Must Be a K-Thing

In the K-dramas (Korean TV) I’ve been watching, I’ve noticed certain repeated idiosyncrasies and bits of business that show up over and over. All of these things seem odd to my American sensibilities, but I suppose they’re normal in Korea, or at least on Korean TV.

1. Nosebleeds. In a crisis or sometimes at the most inconvenient times, the lead actor or actress gets a nosebleed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an American actor with a nosebleed. Koreans must have sensitive noses.

2. Sticking out the tongue. In the U.S., five year olds taunt each other by sticking out their tongues. Much older than that, and it just isn’t done. Kim Na Na (yes, that’s her name) sticks out her tongue at Lee Yoon Sung in City Hunter. The serious and mature Hang Ah sticks out her tongue at the very immature Prince Jae Ha in The King 2 Hearts. Korean girls poke fun by sticking out their tongues at the young man they’re flirting/sparring with? (Headmistress at THe Common Room: “Our experience in living in Japan and visiting Korea is that Asians really like cute a lot. It’s not just for kids.”) See #8 for more examples of the “cuteness” dealio.

3. Short skirts and high heels. All of the young ladies are quite chaste for the most part, no passionate kissing or PDA or cleavage, but they wear really, really short skirts and high heels all the time, even when a girl is running away from the bad guy. It looks uncomfortable to me–and bad policy if you’re trying to make a quick getaway. Sometimes the leading lady falls off her heels, or the shoe breaks, which may lead to:

4. The twisted or sprained ankle. This sort of accident, apparently very common in the course of a Korean romance, causes the hero, or sometimes the heroine, to come to the rescue with bandages and sympathy. If not a twisted ankle, some other bump or bruise can provide an opportunity for romantic first aid.

5. Romantic flashbacks: Lots of flashbacks with music to romantic moments between the couple who are fated to be together but can’t quite seem to get together. Sometimes it’s a montage of several near-miss and sentimental incidents. Sometimes they’re playing in a fountain or a park, or the girl falls asleep with the guy gently moving a strand of her hair away from her face. But these flashback moments all have in common that they are taken out of context. Usually, the interlude ended in a misunderstanding or a fight, but the reminiscing person never remembers that part.

6. Cellphones. Cellphones are ubiquitous in all the K-dramas I’ve watched. Yeah, I know they are pretty common here in the U.S., but the K-drama characters take it to another level. In Queen Inhyun’s Man, the cell phone becomes almost a central character or Hitchcockian MacGuffin.

7. Spunky girls and rude guys. I think the spunky girl with martial arts skilz would work in a U.S. romantic comedy or drama, but the rude guy who turns out to be sweet and honorable underneath would be outa there in a New York minute.

8. Piggyback rides. Really, grown-up guys are frequently giving their significant other lovely lady a piggyback ride. It seems . . . odd, but kind of cute. Other romantic situations in K-dramas: falling asleep on the guy’s couch (or shoulder), riding a two-seater bicycle together, running through a fountain, feeding each other (preferably feeding each other Ramen).

9. Actors as main characters and “play within a play”. Queen Inhyun’s Man is about an actress who is playing Queen Inhyun in an historical drama. In the series called The Greatest Love Doko Jin is an immensely popular actor, and his love interest is a singer/actress trying to make a comeback. I just started watching Full House, and the main guy is . . . an immensely popular actor.

10. Wrist-grabbing. The guy will grab the girl’s wrist to fend her off or express his displeasure. It doesn’t seem to be as rude and almost-abusive to the Korean girl in question as it looks to me.

11. Time travel and amnesia both show up frequently.

I’m not an expert on K-dramas, but I have become somewhat fascinated and maybe slightly addicted. I’m not sure what the draw is. My progeny certainly can’t fathom the attraction. Anyway, here are the ones I’ve watched with comments:

Queen Inhyun’s Man, aka The Queen and I. This one is an historical/time travel romance. A modern actress falls for a medieval (late 1600’s) hero who has a magic scroll that transports him back and forth in time.

King 2 Hearts. In an alternate history Korea, South Korea has a king with an irresponsible little brother, Prince Jae Ha. North Korea is still communist, but the two countries are trying to make peace by means of participating in a military contest together with a joint Korean team. Hang Ah is the star of the North Korean military contingent, and she and Jae Ha spar and eventually come together in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between North and South.

City Hunter is a superhero drama, an Asian take-off on Batman with complications. Actor Lee Min-Ho is Yoon-sung, a young man who has been trained from birth to take revenge on the men who killed his father. Kim Nana is a complication who threatens to sidetrack Yoon-sung in his program of revenge, but he maintains his secret identity as City Hunter to protect Kim Nana from his sad, dangerous, and lonely mission.

The Greatest Love is a much lighter romantic comedy, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice, A Star Is Born, and several soap opera plots. It was rather disconcerting to see actress Yoo In-na, who was the cute and perky leading lady in Queen Inhyun’s Man, playing the bad girl in this romcom. Doko Jin, the Darcy character, is way too proud for his own good, but he does eventually come down to earth, and the eventual resolution of the conflict is rewarding and fun to watch.

Full House. I just started this one and can’t tell you much about it, other than it’s rather implausible. In the first episode, the main character’s “friends” just sent her on a wild goose chase of a trip to China and sold her house while she was away. It looks as if the girl, Ji-eun, is fated to cross paths (repeatedly) with famous actor, Young-jae, who turns out to be the one who bought her house from the unscrupulous friends.

Actually, implausibility could be another Korean drama trope. North Koreans and South Koreans making nice with each other over joint military maneuvers? Doko Jin the famous actor mooning over a potato plant? A revenge-seeking superhero with mommy and daddy issues? Time travel via Buddhist scroll and cellphone?

However, I am addicted nonetheless, and I willingly suspend my disbelief and watch with bated breath to see what will happen next.

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