[Dramas and Food] The soju fantasy

Beautiful Gong Shim

By @suk

Now before I begin writing this, I must disclose that I have never tasted a drop of alcohol in my entire sixteen years of living. Yes, I am underage, and yet, here I am writing a post about the substance I am restricted from. But hear me out.

I believe I suffer from a condition called “The Soju Fantasy.” If we lay down the cold hard truth, we can all agree that Korean dramas romanticize drinking. There is not one Korean drama I have come across in my many years of watching that did not have at least one scene of a character drinking themselves to the point of no return before a miracle is magically bestowed upon them by the Soju Gods. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but I find myself intrigued and hopeful every time. When Kang-doo got the sweetest first kiss from Moon-soo because of her excessive drinking by the river in Just Between Lovers, or when Ji-soo and Hyung-shik had a steamy love affair right on the pool table after drinking to oblivion in Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, I was at first shocked and confused, but ultimately embraced the fantasy. It’s like dramaland is saying if you drink enough soju, all your love wishes will come true. And I, for one, have fallen for it.

Strong Woman Do Bong-soon

Oh and we must mention the romanticized drinking tents, pojangmachas. Those bright red tents with cheap plastic for doors and ajummas serving steaming hot Korean street food. It’s a place for warm drinking company with close friends and for first-time drunk flirting with a childhood best friend. It is in these tents where the rawest and most beautiful human emotions expressed in modern dramas are released, with the aid of alcohol. Actually, there are many dreamy places depicted in Korean dramas that, when paired with the perfect bottle of soju, open the floodgates to confessions of uncovered feelings that move our hearts along with the characters on screen. The secret rooftop in Fight My Way where the Fantastic Four celebrated life with drinks and laughter, or the Korean BBQ restaurant that served our mighty Misaeng office gang alcohol to soften a harsh work day are instances where I wish I were with them in that moment, appreciating the present in a way only a good shot of soju can help you do.

Fight My Way

And this is why I have Soju Fantasy. I want to live a life where I can get drunk with no consequences except for true love and closer friendships. As a teenage girl who hasn’t experienced any red solo cup parties, I want my first experience with alcohol to be like the soju wonderland in dramas.

But soju can be so bitter. Our characters go through so much suffering and pain, and that is when we return back to the core of alcohol. Our characters can only go through so much, and I hate to say this, but their soju may be like our dramas. Like the way alcohol comforted both Gil-dong and his father after his mother’s death in Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People, when my day at school was rough and I have tears I want to let out but I don’t want to feel pathetic, I’ll turn on a melo and wallow in my despair with attractive drunk men. In sageuks, rice wine is depicted the same way as modern soju is—an escape from reality, whether to a happy place or a bitter one. Nothing has changed about the state of being human and how we deal with it, which is why I think soju is such a staple in Korean dramas.

The Lonely Shining Goblin

Dramas are, ultimately, a more perfect version of daily life. And through the process of writing this post, I have to come to realize that it is not the soju that the dramas romanticize, but the relationships the characters have that the effect of alcohol strengthens. And these relationships are nothing that we drama-viewers cannot achieve ourselves, soju or no soju.

Jealousy Incarnate


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