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[Escapism vs. Realism] Lookin’ at life through drama-colored glasses


While You Were Sleeping

Now, I had to think about this for a second. Do I reach for entertainment for the accuracy to life? Or for the escape from life? It almost seemed like a trick question. I’ve always been an in-betweener—socially, politically, whatever—and I feel that I’m also caught in the middle here. I watch for both reasons. However, I will say that it’s a completely different story when it comes to dramas.

Dramas have always felt like otherworldly beings to me. They came with a set list of tropes and expectations, and those expectations would be met every single time. Personally, I like knowing exactly what I’m going to get. I’ll get a swoony drama hero, a lovable heroine. There will be angst, there will be romance. The bad guy will get his comeuppance, and our couple will get a happy ending (often cemented with the obligatory picnic in a park).

Each drama is capable of being its own, but I can be rest assured that they’ll follow that formula or a formula of similar nature. And yet, these shows still surprise me in different ways. They put their own spin on these tropes and manage to hit me on another level, as if I’m experiencing them for the first time. That’s what I want dramas to be: familiar but different.


Strong Woman Do Bong-soon

To me, dramas are the friends I turn to when I need to relax or when I need to recover from a hard day—the friends who help shut out the rest of the world. And if I escape my own world, of course I’d prefer escaping to the most exciting world possible. I’d want to hang out with aliens and goblins and unnis with Herculean strength. I mean, who wouldn’t?

A lot of my favorites this year have been on the more realistic side, such as the intense and gritty Forest of Secrets and the quiet and relatable Age of Youth 2, but these aren’t the dramas I automatically turn to. In fact, no matter how much I loved them, the actual viewing process was definitely more of an effort. They’re just too familiar. Too close to real life. And sometimes, that makes it too tough of a watch. Frankly, I get enough of ordinary life in my life.

The dramas with supernatural elements or so-ridiculous-it-doesn’t-make-sense elements have the most appeal. Even makjangs can seem appealing when I’m in the right mood. After all, Korean dramas do a great job of having ridiculous situations or ridiculous characters and still making them relatable. They allow the escape I want while still holding onto some form of realism. If you can get a healthy balance of the two, I’m almost always all in. They give me the chance to experience life through someone else’s eyes. They’re easy to watch, easy to swoon over, even if they’re cheesy.


Shopping King Louis

The best part about fantasy is that they make everyday life seem better than it is. I mean, come on, how many times can you say you’ve had a perfectly atmospheric kiss with cherry blossoms sprinkling down and Roy Kim singing in the background? Never. (If you have experienced that, you just earned my jealousy.) But that’s what makes fantasy so addicting—that surreal, unattainable magic.

With most entertainment, whether it be in film, literature, and yes, even dramas, I do try to look for some authenticity. But in fantasy, if it’s done right, I can let go and forget about what’s “real.” Instead, I can appreciate what the supernatural elements really represent; I can see reality in new ways, in a new light. In My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, we see love unfold through the eyes of an adorable, childlike heroine. In Oh Hae-young Again, we see fear and remorse through the eyes of a possible clairvoyant. They’re everyday themes, but the execution is fresh and new. I love it—there’s just so much you can do with fantasy.


High School: Love On

As I mentioned before, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish a drama may seem, they always bring it back to some sort of realism. Because at the end of the day, I see those aliens, those goblins, those unnis with Herculean strength and I still see people. They get flustered in front of their crushes, they cry over the littlest things, and they make mistakes. In my latest drama crack While You Were Sleeping, the fantasy premise is so cool and interesting, but the small moments with its characters make the biggest impact. The hero now has people in his life putting their trust and their wishes in him, expecting him to swoop in and be the hero. While we as the audience can’t understand the pressure of using dreams to save lives, his very real fear of disappointing these people is still such a relatable feeling.

I think almost every drama, no matter how fantastical, manages to squeeze in something insightful and meaningful about everyday life. I still remember the heroine’s words from Park Hye-ryun’s last fantasy rom-com, Pinocchio: “Is it a pointless dream for a person who can’t lie to dream to be a reporter?” We’re talking about a fictional Pinocchio syndrome here, yet that line has stayed with me ever since the show aired. I can’t explain it, but whenever dramas use symbols like superpowers to deal with serious topics that we encounter in life, it leaves me with such a nice feeling. If a drama is able to make me believe these unique characters could be real, it makes me believe that real life can be magical too. I don’t expect to ever get anything like a toast kiss in my real life, but eh, a girl can dream.


Pinocchio

 
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Beautifully written @sailorjumun :-)
This is exactly what I feel while watching dramas, & I felt like quoting each sentence to say "me too" till I realized the entire article is so relatable.
Still, to put it shortly... "I get enough of ordinary life in MY life." This. Probably this sums it up.

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*while watching FANTASY dramas

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"To me, dramas are the friends I turn to when I need to relax or when I need to recover from a hard day—the friends who help shut out the rest of the world. And if I escape my own world, of course I’d prefer escaping to the most exciting world possible."
Yes, yes, yes! This was a lovely piece, and I relate to it so much. Escaping to a drama world always recharges me, and relating to the characters somehow helps to take away some of my own stress. If they can do it, I can do it too, yknow?

Eh, I'm still waiting for my toast kiss too. A girl can dream.

