Saturday, January 9, 2016

2015, K-Drama in Retrospect

First of all, this is technically not a 2015 drama recaps since it's posted on January 2016 but let's just pretend that this is. He. Second, woah how great 2015 is! I mean, take that from someone like me who usually doesn't watch a lot and generally being picky when it comes to Korean drama.

So overall, this year alone i watch 12 dramas, dropped 2 and forever resent the first short-lived mockumentary-styled drama. Actually I am torn between reviewing each show i have watched or rambling nonstop about it in general. But then again you can always find review using google search so let's just opt to the latter.

Considering many years i have been familiar with Korean stuff, this is actually the first year i am so involved with it. I engaged in a lively discussion and got to know fellow fans through various platform. Entertainment can be so enjoyable but its nature is so subjective that i find it hard to find anyone who shares the same subjective opinion as mine. That's why online community is the very backbone to this Korean stuff related. And when it comes to drama, you can't left out dramabeans, a recapping drama site which becomes not only news and recap source but also a community. I honestly find it entertaining as much as it is insightful. I never really expect more than giggling and fangirling. But from watching certain shows and engaging in discussion seriously gives me so many new things, knowledge and all.

I guess it's about the anonymity and security for voicing out our opinion, or simply sheer joy to find comrade to fangirling about certain famous people in another country. Let's just say that i learn whole lot of things by watching korean dramas more than people would normally expect.

There is also this common belief that kdrama is only about sappy romance or rich-guy-poor-girl love story. It's not completely wrong since you can find those kind of dramas in the first google search. But it's not completely true since assuming that will be the same like thinking all Korean male musician using eyeliner and dyeing their hair yellow just because certain kpop group does it. Well, obviously not every male musician use eyeliner or even bother to dye their hair in any color. And when it comes to kdrama, there are various genre and stories, you just have to dig deeper.

One little complain i always have whenever watching kdrama is the female character. How women presented in kdrama many times is disturbing, annoying and saddening. One reason many people watch it is for entertainment purpose, i know. Indeed it can be entertaining and addictive as hell, but still, often times it is as frustrating too. Female tropes and archetypes used in dramas are usually identifiable, many times one dimensional and no character growth whatsoever. For me personally, wrist-grabbing and submissive unhealthy romantic relationship are few things i hate the most, among many others.

It doesn't imply that every character has to be strong, that will be unrealistic. Put it as interesting, for the better phrase. The word itself is subjective, what i deem interesting is probably differ to others. One thing that i think is the most important for a character to be interesting is a well-written multi-layered character. A person's personality is built by hundreds of different traits shaping us the way we are now, affected by genetics and social construct. A woman can be weak, strong, smart, intelligent, shy, and mean all the same time. A woman is capable of having a life outside her complicated love triangle (or love square, for that matter). And certainly a woman is able to go through self-development process, maturing as the episodes goes by and becoming the better version of herself. Which is why i find depiction of woman in kdrama as one dimensional character such as poor hardworking girl, crazy second female lead or even bitchy mother in-law is incredibly insulting. 

It's changing, of course. The raise of cable network provides more daring story and interesting characters. Even now more and more writers try to produce a varied story compared to before. More complex multi-layered characters are present these days, both for male and female. Though still, it is kinda sad to celebrate the raise of feminine character because before it is so uncommon sight to see.

Which brings me to the amazing 2015. For one well-written, interesting female character we probably will encounter 10 of the simple one. But this year alone i found dozen of interesting ones in shows i have watched. As i mentioned above, there are many visible problems when it comes to depiction of female role in kdrama, concerning not only cultural norm but also discussion about sexism, misogyny and feminism. Complicated stuff, obviously. So rather than divulge into that dark tunnel, let's just celebrate what 2015 graced us last year. Interesting heroine we all love to love or even, love to hate.

1. Ha No Ra of 20 Again
She will probably be forever top list of my favorite female character of all time. Starting out as a submissive, doormat wife and mother who is about to get divorce and diagnosed for cancer, she shows a very interesting character growth throughout 16 episodes. Getting back to school allows her to not only learning about school stuff but also about herself and finding her aspiration and experiencing life changing moment. Following her journey makes me frustrated because no one deserves that kind of treatment. But it is also satisfying for she is able to overcome the hardships, growing more than what she was in the beginning and even becoming stronger, braver without losing her initial kind-hearted and caring nature. Really, at the end of the day that's all that matters and having a handsome grumpypants professor who acts like tireless fairy-godmother is only a nice little addition.

2. Jo Min Ja of Healer
Or most known as healer ahjumma. She is 40-something years old badass hacker who happens to love knitting while eating her kimbap in one big roll. No further explanation needed.

