[In Defense Of] The Truck of Doom
by Guest Beanie
The Lonely Shining Goblin
That I made it to ajumma age without knowingly encountering the Truck of Doom in a TV drama now seems almost as hard to believe as a good-looking rich guy making it to his late twenties without ever having been kissed. Truck of Doom featured briefly in my maiden K-drama, but it became a thing with the second one I watched, where the main character dies from being hit by a truck whilst in a phone box.
This was a time-skip drama, and the Truck actually got to kill the guy over and over again, cementing the awful image in my mind. From here on in, I was worried whenever I saw anybody on a pedestrian crossing and a truck nearby, in pretty much the same way that after your first breakup, you become worried whenever someone says, “We need to talk.”
It made me wonder what it was about K-dramas that made the Truck of Doom so ubiquitous, to the point where I now shout, “Truck-o’-doom!” out loud at the screen (only when by myself) and burst out laughing whenever I see it. Clearly drama writers must be aware of this, so why still use it? I think I’ve found the answer and want to argue that it’s not the poor writers’ fault.
I want to present to the readers the following thought experiment. Let’s imagine that a writer is working on a slice-of-life workplace drama in a cosmetics firm (for the PPL), where the life of a group of employees is changed forever with the death of their old CEO. The CEO worked so hard that he dies of a heart-attack at his desk, even though his wife had been telling him to take it easy. In his final moments, he puts his hand on the nameplate on his desk, implying that he’d been willing to put his life on the line for the company but also that this was everything he cared about. The writer is secretly quite proud of this scene.
Shut Up: Flower Boy Band
Then she gets a call from the producer. Great news: they finished casting and the role of the CEO is a perfect bit part for an idol who wants to get into acting. It’s a small but noticeable part, just right for this guy who’s careful about his acting career. The problem is, he’s 22 but can pass for 25. That shouldn’t be a problem, right? He comes with extra PPL sponsorship and it will get their ratings up.
Well, the writer dearly loves the heart-attack scene with the symbolism. She knows that the most common reason for heart-attacks among healthy males in their mid-twenties is… the use of drugs. This could work. Our CEO cares so much about the company that he snorts drugs to stay awake and fuel his confidence. His total drive is the reason why he made it to CEO at such a young age. But to nobody’s surprise, this gets vetoed by the idol’s management.
Beautiful Gong Shim
Now what? The writer could have the CEO get murdered but that would have major repercussions for the rest of the drama and require an almost complete rewrite. This death needs to be from natural causes or… an accident? What kind of lethal accident could you have in a cosmetics firm? He could fall down the stairs right into a vat of boiling wax. Or drown in perfume. Or develop a serious allergy to cosmetics preservatives and die of anaphylactic shock. As the ideas get ever more outlandish and borderline comedic, having the CEO be hit by a delivery truck seems almost… sensible? Inevitable.
This shows, I hope, that the issue isn’t the Truck of Doom. Truck is only a symptom of a deeper cause: the casting of actors who are too young for their roles on top of the creation of characters who are too young for the jobs they do.
However much we might love watching these actors onscreen, it causes huge problems for writers. When the most common causes of death in healthy men between 20 and 30 are suicide, drug abuse, violent crime, and traffic accidents, it’s no surprise that traffic accidents are used in K-dramas over and over again. If the characters had been older—one could argue the appropriate age for their job—there would be many more choices open to a writer and I think we should see the Truck of Doom less.
This is suicide! Or a one-way ticket to Joseon (Live Up to Your Name)
We do see writers who try to do different things. Who, for example, try to address a problematic drinking culture by carefully setting up a drunk-driving accident. A surgeon goes for company drinks, still gets behind the wheel of his car, picks up his girlfriend—who feels guilty about kissing another man—and crashes his car into a wall. Oh no, sorry, my mistake—they get hit by a truck.
Anyway, what I have noticed is that writers are starting to use traffic accidents now almost knowingly, pre-empting the audience’s reaction. This is causing another problem, however—it makes me laugh even harder.
Maybe we should just accept that the good old Truck of Doom is still the best way to go.
I rest my case.
A crash with a fire engine, a police car, an ambulance, and a taxi? Now you’re just being silly.