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*lines up for girls waiting fot toast kiss. Hah!
Dramas do feel like old friends. Seeing a clip, hearing a song, transports you back to that drama, to that feeling, that escapist energy that pulls you in and yes, recharges you. Lovely writing, @sailorjumun 😊

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For me, dramas were a place to escape to, a place for adventure and unbelievable coincidences. I used to really enjoy those boy meets girl and entire story revolves around boy and girl getting together, but recently those dramas have been feeling un-authentic. To be honest sometimes coming home from a crappy day, I don't want to watch perfect characters go through their happy-go-lucky days. Even when they have conflicts, it can seem very generated instead of natural. Sometimes watching our candy-girl and charming guy smile and bat eyes is just too much for this embittered viewer lol. It's kinda hard to go back to standard-formula dramas after age of youth 1&2 and Again, Oh Haeyoung because sometimes characters in more standard dramas are just filling up time without actively moving towards something (idk how to explain this well?). It's like eating empty calories.

So I def agree that when a fantasy drama is done well, the viewer isn't constantly reminded that it's a set and that these are costumes. The story is so good that we just accept something fantastical can happen (for me Arang and the Magistrate did that, well most of the time). While fantasy and makjang dramas are still fun, it has to have more supporting the story, not just the element of magic or gods (Habaek just felt very empty to me and I couldn't get into it). Since kdramas always follow seasonal trends (vampires, gods, robots, ghosts) I do find myself wanting to watch more relatable dramas like age of youth or queen of mystery. Their experiences are still quite exciting and suspenseful, but the characters feel more grounded in their decision-making. Fantasy drama characters can be relatable too though, even as they battle supernatural enemies or back flip off a cliff. I definitely agree with what you wrote about fantasy! It's all about the ability for a drama to let you "escape" into a world that you could realistically believe was possible, whether that be back in time (like the reply series!), present day society, crime-fighting or mystical realms. I want to write more, but i've already written too much, heh.

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"... sometimes characters in more standard dramas are just filling up time without actively moving towards something ... It's like eating empty calories.

I was nodding all the while I read @sailorjumun's piece and I agree with your sentiments here. Be it a fantastical wu xia or office romcom, I'm all about solid stories and fully-realized characters with some kind of growth.

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Yes to all of this! A fantasy drama with relatable characters will suck me in every time without fail.

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Thanks SailorJumun! Nicely expressed.

I'm an in-betweener too. I straddle both sides of many arguments... or is that being a fence-sitter!!! Well anyway, I tend to see both sides or more than one person's point of view. It makes dilemmas a real issue! LOL.

It's true that I watch for the escapism, to relax, to have something different to focus on, and yet I want this escapism to be close enough to reality to be relatable, to make some sense and to give me an inspiration or two, or a revelation about my mundane life.

Generally with the dramas that I did not drop, this has worked out ie those dramas have served me well. A good story, well told, will always deserve an audience. And dramas well recapped and reviewed as is done here, have had something more added to them. Thanks to you and all the staff of DB for making 'strange escapism' and 'dramatic reality' comprehensible, ... for adding your thoughts so that shows are that much more thought-provoking and for giving us new ways of seeing a thing, thus upping the inspiration in the inspiring. 💝 😃 Cheers!

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Indeed. I guess we're in the same boat after all. haha

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Totally with you on all counts, my friend. I watch dramas in almost exactly the same way. :)

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I really like this :) I really resonate with how you feel when watching dramas

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i never really liked makjang dramas before.. now that i've been working in a new environment, i'm just welcoming any kind of dramas to watch.. but i'm saving dramas like Rescue Me for the holidays since my mind can't take that heavy emotions now..

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so true.. could not agree more. dramas are best friends who we really most certainly do relate to the most in some crazy times. some drama characters do take us in so much we consider then real life friends. In some cases we try to seek for a place to escape our harsh realities and what better place than dramaland..

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A girl can definitely dream...I think that lately kdramas have re-ignited that feeling for me that dreams are worth aspiring to and that it's never too late to start dreaming a new dream. I'm in my mid-twenties and therefore relate to the majority of the characters I see in the dramas. I have never been in love so I relate to all of these late twenty somethings who are barely experiencing that in their lives for the first time as well. I agree that there is comfort in the package of a kdrama yet at how fresh and new certain themes can feel like you mentioned the innocent excitement of first love with Gu Miho :) and those very real feelings of fear and remorse experienced through the quiet and moody Park Do Kyung in my favorite kdrama Another Oh Hae Young ;)

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I think that lately kdramas have re-ignited that feeling for me that dreams are worth aspiring to and that it's never too late to start dreaming a new dream. I couldn't agree more! :)

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Totally agree with everything u said in the article!!

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Sorry but 2017 is going down for me as the year K drama's bombed. I have watched pretty much everything that came before but mostly this year even things that started out good have bombed. I am not sure why but at the same time I do not think it is me. I watch a drama, or even a dorama, get drawn in and want to watch the entire series and live in the makebelieve world, only to find it develops in a way I cannot bear to watch. Meanwhile there is a lot of fandom supporting some individual actor or dramo that seems to be irrational. The actor does not have dramatic talent, just following, the drama is messsy and unfulfilling. I hope this will just prove to be a blip. Meanwhile the good people of South Korea and Japan are at the mercy of ideots in North Kore and Washington.

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