3. Jo Kang Ja of Angry Mom
Fierce, fist-first mom who happen to have great sense of justice and will do anything to protect her daughter even if that means she cosplays as high school student. Yep, no big deal, no one notices anyway. The drama itself becomes darker and murkier than what it initially seems as time goes by. It is really not easy to swallow since it deals with so many issues from bullying to corruption case.  She is hot-headed, action first think latter sort of person. But she stays strong, stands up to what she believes is right and ready to prove anyone wrong with her fist ready and good friends on her side. There are many other great characters in this show but Jo Kang Ja shines not only because of her strength but to remind us that being a mother is something to be praised of for willing to take extra miles in protecting her beloved one.

4. Cha Ji An of I Remember You
This is obviously a male-dominated show with only few female characters in it. Even so, i admire Cha Ji An for being strong, capable and not being clingy when it comes to romantic sides. She is not smart, especially compared to the brothers who are both genius, but she has clear moral value and also empathy in expense of psychopath stuff. I also love how she is also capable of defending herself while still being believable when she is kidnapped. As much as i love Seo In Guk, i don't like how he often mocks her for being stupid, or suddenly disappear for one full year without any warning. But even when he does that, she doesn't wallow in self-pity and continue being good detective (take note, Bella). On papers, she seems to be a candy type dressed in police uniforms; brash, understanding, and able to warm the heart of cold profiler. But Jang Nara's portrayal and writers way of characterizing her makes Ji An relatable and likable.

5. Choi Yeon Jin of Punch
Ah Punch, how i love thee. I have written a full love essay for Punch but haven't even touched female character. There are many great female roles in Punch but Choi Yeon Jin is the most memorable one. She is by any means no goody-two-shoes prosecutor unlike Ha Jung. But she is smart, intuitive, loyal, and has a clear goal. She has questionable moral values for being so easy switching sides in order to attain her goal. But what to do, she has set eyes for something and ready to do anything to reach that thing. When it comes to romance, she has this sad, unrequited love to the male lead. But that doesn't hinder her for being what she always is, a capable awesome person. She keeps working with her crush (and his wife) without romance bother in the way. For second female lead and love rival, her character comes as surprising, refreshing role. One i gladly welcome.

6. Cindy of Producer
A.k.a the sole reason i keep watching Producer. Her arc is the most interesting thing about this drama when it starts to get lost in the sea of frustrating love square. It's really refreshing when she realizes she is in love and not only changing her to be a better person, she also doesn't turn into an evil female second lead threatening the life of the main female lead. Although the fact that her love rival is a music show producer in which she needs to perform frequently probably prevent that.

7. Six Flying Dragon
How do i start. This is currently the center of my life and not only having awesome story-telling, it also provides a handful of amazing female roles. Being smart and capable person in Goryeo time when woman often times being pressured and unable to do many things is remarkable. And to find that the men counterpart is willing to take sides with these women, discussing dangerous plan together and seeing them as a person not only an object, allowing them to shine is even better. 

Here we have Boon Yi, a low class girl who is smart and willing to do anything to save her people no matter how questionable the act is, including joining the rebellion gank. When it comes to romance, she loves someone without even demanding for happy ending because of their differing class. She gets swords on her throat so many times i have lost count but even when she can't fight, she is able to wiggle out her way using her wits and brain. 

Another one is Yeonhee. A village sweetheart who is traumatized by certain accident in her teenage days. Years later she becomes a double spy agent who works for rebellion act and in the process, get the chance to overcome her past ghost. Most of the times hiding her true self behind the mask of a ruthless spy, she can be soft and fragile in certain situation. I admit that the romance stuff is kinda unsatisfying due to a certain naïve, insensitive male counterpart. Such a long build up and heavy romance tension with no action, so frustrating. But even with broken heart and past trauma she keeps doing her double agent work and continue being awesome.

The general female roles in Dragons are as interesting, no matter which side they are on. A gisaeng boss who has a spy agent consist of female ninja dressed in black, a sassy grandma who is able to take care of her seven grandchildren on her own, a mother who also happens to be the center of mysterious organization, a street artist who is not only smart but also faithfully assisting a certain swordsman in certain killing project, a political-literate wife who supports her husband with her insights, the list goes on and on. It's true that this show is not a romance-centered story. The main conflict is men with clashing ideology trying to overthrow a whole dynasty. But even then the women are capable of holding on their life, actively contribute to the cause without being over-the-top and still believable.

Honorable mention: 
Kang Yeon Doo of Sassy Go Go
Jang Dan Bi of Splash Splash Love
Chae Young Shin of Healer 
Guk In Yeob of Maids
Yoon Ji Sook of Punch

Ah what a long list. 
I only watch few dramas and i believe there are many other interesting female roles in 2015. That's why so many other characters are not covered here.

But this is good, isn't it? The journey for having a show full of interesting, full-fleshed character is gonna be long and filled with many other dramas with boring one. It is possible for entertainment stuff, be it literature or tv show can be entertaining and satisfying in terms of quality. I also believe that we deserve well-written characters and well-written story so that we all can minimize the act of pulling our hair out or even the urge to throw something on laptop screen whenever things go south. 

So here's for better things we all deserve to watch in dramaland this year.

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