Korean Dramas & Family Relations
Lately, I’ve noticed something about the dramas I’ve been watching, which is that I’ve been finding — more so than the big dramatic romantic turns — that the most affecting, moving moments are family-related. There’s just something that Korean dramas do that captures family elements so well. They don’t try to make you cry with the SADNESS! and ANGST!, but with little heartfelt moments.
Whenever I read an article about the reason for the Korean Wave/Hallyu‘s recent popularity, there’s a mention about the focus of family in kdramas that set it apart from their more sensational, sexy Western counterparts. While not all kdramas are family-related, there often are very strong family undercurrents, even when the main story is about crime, about the workplace, romance, whatever.
It’s not exactly a drama, but there’s an episode of the sitcom Nonstop 5 (episode #244) that shows a perfect example of what I mean, in a bite-sized, 20-minute package. Watch it after the jump.
A while ago, I started watching Nonstop 5 kind of by accident. I don’t usually watch sitcoms, partly because they’re daily and therefore more effort to keep up with (although I have started casually watching High Kick). Aside from usually topping out at more than 200 episodes, sitcoms in Korea haven’t quite achieved the stellar quality of their drama series, so they often feel a little awkward to me.
But after stumbling across Nonstop 5, I got hooked on the character relationships. It’s also a rather brilliant idea, marketing-wise. Put a bunch of attractive young, rising or B-level stars into a sitcom together, and their respective fans flock to the series, exposing them to the other stars. Furthermore, by using actors’ real names instead of fictional character names, we start to feel affinity for the actors as well as the characters. I started out being a casual fan of Lee Minwoo and Tablo, and came out of the series won over by every person in the cast. Brilliant marketing strategy. Americans should do something like that. And no, Laguna Beach does not count.
Anyway, although the show’s over a year old, recently the final stretch of episodes were completed with subbing and released over at soompi. Rewatching them, I remembered how much I loved this “Family” episode. No matter how many times I watch it (and you end up watching things a LOT when you sub them), it makes me tear up every. single. time.
(Picture features Nonstop 5 cast: Tablo, Park Jinwoo, Lee Jung, Lee Minwoo, Kang Kyung Joon, Han Hyo Joo, Jo Jung Rin, Hong Su Ah, Gu Hye Sun)
The G.O.D. song featured in the Su Ah portion (“To My Mother,” posted above) always makes me tear up despite seeming, on the surface, kind of frivolous. Basically, the song is about the rapper recalling his youth (not sure which one it’s about), when they were so poor they would eat ramen all the time. His father died when he was young, and his mother struggled to provide for him. One day, he was so sick of ramen that he begged his mother for something else, and she took out some money she’d saved away and ordered one serving of jjajangmyun. He was so thrilled, and wondered why his mother didn’t order any for herself, but she told him she disliked jjajangmyun. At the time, he didn’t understand that she was being self-sacrificing; he only remembered how happy his mother looked, watching him eat so excitedly.
Lee Seung Hwan – “Family” (가족). This song by one of Korea’s premier balladeers (old-school, late nineties) is used at the close of the Nonstop 5 episode, and was also used as one of the main theme songs of the SBS series Bad Family.
Speaking of which…
In case you’re not big on “traditional” family stories — a valid complaint, because not everyone comes from a cohesive nuclear family unit, and it’s fair to feel disenfranchised if that’s all you ever see represented in the media — there’s 2006’s lovely, hilarious, heart-warming series Bad Family.
The second of SBS’s “Bad” series (the third being the recently premiered Bad Couple), Bad Family takes a group of seven motley strangers, all of whom lack a family in the traditional sense (and most of them in the literal sense, too), who are thrown together to act as a fake, surrogate family on behalf of a little girl. At the outset of the series, each person is terribly unsuited for their position, but they grow to be a family and heal the wounds each family member has been harboring, providing a place and a home that they’d been lacking.
Bad Family OST – “Family” (가족). This is one of the series’ main themes, and is a remade version of the same Lee Seung Hwan song above, with the actors providing backup vocals in the chorus.
I’d actually thought of writing this post many times, but lately, watching the criminally underrated Flowers For My Life pushed me to finally get around to it. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to be a drama focused on family — its premise is more about life and death — but family relationships have been taking the fore lately, and the series is doing a wonderful job presenting them in a way that tugs at the heart.
Episode 5, for instance, had two mother storylines (which always get me) about women who’d lost their sons, and offered peace and closure for both. In Episode 8, a normally brash, unsentimental woman goes to lengths to preserve her daughter’s opinion of her, which brings two women who’d been at odds with each other together as mothers. And in Episode 9, a young man abandoned by his birth father finally confronts the one who’d lived all his life trying not to dwell on his feelings of guilt for having abandoned his family.
And for some reason, that Flowers For My Life pic made me think of this one in Dal Ja’s Spring. It’s another show that isn’t primarily about family, but still has its touching family moments, particularly between Chae Rim’s Dal Ja character and her mother.
The fact that Dal Ja is a successfully thirtysomething woman with a satisfying career and burgeoning romance with Lee Minki only underscores just how important her familial roots are, because after everything is said and done, her loyalty to her mother is what shakes her the most. It’s what forces her to grow a spine against the manipulative ex-wife of Eom Ki Joong (aka Crazy Wife), as well as being the one thing she will not compromise. People can mess with her, with her job, with her boyfriend, but you touch her mother and you will regret it.
And, finally, last but not least, there’s the series that’s on my mind lately, 1994’s Feeling / Neukkim. As one of the earliest trendy dramas, the series was mostly about the lives and relationships of young twentysomethings, but at the core of the drama, even foremost above the romance plotlines, was the brotherly relationship between the three Han boys: Bin, Han and Joon (Son Ji Chang, Kim Min Jong, Lee Jung Jae). Despite the various things that threaten to disrupt their relationship, in the end the brothers remain unshaken.
There’s tons more I could say, but I’ll leave it here:
Happy Father’s Day all!