In Korean dramas, the falling in love happens over the course of dozens of episodes so that one or both of the characters have plenty of time to witness and experience internal qualities that inspire love such as bravery/integrity, kindness/generosity, strength of character or proof of love. Intelligence or wealth is typically not a mandate for a woman. What is more important is that she works hard (round the clock) and has good intentions. (The evil girls are always the lazy ones but good at strategy) Since most Korean dramas are contemporary fairy tales being spread throughout all of Asia and into Asian communities all throughout the world, many female protagonists are typically older than the men, lower in social status, underemployed, not stylish, not a bitch, low on prestige, socially awkward, too nice and depending on whether we go into the tragic genre (divorced with kid) or fantastical (sees ghosts), things could be even worse. Meaning in the real world, this girl would be a high potential doormat.
And that is how the story begins… these dramas take on the ultimate doormat challenge like Lena Dunham takes on body image. The lessons are twofold: girl needs to find herself but the guy needs to realize love may come in unexpected forms. Here are some case studies:
- Master’s Sun: The college-educated, chronically unemployed girl now moonlighting as a cleaning lady as she can’t hold down any other job because she sees ghosts and they’re always giving her errands to run. The ghosts end up making her look like a ghost by inducing insomnia as she walks around pale with the largest dark circles around her eyes. She becomes the dreamgirl for a CEO whose commercial properties are haunted by ghosts.
- Flower Boy Next Door: The freelance copyeditor who no longer leaves her apartment and lives draped in a sleeping bag surrounded by a mess of books and empty water bottles. She is voyeuristically in love with her neighbor Rear Window style binoculars and all when one day, the guy’s brother finally notices her spying. The extroverted self-proclaimed cupid is able to bring her life back into the outside world again.
- Marry Him if You Dare: A 32-year-old call center worker not confident enough to pursue her dreams of being a television writer has no clue what kind of future she is stumbling into. It’s so dire her future self finds a way to time travel back to the present to bitch slap her into another future.
Instances of love at first sight are rare in Korean dramas as they suggest superficiality which is all too prevalent in the real world. However, it is also an avenue of love formation that needs representation and examination, and this scene from Marry Him if You Dare is possibly the best example I have seen in a Korean drama.
The scene represents a turning point for both characters. One is on the brink of suicide and the other, on the brink of falling in love. The movement from one end to the other is brilliant. She solemnly sleepwalks toward the ocean in her PJs looking like someone who has lost her mind. He sees her and immediately picks up the phone to dial for security to report a potential suicide attempt. However, she stops in her tracks, and then he retracts from his call. The scene now becomes inspirational. Both are unsure of what he or she will do, and the viewers are also unsure of what is going to happen. She now becomes a muse causing him to pick up his art medium, the video camera. She, in turn, does what she is best at (until now), getting distracted into silliness as she notices the cutest illuminated goldfishes and starts to play with them. He now picks up has his video camera and zooms in on her scar… a signal that he finds it beautiful. She somehow gets inspired to become fearless and takes off her shirt to dive into the ocean and really play. At this point, he stops recording as he doesn’t want to be perverted but remain a gentleman. She has chosen life, and he has fallen in love.