[2020 Year in Review] Life-affirming drama themes
by Guest Beanie
My Unfamiliar Family
I love how K-dramas never tire of teasing out the complexity of being human and dealing with injustice. They seem to get into places that TV and dramas from other places don’t.
Some of the notable dramas this year dealt with serious themes in life-affirming ways, whether it was facing up to your fears and your damaged past in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, or learning to understand others in My Unfamiliar Family.
Other dramas explored the role of individuals in society as a whole — especially where prejudice and power were involved. A drama like Forest of Secrets 2 explored this by setting the personal integrity of a few against pervasive institutional corruption.
Here are a few of my favorite 2020 dramas and the themes that spoke to me.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Theme #1: Be at home with yourself
Being at home with yourself was central to It’s Okay Not to Be Okay. When Go Moon-young goes to her frightening cobweb-infested childhood home and sleeps there, she faces the terrifying nightmare of her past. But she does not run away from the horror of her childhood. She fights back. She’s brave, and in the morning the house seems less of the nightmarish, cobwebby mess that it was the night before.
Go Moon-young also makes Moon Kang-tae face himself when she calls him a hypocrite. She speaks to the little boy in him who wants to be loved, and her book acknowledges how he feels about being his brother’s keeper. Together they defeat the “wicked witch” in each of their pasts, and learn how to be at home with themselves.
My Unfamiliar Family
Theme #2: Work to understand others
In My Unfamiliar Family, all of the characters learn how little they know or understand about those with whom they share the closest bonds. Husband and wife, parents and children, siblings, long-time friends — they all get big surprises.
The most interesting of these are the sisters who “know” exactly what the other is going to say, but who still seem to know so little about each other. “Knowing” in My Unfamiliar Family seems to be about projecting your own issues onto others while missing what’s really at hand.
Additionally, Sang-shik’s story was so sad and typical of many men of that generation who have low esteem and are generally inarticulate in situations of conflict. While the relationships between the women and their individual stories were fantastic, this drama also looked at men who are not able to talk about their issues/desires/fears — Kim Sang-shik, Kim Ji-woo, and Park Chan-hyuk.
I also liked when one of the characters said that in families we can hurt each other the most, but that we can also forgive the quickest. My Unfamiliar Family definitely explored family and relationships in an honest and refreshing way.
Theme #3: Learn where true value lies
Overall all, Start-Up explored where we get our value from. In-jae wanted to be valued for herself. Ji-pyeong wanted to repay a debt that could not be repaid with money. Do-san wanted to be valued by Dal-mi for his own worth, not for borrowed attributes. Like Seo Chung-myung, the boys of Samsan Tech had to discover how to make money out of good ideas.
Start-Up also looked at the difference between the value that comes with money, and the intangible and intrinsic value that money can’t. Interestingly, the drama “produces” two start-ups that had no commercial value: the image recognition app for blind people, and the one for mentoring orphans.
The Good Detective
Theme #4: The power of forgiveness
In The Good Detective, we see forgiveness and persuasion in action. Kang Do-chang realizes his terrible error and not only ensures that justice is redressed, but also brings along with him some of his corrupt and obdurate colleagues simply by reasoning with them.
Theme #5: Give yourself time and space to heal
In A Piece of Your Mind, Seo-woo’s family tragedy in the forest fire and her struggle to rise above the loss gives us a hint of the similar struggles for our other characters, who had to come to terms with what happened in Norway. Ha Won tries to develop a technology to mediate grief, but discovers it’s the human touch that he tries to replicate in his technology that is most powerful.
A Piece of Your Mind
Theme #6: Integrity matters
Forest of Secrets 2 showed the efforts of people of integrity (like Shi-mok and Yeo-jin) against individual and systemic corruption that works in its own self-interest. The drama explored the social system, with its foundations in Confucianism, that preferences whoever is senior in age, social status, and professional status. This system of respect and obligation is often exploited in order to conceal the unlawful actions of individuals or institutions. As a result, injustice breeds retaliation and feeds further retaliation. The combined actions of the police and prosecutors expose the perpetrators, but at the same time reinforce the structures that perpetuate the same injustice and inequities.
These are only a few of the remarkable dramas in 2020 that confront big themes in therapeutic ways. Thank you, Dramabeans, for providing a forum to share the experience of watching them with astute Beanies.
Forest of Secrets 2