[Escapism vs. Realism] Lookin’ at life through drama-colored glasses

While You Were Sleeping

Now, I had to think about this for a second. Do I reach for entertainment for the accuracy to life? Or for the escape from life? It almost seemed like a trick question. I’ve always been an in-betweener—socially, politically, whatever—and I feel that I’m also caught in the middle here. I watch for both reasons. However, I will say that it’s a completely different story when it comes to dramas.

Dramas have always felt like otherworldly beings to me. They came with a set list of tropes and expectations, and those expectations would be met every single time. Personally, I like knowing exactly what I’m going to get. I’ll get a swoony drama hero, a lovable heroine. There will be angst, there will be romance. The bad guy will get his comeuppance, and our couple will get a happy ending (often cemented with the obligatory picnic in a park).

Each drama is capable of being its own, but I can be rest assured that they’ll follow that formula or a formula of similar nature. And yet, these shows still surprise me in different ways. They put their own spin on these tropes and manage to hit me on another level, as if I’m experiencing them for the first time. That’s what I want dramas to be: familiar but different.

Strong Woman Do Bong-soon

To me, dramas are the friends I turn to when I need to relax or when I need to recover from a hard day—the friends who help shut out the rest of the world. And if I escape my own world, of course I’d prefer escaping to the most exciting world possible. I’d want to hang out with aliens and goblins and unnis with Herculean strength. I mean, who wouldn’t?

A lot of my favorites this year have been on the more realistic side, such as the intense and gritty Forest of Secrets and the quiet and relatable Age of Youth 2, but these aren’t the dramas I automatically turn to. In fact, no matter how much I loved them, the actual viewing process was definitely more of an effort. They’re just too familiar. Too close to real life. And sometimes, that makes it too tough of a watch. Frankly, I get enough of ordinary life in my life.

The dramas with supernatural elements or so-ridiculous-it-doesn’t-make-sense elements have the most appeal. Even makjangs can seem appealing when I’m in the right mood. After all, Korean dramas do a great job of having ridiculous situations or ridiculous characters and still making them relatable. They allow the escape I want while still holding onto some form of realism. If you can get a healthy balance of the two, I’m almost always all in. They give me the chance to experience life through someone else’s eyes. They’re easy to watch, easy to swoon over, even if they’re cheesy.

Shopping King Louis

The best part about fantasy is that they make everyday life seem better than it is. I mean, come on, how many times can you say you’ve had a perfectly atmospheric kiss with cherry blossoms sprinkling down and Roy Kim singing in the background? Never. (If you have experienced that, you just earned my jealousy.) But that’s what makes fantasy so addicting—that surreal, unattainable magic.

With most entertainment, whether it be in film, literature, and yes, even dramas, I do try to look for some authenticity. But in fantasy, if it’s done right, I can let go and forget about what’s “real.” Instead, I can appreciate what the supernatural elements really represent; I can see reality in new ways, in a new light. In My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, we see love unfold through the eyes of an adorable, childlike heroine. In Oh Hae-young Again, we see fear and remorse through the eyes of a possible clairvoyant. They’re everyday themes, but the execution is fresh and new. I love it—there’s just so much you can do with fantasy.

High School: Love On

As I mentioned before, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish a drama may seem, they always bring it back to some sort of realism. Because at the end of the day, I see those aliens, those goblins, those unnis with Herculean strength and I still see people. They get flustered in front of their crushes, they cry over the littlest things, and they make mistakes. In my latest drama crack While You Were Sleeping, the fantasy premise is so cool and interesting, but the small moments with its characters make the biggest impact. The hero now has people in his life putting their trust and their wishes in him, expecting him to swoop in and be the hero. While we as the audience can’t understand the pressure of using dreams to save lives, his very real fear of disappointing these people is still such a relatable feeling.

I think almost every drama, no matter how fantastical, manages to squeeze in something insightful and meaningful about everyday life. I still remember the heroine’s words from Park Hye-ryun’s last fantasy rom-com, Pinocchio: “Is it a pointless dream for a person who can’t lie to dream to be a reporter?” We’re talking about a fictional Pinocchio syndrome here, yet that line has stayed with me ever since the show aired. I can’t explain it, but whenever dramas use symbols like superpowers to deal with serious topics that we encounter in life, it leaves me with such a nice feeling. If a drama is able to make me believe these unique characters could be real, it makes me believe that real life can be magical too. I don’t expect to ever get anything like a toast kiss in my real life, but eh, a girl can dream.



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