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[Changing Tastes] The leap from makjang to mundane


Misaeng

By @graey

For as long as I can remember, our local TV stations have been airing K-dramas and have even made a timeslot especially for them. But I only became interested in them after watching Baker King Kim Tak-gu. I was immediately taken in by Tak-gu and his tough road to success. Despite the makjang in it, there was something sincere and down-to-earth about it. That feeling stuck with me and left me wanting more. But I only casually watched dramas like Temptation of Wife and Giant until I watched Secret in one sitting and fell into the hole that is K-drama addiction. And even then, I was only interested in melodramas and watched the likes of Angel Eyes, Operation Proposal, and Nice Guy.

Melodramas always managed to capture my heart despite how ridiculous they were or became. In fact, I might’ve liked them because they were so distanced from reality that I could just turn my brain off and be entertained. The predictability turned into a positive type of familiarity which felt warm and cozy. Watching them gave me a rollercoaster kind of feeling in that I could see the twists and turns from afar but I screamed when they came anyway, not to mention the mixed bag of feelings. The heartbreak of seeing half of the OTP not recognize the other because of truck-of-doom-induced-amnesia. The satisfaction of seeing birth secrets finally come to light. The glorious feeling after the leads get their well-deserved happy ending after being thrown every obstacle out there.


Misaeng

But then I stumbled upon Dramabeans. It somewhat felt like I entered some sort of wonderland where I got to read about the dramas I enjoyed immensely and read about how others feel the same way. But what really amazed me was how much fans actually thought while watching dramas while I was suspending disbelief left and right without care. I watched dramas because, as an over-thinker and worrywart, I found them relaxing. So I was fascinated by how people, the recappers especially, deconstructed dramas and that elevated my watching experience. I became addicted to DB and read pretty much every article I could get my hands on.

And while doing so, I happened to read a Year in Review where a certain drama caught my eye because of the reviews. That drama was Misaeng and I hesitantly started it. It was difficult to watch but seeing Jang Geu-rae get left behind searching through containers of squid was so incredibly heart-wrenching that I decided that I had to see him succeed and be that guy in the prologue. This decision changed me and the way I saw K-dramas forever. I was afraid that it would put me to sleep but it put me at the edge of my seat countless times. Presentations had never been so nerve-wracking (and they weren’t even mine!). I never knew that a boss calling his subordinate “our kid” could be so touching. And I definitely never knew that a drama could be so heartbreaking without crying scenes.


Miss Korea

I watched Miss Korea soon after, which was like sipping coffee on a rainy day. Then Answer Me 1988 which pretty much wrung all the tears out of my eyes. And then Cheese in the Trap which was refreshing for at least half of its run. Dear My Friends broke my heart into a million pieces. And Age of Youth made me feel like I’ve found my soulmate in drama form. Slice-of-life dramas show that characters don’t have to be super-rich or super-poor or super-tragic to be interesting. The people working for the chaebol CEO can be interesting main characters. And CEOs aren’t always rich, some are on the verge of bankruptcy. The heroine doesn’t have to work a million part-time jobs to deserve her happy ending. And there’s still something after the happy ending. In-laws, parents, and grandparents can be main characters too. They can be more than the obstacle to an OTP. And female characters can be friends without fighting over guys.

Of course, even these mundane dramas can be very dramatic. There are still villains whose actions don’t make as much sense as the rest of the series. I’ve even seen the truck of doom a few times. But what I most find endearing with slice-of-life dramas is that they can move me and make me feel various emotions without making me feel like they want to move me. They do it so subtly, I find myself tearing up uncontrollably, unknowingly.

And whereas makjang is a staple in dramaland, slice-of-life dramas show up rarely. But because they’re rare, they feel more precious. Slice-of-life isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It might even feel like watching them defeats the purpose of watching dramas. I’ve been called masochistic for liking “depressing” stuff. And, well, I guess it is kind of weird that I’m watching dramas that can be too painfully real at times to escape from real life.

I haven’t watched a melodrama in a long while so I’m not sure how I feel about them now. But, I guess, it speaks volumes that I haven’t tried watching again since the wind blew me to a side of dramaland that I never knew of before. And I’ll happily stay here.


Dear My Friends

 
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Yep, I'm with you. Thanks for sharing your journey. (And Baker King is a pretty awesomely epic entry point into dramaland!)

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"I became addicted to DB and read pretty much every article I could get my hands on."

