Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Self-help, Kdrama style

If watching Korean drama has taught me anything, it’s that originality is overrated. Last year’s gaggle of time travel dramas are evidence of one of life’s great hidden truths: What really counts isn’t how novel an idea is—it’s how well it’s executed.

Which is why this week’s post is about Kdrama life lessons. Yes, the topic is cheesy and trite. And yes, I’m not the first (or the hundredth) person to blog about it. But the combination of shows I’ve been watching lately keep bringing me back to the same point: Asian dramas have some good advice about how to live.

Cruel City—The world is a mirror; it will treat you as you treat it. All the characters in this show have ample reason to be pissed off at life. They’ve been abused and abandoned, and nothing has ever been easy or safe for them. The Doctor’s Son is the most wronged of them all: even when he tries to do the right thing, the people he trusts most let him down. But he still tries to protect the people he loves by reminding them of this old truism, which we’ve been telling each other in one form or another for thousands of years. The world gives us what we give it. If we’re nasty and vicious, people will be nasty and vicious to us. But if we’re kind, they’ll probably be kind back.

Playful Kiss: As improbable as it may seem, you can annoy him into loving you.

Playful Kiss (et al)—Never give up. This show’s female lead is so foolish she makes my head hurt. But there’s one thing she’s got right: If you work hard enough for what you want, you can make incredible things happen. She may not be smart enough to come in from the rain without the male lead telling her to (literally), but in the end her one-minded determination won the day. She got the man she wanted, the career she dreamed of, and the family she needed, all because she never let herself believe any of them were impossible to attain.

Coffee Prince—Be yourself. This seems like a pretty crazy thing to learn from a show about a girl pretending to be a boy. But no matter where she was or whom she was with—whether they were young or old, stranger or friend—Eun Chan was never anything but Eun Chan. She was genuine and sincere and didn’t change how she thought or behaved to be like other people. She said what she wanted, went where she wanted, and ate what she wanted. In some ways, stepping outside her gender even made Eun Chan more free to be herself: she didn’t have to worry about her skin or her shoes or being feminine. Even as she hid one truth about herself she happily exposed many others, allowing her to forge lasting connections with the people around her.

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho: You know it’s true love when he gives you a stuffed chicken leg.

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho—Don’t be ashamed of what you love. As far as potentially organ-munching mythical beasts go, Gu Mi Ho is the one to beat. Her childlike faith and delight in the world truly made every day a miracle. And most miraculous thing of all was the meat she was always in search of: chicken, pork, or beef, it was Gu Mi Ho’s ultimate pleasure. In real life, we often treat the simple and uncomplicated as somehow inferior to the intense and nuanced—but why should that be? Love what you love, ands don’t worry about what other people think. (Kdrama much?)

Love Rain—Ask for what you want. The first few episodes of this show are a negative life lesson if ever there was one. The male lead falls in love at first sight but steps back from the object of his affection rather than compete with his best friend. The meek may yet inherit the earth, but until that happens they’re going to be sad and alone. Fate can’t work for you without your help.

Vineyard Man—Things are just things, not happiness. This show’s heroine starts off like a lot of us: caught up wanting physical things instead of valuing substance and meaning. But after moving to her great uncle’s broken-down vineyard to learn how to farm, that changes. She realizes that being a worthy steward of the land and living up to her uncle’s expectations are more important than having the right shoes. (But, of course, not more important than having a flush toilet. Priorities, people!) The desire for things makes it possible to forget what you really need to be happy: Safety, comfort, people to love, and meaningful work.

In Time with You: Laughter really is the best medicine. (Closely followed by Bo Lin Chen’s chest.)

In Time with You—A mature woman knows laughter can overcome her enemies and herself. This drama is actually packed with things that are too good to forget, but this is one of my favorites. I suspect it was a hard-learned lesson for the show’s female lead—type-A perfectionists like Cheng You Qing can be so tied up in their own expectations that they forget how funny the world is. But there’s nothing to set you free—and to bring you together with the people around you—like a good laugh.

Master’s Sun—Even the things you hate about yourself really are worthy of love. Why shouldn’t seeing ghosts be a point of attraction for the right person? Just like this show’s female lead, maybe someday we’ll all realize that the things we don’t like about ourselves can be just what someone else needs.

Scent of a Woman—Take care of yourself in more than just the obvious ways. This show’s female lead found out the hard way that living for the future isn’t really living. It took a cancer diagnosis to remind her that today was worth experiencing, too. All the good things we do for ourselves—saving money and exercising and working hard—should be tempered with things that will make us happy right now, not in ten years.


  1. Oh bring on the cheese and the trite when it's this lovely a read! I wouldn't dream of telling anyone IRL about drama life lessons but it is true, I do learn loads from watching dramas! Oh and if I could add another thing I learned from Heartless City--don't believe everything your boss tells you ;)

  2. I really like your point of loving what you love and not being ashamed of it! It took me a long time to learn that and not be embarrassed of my interests because they were not 'cool' enough.
    Thanks Amanda for your lovely list!

  3. Wonderful post Amanda! Part of the reason I love kdramas so much is because of these reasons. I always come away with a feel good, giddy feeling, from the modern to the sageuks (?). I would add My Lovely Sam Soon to this list. I find I carry that feeling of well being into my own life and have much more patience and understanding of the people around me. I sure can't say that about American TV!

  4. "As improbable as it may seem, you *can* annoy him into loving you." Hahahahaa XD

    I like this post, it made me think of all the things that I've learned from watching dramas - cheesy or not. There are quite a few dramas that I'd add to this list, though. But one of the first ones that comes to mind is What's Up. There is this one quote I love that has a really good point.

    Oh Doo Ri: „Do you want to know the truth? Most people in this world aren't that interested in you. Of course they can talk shit behind your back. But that's not because they are interested in you, it's because they are bored. So if you go around this world looking like that, there might be some people who will laugh at you for it, but in time, they all forget. And that's the truth.“

    I would name this lesson: Other people matter less than you think ;)

  5. Hi Amanda! I'm new to your site. I discovered this as I was looking up reviews for AM1997. I've been reading your thoughts like crazy for the last couple of hours. I'm having a lot of fun reading. Thanks.

    I am from the Philippines and have been a fan of Asian dramas since the early 2000's when Dao Ming Si appeared on my screen. But it is Kdramas that I love best for the reasons you have mentioned above. I actually have a sort of a journal about my life lessons learned from kdramas. hehehe

    I'll sure be coming back for more. Oh, and that I sense a lot of Gong Yoo love here! Yay!

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