Hello, friends! We’re really excited to bring you the first of a series of transcriptions of the podcast, which our friend Paige (aka Kdramadaydreamer) has very kindly offered to do for the benefit of those who may not be able to enjoy Dramas Over Flowers in its audio format. Please join us in thanking her for this incredible effort! ❤︎
This first one is our episode on the #MeToo movement in Korea, problematic tropes in K-dramas, and how things might be changing, featuring guests Odessa Jones and Pogo. Enjoy!
Episode 16. Men Behaving Badly Transcript
Originally published May 28, 2018.
Intro: Hi everyone! This is Anisa, and you’re listening to Stars in My Pocket. The title probably gave it away, but we’re doing something a little different with this episode. As a podcast that talks about TV, movies, the entertainment industry, what we love about these stories and what sometimes drives us nuts about them, we wanted to take a deeper dive into the post-Harvey Weinstein discussion than we’ve been able to so far. I’m joined by two very special guests this time: Odessa Jones is back with us, and we welcome our friend Pogo for the first time. Paroma will occasionally pipe in as well, but Saya was, unfortunately, not able to this time. We’ll discuss what the #MeToo movement has looked like in Korea and elsewhere, specific cases of terrible men in Korean entertainment, and separating the art from the artist. We also talk about problematic tropes in K-dramas – you know the ones – how K-dramas have changed in recent years, and our hopes for the future. We also recommend some shows with nice heroes. Take a listen!
Anisa: Hi everyone! Welcome back to a special edition of Stars in My Pocket. I’m Anisa and today we have two special guests joining us. First we have someone who’s returning, and we’re really glad to welcome back – you should introduce yourself…
Odessa Jones: Hi! It’s Odessa Jones here and I’m very excited, this is the third time that I’m joining you guys on your podcast.
Anisa: Hey! Thank you for coming, and we also have a special new guest, please introduce yourself…
Pogo: Hi guys – this is Pogo, or I used to post on Dramabeans as Pogo, this is my first time doing a podcast, so hello.
Anisa: Hi and welcome! Today we are going to do something a little different from what we normally do. We wanted to sort of discuss what we’re calling Men Behaving Badly, but it’s just – with everything that’s been happening in the last, you know, six to eight months with a lot of sexual harassment and abuse – a lot of things being exposed and a lot of people having to face consequences and then the rise of the #MeToo movement kind of globally, not just here in the US but I know – Odessa Jones, you’ve mentioned that you’ve been seeing the fallout in Korea as well, so I think that it will be interesting for us to talk about it, kind of from our own perspectives and also in the Korean drama industry.
In the Korean entertainment industry, there’s been a few big stories, so I’ll just briefly introduce them and then we can get into talking about them. There was Kim Ki-duk who was a very prominent director and he has a lot of international acclaim – he was accused of rape and sexual assault by multiple women. Jo Jae-hyun, who is a very commonly seen K-drama actor – he’s in a lot of villain roles and stuff, he has also been exposed to have assaulted some women. He actually admitted to it, apologized and, you know, stepped down from all of his positions, and then we had Jo Min-ki who…actually, Odessa Jones, do you mind talking about this because I feel like – I just read a couple of articles, but you are kind of there on the ground and I’d like to hear how it’s been reported over there.
Odessa Jones: Yeah. So I live in the provinces in Korea and I don’t watch the news a lot – the Korean news – but I do hear what my co-workers, my Korean co-workers think about the news, so from my perspective, #MeToo has had more traction internationally, or in news for an international audience than among the Koreans who I know. But it is interesting, Jo Min-ki – a few weeks ago, he committed suicide after apologizing for – or after issuing a statement about having coerced a bunch of his university students into sex, and so he’s part of the #MeToo thing, like these women came forth because they were encouraged to join and say what has gone on with them in their lives and, because he committed suicide, one of my fears is that lots of people in Korea regard that as sort of like – oh, #MeToo has gone too far. Whereas, from my perspective, when anyone commits suicide in Korea, it’s a sign of the poor mental health system here as much as anything.
