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Well, I have to say that after years of resisting, I will concede that my sister is right, and Korean dramas are way better than I expected them to be. In fact, they are very much like books (much more so than movies), with 16-20 episodes or so (that's a full hour for an episode), which allows for a ton more plot and character development than any two-hour movie. Unlike American TV, which seems to run on slice of life events until the viewing public gets bored and the show gets canceled, kdramas run for a set number of episodes, with an actual plotline and climax and everything planned out. Given that I don't know much Korean at this point, yes, I need the subtitles, which means I really am reading the thing. It's fun to see entertainment from another culture and it's also a pleasant surprise that their way of storytelling is so satisfying to an American viewer. (Japanese storytelling is very different, much more slice of life and looser than what I generally find satisfying.) It is especially interesting to watch these as a writer, and it's made me think a lot about narrative techniques. I've seen bits and pieces of various shows now, but there are four that I watched back to back that if they were books would definitely be on my shelf of favorites:

1. W--Two Worlds. My first and favorite thus far. Even if it isn't perfect (I felt like a particular main character was underused in the ending), it did a great job of having an exciting plotline, very likable characters, a real heroine who actually DOES something, humor, really heartwrenching sadness, strong chemistry between all of the characters in multiple directions, and a meta level of discussion of good writing and also beautiful illustration. Great use of repetition to show character development, too. About a webcomic artist, his character who comes alive and starts to resist the storyline, the artist's subsequent freakout and attempt to end it, and the artist's daughter who goes into the comic to save the life of the main character. Like I said, it was my first one, and pretty mindblowing. I see from the making-of documentary that all of the comics that show up in the show were actually drawn. If you took apart my brain to come up with the perfect story I never knew I wanted, this would be it.

2. Pinocchio. The title refers to truth-telling, not dolls that come alive. This one has so many personal stakes in it that you can hardly move without setting them off like dominoes. The central theme is truth versus loyalty. It's about a kid whose family was destroyed by the media after his fire chief father led his team into a burning warehouse that exploded and killed all of the firefighters. His father was blamed and his family hounded in the father's absence until the brother disappears and the mom kills herself. He grows up to be a rookie reporter in spite of this, meeting up again with the reporter who wrecked his life. However, she's also the mother of the girl he likes. And when he learns some things about his family, he finds loyalty and truth in direct conflict with each other. The family he grows up with (especially the grandfather who adopts him) are wonderful. There is also a great soundtrack! This is a good one to study stakes.

3. I Hear Your Voice. This is by the same writer (with several of the same actors) as Pinocchio, only it's a thriller (plus ESP--the main character can read minds). Park Soo Ha was just a kid when his dad was murdered by a crazy man leaping out of a truck at them. His life was saved and his story of murder, not accident, corroborated when a girl passing on the sidewalk takes a photo with her cell phone and has the courage to stand in court and testify. The murderer is sent to jail, but not before promising to find that girl and kill her when he gets out. Fast forward 10 years. Soo Ha has been preparing for the day that this guy gets out of jail so he can protect his protector. The girl is now a prosecutor, and sure enough, the murderer comes for them. It's a great story of choices over circumstances, self control over vengeance, overcoming your personal demons, and even learning to understand the stories of others who may be adversaries. All of the character arcs are very well followed-through.

4. Master's Sun. This one starts out really strangely, almost horror. It's about a girl who can barely crawl out of her house because she's so scared of all of the ghosts who keep popping out of nowhere, wanting her to take messages to the living for them. Visually they are really CREEPY at the beginning, and I almost gave up, but I'm glad I didn't. Don't let the creepy faces get to you! Anyway, she runs into the one person whose presence dispels the ghosts, giving her relief. Unfortunately, he's not very nice. He's the CEO of a huge shopping mall, and loves money and only money. He doesn't believe in anything he can't see, and he doesn't care about people at all. And she is not only a person, but just a really strange person! Of course you can imagine the plot trajectory, with him developing faith in the unseen and learning to be a kinder, more decent person, and her learning to have self control and embrace the ghosts around her. What I thought was so awesome about this one (besides the obvious humor and setup) is the fact that while the characters grow, they don't turn into different people entirely. I get tired of the ugly duckling, American movie style, where all the girl needs is a better wardrobe and makeup, and magically she's turned into someone else and now she's the it girl, etc. In this (or rather, these--I see it in other dramas, too), they don't so much turn into some nameless perfect character as simply become their best selves. So Tae Gong Shil is still a little offbeat--but she becomes confident. Mr. CEO still loves the business of making money at the end--but he's become a much better person, too. Also. The show is FUNNY.

If you like kdramas, are there any you would suggest? If you have never watched them, I would have to say I recommend them! There are all different kinds (historical--called saeguks, which often take place in the Joseon era, with a lot of cool costumes--, thrillers, medical ones, sci fi, ordinary romantic comedies, etc.), so if you try one and don't like it, there are always other kinds. In the meantime, we've started learning Korean at our house so that when it's the last episode and we can't wait for subtitles, we can watch it raw. Besides, with that volume of language input, it's almost criminal NOT to study it. If we had that amount of access to family-friendly German shows, our kids would all still be fluent.



me sketch
Rose Green

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