[Escapism vs. Realism] Stranger than fiction

Fight My Way

By @yjgclone

“Why would I watch something realistic or sad? I watch movies and series to entertain myself, not to torture myself.” I always hear these words from my parents whenever we go out and pick a movie or a K-drama to watch. My mother always sticks to romantic comedies, and I can’t deny that my heart also flutters when the couple is oozing with chemistry. When they share those meaningful stares and contagious smiles, I can’t help but smile too. It’s an escape from reality until I realize it’s just a drama and these characters and their experiences do not exist in real life.

Dramas continuously feed my imagination and separate me from the real world, but on rare days, I find myself pressing the pause button and rewinding to the previous line a character said, because it was so true to life. A little moment where reality and escapism struck together. I became addicted to those instances. It has become my standard for dramas—finding memorable lines that reflect my life and depict my innermost feelings.

Dream High 2

At the very least, we sometimes encounter characters in whom we can somehow see ourselves. It’s the first sign of realism that I look for in a show. The first time I encountered this was Shin Hye-sung, the character Kang So-ra played in Dream High 2. Although the series did not live up to its predecessor, which raised the bar for idol-starring dramas, the show went closer to the harsh realities of young people aspiring to reach their dreams.

I was in college when this drama aired. Just like Hye-sung, I was continuously failing no matter how hard I tried, and I was an outcast due to my lackluster social skills. I didn’t even have a small group of friends I could say I belonged to. Watching dramas was my way to escape reality temporarily, but this one kept me closer. It made me question the little confidence I had and doubt my abilities. What if this degree is just a pipe dream and what if I’ll never be good enough for this?

I was sure that Dream High 2 would succeed in trampling my self-esteem. But it was the opposite. The song that Hye-sung wrote, “Hello To Myself,” spoke to me. The steps she took were little by little but they were sure. Somehow, I also found my group of friends. It sounds very clichéd that when you meet good people in your life, things start to change. I thought that only happened in dramas I watched, like Dream High, Dream High 2, and God of Study. It was wonderful when the thing I thought to be escapism managed to become realism.


While I was in my final year of college, I watched Misaeng, the first K-drama I have watched that is boldly slice-of-life. At that time, I knew myself a little bit better. I was aware of my weaknesses, my strengths, my successes, and my downfalls, but this series managed to resurface my feelings of doubt and painful hope. It was the last scene of the first episode that totally sold me on the show.

Jang Geu-rae: “You say I work hard? No, I’m here now because I didn’t work hard. That’s why I needed to break into society. I was abandoned because I didn’t work hard.”

It was heartbreaking. These words spoke not only of him, but of everyone who had failed once before, yet did not surrender. The characters were just simple workers who had their own struggles. None of them was a celebrity, a chaebol’s son, or someone supernatural. It was a fresh breath of air, yet it felt so familiar. The show basically portrayed those who are working very hard, yet they have accomplished very little.

As the show progressed, I was relieved to see Jang Geu-rae achieving things, even little by little, on the road he had chosen. There were no huge victories for him, but it’s comforting to know someone’s doing well. Seeing these characters succeeding on the path they took empowered me to thrive just like them in their everyday lives.

Fight My Way

Now that I’ve started to work, dramas like Fight My Way leave a mark on my heart. I can’t say that I relate to everything about Kim Ji-won’s character Choi Ae-ra, but she said some things that left my heart empty. This is what I’ve realized upon watching these dramas—that they make you feel things you didn’t know you were capable of.

Choi Ae-ra: “I earned money.”

This is what she said on an interview when she was asked about what she had done with her life when everyone else was busy filling up their resumés with impressive jobs. It hit my heart because it had sincerity.

Choi Ae-ra: “Even though we woke up earlier than others, even though we went to bed later than others, we never had time. We lived harder than anyone, but because a resumé that doesn’t know anything seems to pretend to know all of me, I’m angry, I’m frustrated.”

Strong Woman Do Bong-soon

While growing up made me realize how beautiful slice-of-life dramas are, it also made me appreciate romantic comedies as beautiful stars is the night sky. They twinkle in the lonely night and make you smile. I also need them to relieve my stress. Strong Woman Do Bong-soon is one of my latest favorites, not only for the supernatural romantic comedy, but how it reflects familial relationships, another example of slice-of-life that can be found even in fantasy dramas. Though not as family-centric as other dramas, the drama took care to build Bong-soon’s relationships with her parents and her twin brother. The fantasy side plays with your imagination, but the reality side makes you feel at home.

Someone once said that life is stranger than fiction—a wonderful spectacle. In dramas they intermingle, and we smile when escapist dramas treat us with some realism and we smile when our realist dramas give our beloved heroes ways to reach the impossible. Both of these elements are present in any drama, and that’s what’s needed; a pure fantasy would be hard to relate to, and pure slice-of-life would just be a documentary.


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