So, for a lot of Koreans, I think, they quickly get the story confused, in a sense – I mean the story of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry is about the fact that, for a very long time, women have often, like, had to have relationships with the men in charge in order to have careers…and that’s been the case in Hollywood and that has definitely been the case in Korea – it’s been the case everywhere that there’s an entertainment industry pretty much. But I think some Koreans are getting confused and worrying – and this is the case with some Americans as well, isn’t it? People are thinking, “Oh, well maybe everything about how men and women relate to each other is wrong.” And so that I think is an – it’s an interesting question that #MeToo has raised for a lot of people, because that might be a question that we all want to ask. Yeah, maybe everything about how men and women have been – had imbalances in power between each other, things like that – maybe that is all something that we want to talk about.
But, the only people that I’ve had really bring it up with me here in Korea were – and this is really interesting, last week there was a group of – one of the things that I do at my job is that I visit schools in our province as like a visiting English teacher, because they don’t have native English teachers in their own schools, so a high school English club invited me and another colleague of mine to come and talk to them about #MeToo, which was just the most astonishing and heavy thing for a boys high school to request of us, and that was really interesting to me, because the adults that I work with, like, have hardly – the Korean adults that I have worked with haven’t talked much about #MeToo at all. But, this group of high school boys who are studying English and paying attention to international news and paying attention to events in Korea, they wanted to talk about it and it wasn’t necessarily a very deep discussion, because they didn’t know much English – or you know, speaking English is difficult for them, but that, to me, was very interesting. That at least some young people are seeing that and thinking that oh, maybe this will – maybe this is causing some social change we need to pay attention to.
I think a lot of – I see so much, so often in America and in Korea, older people are pretty set in their ways and I think, “Oh, nothing is going to change because the older people are going to keep doing things the way they always have,” but then this group of high school boys, they made me think, ok, well, maybe there’s a generation that is in high school right now while this is going on – in high school in America, in high school in Korea – this generation is hearing a lot about these topics and maybe is going to think about them more deeply than older people.
Anisa: It’s very interesting that you say that because the way that I’ve seen this covered in English language – I guess you can call it Hallyu media, or like English-language media that covers South Korea, is very – you know it’s all about like the rise of the #MeToo movement in South Korea and how it’s sort of taking the entertainment industry by storm – and so I guess we always have to take things with a grain of salt. Because a lot of it is also translated, or it’s reporting on an article in Korean, kind of third hand or whatever –
Odessa Jones: And also, the Korean entertainment industry is the entertainment industry, and that’s separate from the rest of the country, so I hope – I really hope – I’d really like to think that wherever – you know, in some board room in Seoul, they’re thinking about these things, but I feel like, as long as the rest of the country – as long as the people that watch dramas aren’t really thinking about it much, then I think the people in charge could get away with not really making a lot of changes at all, so it’s sort of in the hands of these high school boys, in a sense. Because I think the older Koreans are – many of them are relatively conservative, and we can see that with the rehabilitation of Park Shi-hoo’s career, which upsets me to no end.
Anisa: I want to get into some specifics, but before we get into that – Pogo, can I ask if you don’t mind just sharing a little bit of what you’ve been thinking as you’ve been watching this and if you feel like talking about where you are, you know, in the world and what’s been going on there locally, feel free to share that as well.
Pogo: I’m from India and in my experience, I don’t think #MeToo specifically as it’s been – in the last six months relating to the entertainment industry has actually made any difference on the ground or to people I know. Specifically, it’s something that’s come up in private conversation and something that people seem to agree about is that it’s not really a question of – at it’s heart it’s not really a sex question, it’s more of a work question. It’s not really about, how do I put it – the relationship between men and women, so much as what is expected and what is acceptable in a work environment, and how that shapes up for women because people don’t often keep those two issues separate.
