Once in a blue moon when I have a bit of down time, I like to watch Korean dramas. I started to watch them to “improve my Korean” but then I quickly realized that the only Korean phrases I was going to learn were something along the lines of, “You’ll pay for this!” or “How could you keep this secret from me for all these years?” or “I won’t let you die like this.” Other than that, I like that there is a set number of episodes (somewhere around 20) and each episode is about an hour long. I’ve found that generally, K-dramas are hit or miss. There was a long stretch of years when they all had pretty much the same story line, involving a really rich and very handsome guy and a really poor, dainty girl, who the parents of the rich guy don’t approve of, an “evil” girl who enters the story for the purposes of a love triangle and revenge, and then someone gets sick and dies at the end for a tragic finale to the love story. This description would fit about 80% of K-dramas going on at that time. Fortunately for my motherland and for us viewers, these story lines have come a long way since then and there have been many different twists and turns and very interesting characters, many of them atypical of Korean stereotypes.
I’ve never been a real fan of K-dramas but I’ve had some favorites along the years, from even just the few that I’ve watched. My all-time favorite is “All About Eve” from 2000. It’s very typical but there are a couple of scenes that break me down every single time I think about it or watch it. I think that Koreans have mastered the art of drama – aside from the sometimes cheesy cinematography and melodramatic situations, they know how to pull at the heart strings and do it in a way that’s very subtle and poetic. If you’re a sucker for drama, then it’s pretty much game over. But even if you’re not, there may very well be something there with which you can identify.
There are lots of things about K-dramas that frustrate me, especially the display of very plasticized women (and even men), the overly dramatic scenes resulting from constant miscommunication (missing each other by seconds, seeing their love interest with someone else, lying to “protect” the other person), stereotypical portrayals of men (and women, for that matter), idealistic rendering of romance… After all that, one would wonder why I even bother watching them at all. I’ve found that it’s because there are many characteristics about K-dramas that I find absolutely endearing, like valuing family, sacrificial love and hard work. I suppose these things, stereotypes, romance, sacrifice, are parts of every good human story, Korean or otherwise, but they are so prominently and intricately woven into the fabric of K-dramas that I find myself taking something like a life lesson away from every single one that I watch.
Today I was reading a Nicholas Kristof piece about a woman in Kenya who, in the midst of poverty and making ends meet through prostitution, started a dressmaking business to provide for her children. One of her sons mentions that when he grows up and gets his first paycheck, he’s going to buy his mom something beautiful. Strangely, this helped me process why I keep watching these K-dramas. That part about life where the first thing we think to do when we are better off is to give to our loved ones… that kind of love, that kind of sacrifice, never gets old for me. I want to do the same. It’s not that it’s my responsibility or obligation. It’s my desire. We want the best for those we love.
So this leads me to ask, what, in fact, is actually the best for someone? I’d think it would vary depending on the person. We may be able to come to a consensus that for someone lacking basic needs like food, water, clothing, shelter – those material goods might be the best for that person. But what about the balance of us who have all those things? What is the best for us? What about my parents? My sister? We might think the best includes something like a big house, nice wheels, brand name clothing, comfortable retirement… but I’m going to beg to differ on this. What are we sacrificing for? What are we working towards? And does the answer to those questions mean anything? Do they matter at all?
So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. -Matthew 7:11 (New Living Translation)