I'm telling you, you are not alone. I totally agree that knowing what other people thinks about the drama you are watching/watched is a very good feeling but the best thing here is we are given a bigger world to express how we feel about just anything and you can always feel the connection because we are all here out of our love for dramas. :)

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Up until today, I read Dramabeans every single day. I read the recaps after I watch an episode, because I don't like spoilers, but even reading them after watching still elevates my watching experience and helps me understand things more deeply and find out about things that I missed. So sometimes I go over certain parts of the drama just to feel or see what's written in the recaps that I missed the first time.

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Unfortunately dramaland produces very less slice of life genre dramas. But I believe they are eventually realising it that there is an audience even in Korea that likes such dramas. And even fhough they might not be producing many slice of life dramas, they have turned towards underdog heroes and generally characters that seem more human.
I beleive kdramaland best produces slice of life genre among all others but they make it less.

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Aww, thank you for this post! So well-written. ? Indeed, slice of life dramas are harder and harder to come by, but so rewarding when they come. What I love most about them, the ones I've seen anyway, is, as you said, how they show what happens after the happily ever after. Life keeps on going, after you've overcome one hurdle there comes another. That was my fave part of Miss Korea, when my expectations were subverted and they showed us that her winning Miss Korea was never the end, and actually wasn't the point in the first place. It's what also really gutted me about AOY, seeing how Ye-eun struggled after what her psychotic ex had done to her, and how she wasn't okay yet at the end of the drama. We won't see what exactly happens to her until AOY2 comes out. But still, I'm glad that that's how it ended for her. It's okay to show we won't always be okay. We get hurt and we struggle. We fight and we live on and that's how we win.

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You touched on a part of AOY that I really really loved. And that was Ye Eun's ending scene in the final episode. I thought it was so great (and heartbreaking) for them to show that startled response from her in the middle of a crowded street. She went through an incredibly traumatic experience and it would have been such a disservice for them to wrap it up with a neat bow like everything was fine.

Life is not going to be great for her, for the foreseeable future. There's a lot of healing that she's going to have to go through and painful emotions that she'll have to fight through. And maybe she won't ever be fully okay or completely 'healed' idk. But the point hopefully will be that life keeps going and she'll have the support system of her friends to lean on and make every day at least okay or better than the last.

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Ah! Hearing a Jang Gue-rae talk about Misaeng (I stalked a bit ?) I only ever hear about this drama and I swear I'll watch it soon (..someday). And Baker King! Yoon Shi-yoon! Ddabong indeed ? I watched it all those years ago on local TV and I didn't even know it was makjang! It felt fresh, new and sincere back then. Hopefully, even it feels that way too, when I rewatch it (...someday)

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You won't be sorry for watching Misaeng. I have a written list of all the k-dramas I've watched, which is getting close to 200, and it's easily in the top three for me. I love this one. Watch it, watch it! ?

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Are you also from the Philippines? I, too, have become really attached to kdramas because of Baker King. I can't believe it's 7yrs ago already, I could still remember complaining *spoiler* that he didn't end up with his first love. Anyways, thank you for sharing us your journey from makjang to mundane!

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Yes! I just now watched Baker King and couldn't believe they ended the romance that way!

I don't like makjang that much, but things like this and Jang Bori just draw you in with the crazy and then you can't stop.

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ah yep. I still have this memory of joo won and eugene sitting tgt in a grassy place(?) and being shocked that the first love isn't end game lol

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You must be annoyed too (well maybe it's just me) that kdramas became extremely mainstream in our country. Going back, ughh the still can't accept the ending.

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"Like sipping coffee on a rainy day" Exactly! ?

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Thank you for a lovely post! I agree with you, once the sparkly newness wears off of kdramas- it's the realistic slice-of-life dramas that end up owning me. Misaeng was my first (real drama) as well, and just thinking about it brings a lump to my throat. The emotions have stayed with me, 1 1/2 years and countless dramas later... we are all misaeng

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Same. In my case its 2 years and the wait continues for an equally good show to come out of dramaland.

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First off, you're so strong for getting through Baker King. I wanted so badly to complete that drama because I loved almost everything about it, especially the acting. It was the first true makjang I watched. Unfortunately, it left me with rising stress levels and blood pressure every single episode and I just had to quit for my emotional health.

Like you, I absolutely adore slice-of-life dramas. Some might see them as mundane like you pointed out, but there's something so beautiful about seeing normal people encounter every-day obstacles and work through them. I find it relaxing and motivating in a way. Kind of like a subtle, 'you're not alone, today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow, you'll be okay at the end'.

