[2017 Year in Review] If underdogs ruled the world
by Guest Beanie
I went a little crazy with the dramas this year. As in, massive overload. As in, I’m not going to admit how many dramas I finished over the past twelve months. It was kind of a rough year on a personal level—I had a lot of health problems and some work stress, which meant I spent a lot of my free time wanting to turn off and zone out, escaping into worlds that are completely different from mine. In 2017, it seems I mostly chose to escape through K-dramas.
But maybe it wasn’t purely just needing to get away from my day-to-day worries. This year’s overarching thematic trend of “screw The Man” in dramaland slotted nicely into the aftershocks of horror that I was experiencing after the American elections devolved into a nightmare, not to mention the rest of the chaos in the international political scene.
Maybe stories in which the corrupt and powerful were repeatedly brought down by the desperate underdog helped me a heal a little. If these are the stories we’re still telling, then there’s hope for us, right? We’re not totally lost.
Forest of Secrets
So I stuck closely to shows like Forest of Secrets, Defendant, Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People, Duel, Circle, Lookout and Chief Kim. The bigger the bad, the more I was there. Give me an emotionless, isolated prosecutor staring down the barrel of an entirely corrupt system. Or give me an amnesiac prosecutor stuck behind bars, framed by a wealthy killer. Give me a former slave leading of a band of outlaws and teaching a nation to stand up to their evil king. Clones and aliens looking to bring down the wealthy elite who played with their lives like they were puppets. Or an anarchic accountant with a knack for mayhem tearing down an embezzling chairman from behind the scenes.
Really, anything that shredded a structure I had come to distrust, but that left me on an uptick of hope. The marginalized can make their voices heard. The rotten figure on the throne can topple. There are heroes, fighting just out of sight, to uphold the beliefs that represent the best of us. The course we are on can change, and for the better.
Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People
Even the more standard romance-centered dramas I gravitated to flipped off the status quo at least once or twice in their run. In Father Is Strange, it was a lazy, corruptible justice system that was ultimately responsible for the mad little family setup we all came to love so much. Chicago Typewriter took a firm stance on the concept of taking responsibility for past actions, whatever the initial intent. And then blew up some bad guys.
Woman of Dignity and Fight My Way both shook their heads at the upper social classes, arguing that a life of hard work dedicated to the things we love is far more fulfilling than some escapist wish-fulfillment that is ultimately empty (I’ve never seen a K-drama where the rich guy wasn’t the reward, but the thing to escape from so the heroine can end up with her poetry-writing lawyer or her martial arts fighting best friend before. Never). Live Up to Your Name was one long-running condemnation of the powerful, their money, and their day-to-day efforts to corrupt things that should remain incorruptible.
And now, sitting at the end of a long list of watched dramas, a year of various traumas behind me, I wonder if I—if all of us—can take what we’ve been shown and do more than just nod along. K-dramas have shown me that there are bands of underdogs everywhere, uniting and facing up to Goliath, slings wound tight for a battle in which their only victory might be that they tried.
The question is—can I be an underdog too?
The answer is—I will try, with all my heart.