In the summer I wrote a piece called “The Kiss that Reignited my Love of Love”. It was a treatise about the impact a particular on-screen kiss from the 2017 kdrama Man x Man had on me and how it influenced my approach to my current WIP.
I explored the need to climb inside the unique and individual perspectives of my characters as I attempted to write their romance and revisiting the style of the Korean melodrama helped.
After purposefully avoiding it for months, I recently sat down to watch the 2019 mega hit Crash Landing on You. I knew it was going to be an emotional investment and I wasn’t quite ready to put myself through the rigors while feeling the quarantine blues.
I can say now, that while I was right to wait, I didn’t quite know what that investment would look like. This show was surprising on many levels and I would like to discuss just a couple of them with you now.
The story centers around an independent and successful woman, played by Son Ye-Jin, who finds herself accidentally in North Korea and the North Korean soldier, played by Hyun Bin, who comes upon her, and for reasons guaranteed to make you swoon, secrets her away and vows to return her to the South. A dangerous mission complicated by double crossings, family dealings, ambition, politics, and murder.
One of the things I found interesting about this show was ‘fish out of water’ element of the plot. I always find it interesting to see how different cultures portray others in film or print. How would Americans portray Canadians? What do Canadians think daily life is like in Fiji? What assumptions feed these filmed portrayals? How accurate are they?
When it comes to South Korean dramas, I am always struck by how emotional the men are. And I do not mean that to be a derisive statement, as I will explain later. I am often left wondering if men in South Korean are truly that honest with their families, their lovers, and their friends. I found myself wondering if this was a societal ideal meant to be strived toward, or if this was an accurate reflection of life.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of silent, petulant characters who would rather cut out their own tongue than to admit how they feel – often until its too late, which brings its own element of drama to the fore, but that is not the phenomena I am discussing today.
What I found incredibly charming about this show was that view of one perspective, that of a wealthy South Korean, to that of the strictly regimented North Korean; all as seen through my own North American, specifically Canadian, lens.
The show plays on the assumptions made by characters on either side of the DMZ for dramatic and comedic purposes, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I found myself wondering how accurate a portrayal it could be, especially when it came to the individual thoughts and actions as influenced by a lifetime of living under one social construct or the other.
Wondering about these things did not detract at all from the storyline, and I found, for me anyway, it allowed me a richer appreciation for the characters and their choices.
Crash Landing on You, predictably, also did a great job showing the development of a romantic relationship for both the primary and secondary love stories. I really liked that the characters in the show were written and portrayed in a way that was believable – even if they found themselves in some incredible situations that begged for some level of suspension of disbelief.
I quite enjoyed the romance in this show, and as I have previously mentioned, the writers of Korean melodramas put a lot of time into the meticulously crafted emotional journey their viewers go on. Trust me when I tell you the pay off in this particular show is absolutely worth it, and luckily for you – and for those who have stocks in tissue companies – you don’t have to wait too long to understand what I mean.
Romance aside, (What?? – I know, I know, but hear me out!) this show brings to the table more than just a sweeping romantic journey up and down the Korean peninsula.
It is a love story. All kinds of love.
Romantic love to be sure; but also the love between parents and their children, love for one’s country, love for one’s siblings, and the love friends have for one another.
Often when I think of the love friends have for one another, I think about relationships between women. I think we are conditioned to think that men just don’t have the emotional capacity or worse yet, the interest in developing relationships of great depth with other men and being open and vulnerable in/about those relationships.
As I eluded to earlier, one of the elements I really enjoyed about this show were the relationships, friendships and mentorships between the male characters.
The warmth and loyalty they had for one another was inspiring. To see how they lived their lives with compassion and how it influenced the people around them, their friends, children and spouses, was really something that hit home for me in a place deep inside that I have felt was previously and consistently being under served.
Until I began watching kdramas, I couldn’t tell you when last I saw men so freely cry. Whether it was due to sadness, love or shame, the way males are portrayed in these dramas show they are just as emotionally complex and desirous of love and understanding as their female counterparts.
It is just not something that was valued in my culture or North American society. Thankfully, we are beginning to address the stigma surrounding men letting down their guard and being open and honest with their emotions. How impactful I find the depiction of male emotionality speaks directly to how I, as a woman in North America, am conditioned to perceive what it means to be male in society. It is striking to view that issue through this particular lens.
I think there is tremendous value in showing male vulnerability and compassion on screen and it should be explored in more programming. It just might have lasting societal impacts… Who knows…just my two cents.
Anywho, after watching Crash Landing on You I needed something different. Something that didn’t weigh so heavily on my heart. The 2018 action fantasy drama, Memories of the Alhambra, fit the bill quite nicely. It was a happy coincidence that Crash Landing’s leading man, Hyun Bin, was also the lead in Memories of the Alhambra, so no complaints here. Check it out if you are a gamer, a lover of fantasy or sci-fi, or just kdramas in general.
I have lots of thoughts on the issue of intimacy without the promise of sexual congress, and how to convey high emotional stakes to your audience without your characters having to fall into bed to drive your point home. But I will save those for another day.
Until then, happy watching; and if you are going the kdrama route, have a hanky handy. You can thank me later.