Thursday, January 31, 2013

Drama Review: The World That They Live In (2008)

Grade: B

Workplace slice-of-life

What it’s about
A group of stories centered around the production of dramas for a fictional Korean television station. The centerpiece is the relationship between a pair of producers—one an established pro and the other his up-and-coming ex-girlfriend—but the lives of many other characters are also explored.

First impression
It may be a bad sign that it just took me two days to get through the first episode of this dramaland rom-com. The scenes that take place on set are fun, but this show has some fundamental problems. It starts in the middle of everything—the plot, the relationships, the conflicts—so there’s no entry point for the viewer. It’s like being thrown into episode 10 of a so-so drama rather than starting something that’s fresh and exciting. The 8,000 unremarkable characters that share screen time don’t help, either. It feels like a blur of people I don’t really care about talking about a bunch of things I don’t know about—not a first when starting a new drama, but much, much worse this time around.

Final verdict
This isn’t one of those shows that’s going to keep you up at night, desperately watching one episode after another because you can’t bear not knowing what will happen. But if you’re curious about how dramas are made and like low-key storytelling without a lot of over-the-top spectacle, The World That They Live In could actually be a show you like a lot.

The main romance is vaguely interesting and approaches the relationship from a refreshingly adult perspective. (Which, in Kdrama, means that they admit sex before marriage exists.) It never manages to be all that compelling though, and it’s the secondary characters that really give this drama its heartbeat.

Most interesting are the older actors, played with a knowing twinkle by a familiar group of pros. (As far as I’m concerned, it was worth the price of admission alone to see pictures of the actress who played Han Gyul’s mom in Coffee Prince as a young woman.) Wonderfully, they’re shown as real human beings with their own lives, not the background family characters most of them are usually relegated to. Their long-standing friendships and experienced take on both acting and life give the show a mature perspective. (And a weird Harold and Maude-esque subplot, too.) Also great is the resident screenwriter, who’s shown avidly taking notes on every interaction she sees, a mid-experiment mad scientist preparing to mix explosive cocktails of human emotion.

The real draw here, however, is the show’s insider perspective on how dramas are made: How do they shoot conversations in moving vehicles? What’s it like to give up your life in service of filming two episodes a week? And how do they find (or manufacture) all those amazing locations? It’s miraculous anyone survives the production process, and seems like it should actually be impossible for the results to be worth watching.

The World That They Live In isn’t the best show ever, but I still came away from it feeling like watching it was time well spent: it opened my eyes to all the little details it’s so easy to overlook in the dramas I love so much.

Random thoughts
Episode 1. I guess Coffee Prince really did influence style in South Korea after it aired in 2007. This 2008 drama is full of girls with super-short haircuts and masculine outfits. Sorry, ladies, but you’re no Eun Chan.

Episode 3. Apparently an apology is required in Korea if you seem too comfortable around your partner after sex. Lovely.

Episode 7. Things sure have changed in dramaland since this show came out. A character just got fined for showing a brand name for 5 seconds in a show he was working on. Nowadays, Kdramas are even bigger brand whores than American TV shows.

Episode 9. So in Korea, producers are actually directors. How did I not know this for so long? Truth be told, I don’t know anything at all about the process of filmmaking—this show is an interesting lesson in the nitty-gritty details that go into every single shot.

Episode 15. I love that they’re always showing the writer snatching up bits of dialog from the people around her to be used in her dramas. It’s hard enough to write one novel every few years, but the creative demands of being responsible for two episodes every week must be insane.

Episode 11. Interesting that Kdramas seem to have just one writer. Most American shows have a group of them, working both individually and as a team. Maybe that’s what our 22-episode seasons require, from a time perspective. The novelistic approach to storytelling favored in Kdramas would be harder to split up, anyways—in a decent show, more of the central plot is revealed in each episode. Those super-long weekend sageuks must be another story, though: writing one by yourself would probably take a decade. (And be fatal.)

Watch it

You might also like
The low-key charm of Coffee Prince 


  1. I've been wanting to watch this for sometime now.. glad it didn't get your complete axe. I was getting a bit worried with some of your as-watching comments went by. ;) I'll keep it on my distant to-watch list.

    1. It's worth it, especially if you're a Hyun Bin fan: he's the star of many cute moments. (I bet you can find a few of them at the times noted in one of the comments below!)

      I've almost decided to overlook the fact that he was in Secret Garden and welcome him into my list of must-watch actors ;)

  2. Amanda, So glad you took the time to watch. It was very realistic and did drag a lot, especially when Hyun Bin wasn't on the screen! I've gone back and watched certain scenes over and over.....

    1. It was actually your suggestion that made me decide to give this show a try, and I'm glad I did :) Now I want to know more about drama production. Somebody should make a documentary about it...

  3. The scenes I'm referring to are episode 3 at 24:33 to 26:55 and then if that isn't enough eye candy there is episode 5 at 56:24 and episode 6 at 55:19, among many others!

  4. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you got to watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Why your ex will NEVER come back...

  5. Hyun Bin could also play the role of a poor leading man. Not all the time, he's a chaebol. :))

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