful stratovulcano surrounded by forests so I miss my mushroom haunting, picking medicinal plants and wild strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. The sound of little spring making its way through some rocks or fields is as soothing as the sound of breaking waves for me, the sound of nature with almost no tourists around is the best healer I know.

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I love "Weightlifting fairy kim bok ju" so much that I love every scene of that drama. So I love ocean scene too. The scene is beautiful, relatable and heartwarming also. I also love the pop of color of her jacket against white sand.
Never been to ocean personally so hopefully one day I will visit ocean n do all the drama things.
crossing my fingers

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The ocean holds so many sentimental memories for me as well because I live right next to it. It always brings an all-encompassing sense of comfort and peace, reminding our characters of how truly vast the world is and how small their story is.

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Beautifully said.

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Mr. Sunshine: the scene at the ocean was THE ONLY TIME that the couple seemed hopeful and carefree. It was the one scene in the drama where I wasn't worried that they would get caught, killed, or separated. (So thank you for this memory, because until you wrote this I never associated the ocean as having such an important part in a drama. I never realized how vital of a character the ocean might play.)

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Im rememberig that scene in still 17 where the leads confide in each orher by the beach. Love it. Incidentally, being in front of waters helps me recuperate too

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Because This Is My First Life - Episode 12(?) Sae Hee and Ji Ho at the beach.
Mother - Soo Jin and Hye Na watching migratory birds at the oceanside.

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Yes to Because This is My First Life - its literally the ocean that help them to breath, talk, and have courage to step up and change for the better. For Ji Ho to finally confessed her feeling, and for Se Hee to muster the courage of falling in love again.

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God, I really didn’t want to be the first person to mention BTLIOF. Thank you for doing it for me. Just seeing the ocean makes me think of that show. Well, I guess almost everything makes me think of it...

Plus, along with the beautiful conversation and kiss, the hilarious after-kiss scene is absolute gold. Ji-ho being so into the kiss that she doesn’t hear her phone ringing and just continues to blissfully eat his face as he’s trying to say “Jiho-ssi? Jiho-ssi?” is the best post-kiss scene ever, hands down. And when she gets all mad at her mom for interrupting and tells her “We’re at the beach! We’re looking at the ocean!” in her awesome satoori and Se-hee immediately turns and looks at the ocean.

I like that drama a little bit.

Also, Mother!!!! 💖 Excellent taste, my Beanie!!

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yes the ocean scene in BTIMFL is really beautiful. Thank u for reminding. I completely forget abt that. The kiss , the sunset all good but the most heartwarming part was the dialogue n poetry leading to the kiss. I went back and read dramabeans recap of that episode for the poetry.
The fact that someone comes to you
is actually a tremendous thing.
Because he
and his past
and the present
and
also his future come with him.
Because his life comes with him.
It’s easily broken
and therefore could have broken
the heart that comes.

Easily broken, the heart that might have been broken… that heart came to me.”

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The poetry. The scenes building up when they met. Lovely.

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I'm just here to say that you are a very talented writer, @missvictrix . Like, REALLY talented. thank you for sharing this reflective post.

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@kethysk and @mintkiri thank you so much for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it ^_^

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"The expanse of the sea taps into an emotion that everyone understands." this is just beautiful... i grew up by the sea and i never grew tired of it, it never fails to give me comfort

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As a long time fan of Korean drama whenever i see a scene in the beach I always thought that it's their last time to be together and they will be breaking up or parting ways after that scene and it always happened. Been watching korean dramas for a long time now and I already knew some of the places that will be included in the drama like the Beach, The Airport, The scene underwater. Eventhough I saw those scenes in every drama I still enjoy them it's part of it :D

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Splish Splash Love... ^.^

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