Things don't always have to be super-dramatic for a happily-ever to feel satisfying. And sometimes it doesn't need to be a happily-ever type of ending. It's okay for the ending to just be like "and that's life and they'll keep on living it".

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Love your writing. I love love love slice of life dramas. And reply 1997 was my first slice of life and I fell in love with it. It was just so different and refreshing that I couldn't stop telling all my siblings about it. At that time, I didnt know it was even called a slice of life drama. I just told them it was a drama that was realistic, not dramatic, and different. And then I watched In time with you, a Taiwanese drama and I realised that slice of life was going to be my best genre. Over time, I have watched so many, and I have come to value other forms of relationships more. E.g before I used to cry during romantic scenes, but now I cry during a family bonding moment. It's crazy.

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"E.g before I used to cry during romantic scenes, but now I cry during a family bonding moment. It's crazy."
So true! Family bonding, friendships, reaching your goals, etc that's what has me bawling.

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I'm sorta the opposite. I came to K-drama and immediately took a dislike to makjang as it seemed kind of like an American soap opera. They are still not my favorite as I tend not to go for the melos too often, but I have to admit makjang can be done well. I've managed to view a few and am more open minded about it, but still it has to be just a tiny sliver of my k-drama diet. I can't handle more than that.

You'll have to let us know if you try another again.

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Out of curiosity, what makjang dramas did you like? It's not my favorite sub-genre, but I found moments in most I've seen which were good and kept me watching in hopes of getting more good moments.

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I would put Perfect Wife and Mask in makjang territory. Neither drama was perfect but I watched until the end and overall was entertained.

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Absolutely agree with everything you wrote. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, a lot of that resonated with me! I have realized recently that I prefer sad songs and depressing shows or movies, maybe because they're just a little bit more realistic? I'm sure it says something about me, but I love slice of life and love how these dramas can teach me much more about life than a melo can.

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Misaeng was a turning point for me too! A friend introduced me to kdrama through the sillier, sweeter romantic comedies that were great for relaxing. (You're Beautiful, I'm looking at you.) Then she watched Misaeng and kept nagging me to watch it so she'd have someone to share it with. I'm forever grateful to her! Misaeng felt like my life in my twenties, and, even though the work culture is very different, every character was relatable and real!

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"Slice-of-life isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It might even feel like watching them defeats the purpose of watching dramas. I’ve been called masochistic for liking “depressing” stuff. And, well, I guess it is kind of weird that I’m watching dramas that can be too painfully real at times to escape from real life."

My sentiment exactly!
This applies to watching Western movies as well, for me. I remember watching Mystic River and feeling gutted but absolutely loving it.

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Thank you for saying that slice of life dramas are not everyone's cup of tea because I always think that they are everybody's cup of tea. Haha. Almost every slice of life drama that I watched are wonderfully executed that's why I'm loving them more and more.

I love that in slice of life dramas it points to the fact that everyone is the main character in his or her own life. They might not be millionaires but their life can be equally interesting. Most importantly, it's very difficult for them to get what they want. And that's precisely what makes their achievements very rewarding at the end.

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"I love that in slice of life dramas it points to the fact that everyone is the main character in his or her own life. "
Yes! I love that too. You don't have to be this or that to be special and for your life to have worth/meaning.

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It was fun reading about your journey, though part of me thinks shows like Misaeng, Age of Youth, and Dear My Friends are so good it's hard to not gravitate towards them.

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It was hard to watch Misaeng because I can relate with it so much that it hurts. But, I really love this kind of slice of life drama. J-Dorama usually excels in this genre, but when K-drama does it right, it slips into the special place in my heart.

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My first KDrama: The Princess's Man, what a ride! Still today the best drama I have watched.
Only Return of Iljimae rivals it for me.
I however enjoy all kinds of drama, from silly ones to serious ones, i'm kind of addicted, which my friends don't understand at all. Why watch Asian series with subtitles (100% European) when Americans have so many awesome series, well, I do enjoy game of thrones but there is something about KDramas.. I need my weekly fix. Found a great website where I can download all the dramas I want in Full HD and with subtitles for a very cheap monthly fee.

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Yes, I love how much emotion a good writer can wring out of the most mundane events. I just started re-watching 1998 with my daughter, and I cried during all the sweet parent/ child moments. On the other hand, I can watch actors scream and wail in makjang scenes without feeling anything at all. I wish there were more slice-of-life dramas.

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