The thing is, we’ve had movements before – we’ve had people acknowledging that something is seriously wrong with the way our society treats women, and that’s been the case I think really prominently since 2012. I don’t really want to get into the incident that took place that year, but basically it made a lot of people realize that we had serious issues surrounding rape and sexual harassment of women – not just at work but in general, as a broader societal issue, and now we know that it’s – now I think that there is some awareness that it’s a thing, but I do think that for the most part, most of the country is really too conservative to acknowledge that sexual harassment is even sexual harassment at all. There’s still a lot of the “she asked for it” mentality going, and I don’t know if that’s something that will even change in this generation. I don’t see it happening. Sorry to be pessimistic.
Anisa: No, I mean it’s real. I’m kind of there with you, because, I can tell you – I live in the U.S. and there’s been a lot of this, like you were saying Odessa, a lot of this reevaluation of the way that men and women relate to each other and like you said Pogo, a lot of it has been centered around what has been actually happening in workplaces, as opposed to what people say has been happening or is supposed to happen, where I think here we do have a lot of laws about harassment in the workplace and how you are supposed to interact. There’s a lot of – you know there’s trainings that people go through, but the research has shown that those trainings don’t really help in a lot of cases, and in reality, those rules and laws tend not to be enforced, especially in certain environments where the ones on top have a lot of power and the people who are working for them really don’t have any, and they’re very desperate to get ahead in their career and so they become vulnerable.
But there is still that aspect of – there is that element of people who are like, this is going too far. You know, we had some big Hollywood people saying in interviews recently that this is becoming a witch hunt and that this is going too far, you know, people should be allowed to make mistakes, so you know, there is – I don’t think that is going to go away – especially not considering that the people in power in the entertainment industry globally are usually older men with a lot of power who are very entrenched, very wealthy; they aren’t about to let go of that anytime soon.
Odessa Jones: I do feel a certain pessimism. I feel that – I read the newspaper and the media has – the American media at least, especially, really loves this story, the #MeToo story – and they’re doing a good job reporting on that – on abuses that they’ve uncovered. But if people on the ground – people who are consuming entertainment from Hollywood or from Bollywood or from Seoul – if people who are consuming that entertainment are totally okay with the corruptions in the industry, there’s no reason for anybody there to change.
Anisa: So that’s actually a really good segue into what you brought up with Park Shi-hoo, and just to do a brief recap of what happened in case some of our listeners don’t know, a couple of years ago he was accused of rape by a a woman that he had gone on a – I think they had, it was their first date. It was a blind date, and she became so drunk that he ended up – well, there’s footage of him carrying her unconscious body into his apartment, and then they slept together, and then the next day she said that he raped her and he said that it was consensual and I think he was eventually not charged, if I recall correctly.
Odessa Jones: Yeah, I can’t remember – they settled, I think they settled.
Anisa: They settled, and he was kind of like persona non grata for a while and then, like six or eight months ago, he came back and I think actually his drama – and it was like a weekend drama – and he was like the romantic lead. He did one before that, but he was kind of the villain, and I don’t think anybody watched that, but this one – he was the romantic lead and it was a family weekend drama, he got great ratings. That makes me want to puke.
Odessa Jones: Yeah – My Golden Life, and it’s a weekend drama, that means fifty hours – fifty-two hours, I’m just checking it – of him on TV and I was watching it on a bus, you know I was sitting on a bus going on one of the inner city buses going to another town and that was the drama that was playing because the weekend dramas are the dramas that are the most popular with the widest audience and with all of the older women who take the bus and so, coming from having read all of the details of that story or reading a lot of them, and having found that rape case so egregious, it was really a case where, they settled, even though they settled, it was not a case where you could – anyone could argue that, “Oh, he was a great guy.” It was not one of those – it was pretty egregious.
Pogo: The thing that I noticed is that this was a KBS weekend drama – right, My Golden Life. Weekend shows on KBS tend to be ones that get incredibly high ratings – they go up into the 40s, 50s if they are particularly successful. An average weekend drama in that time slot on that channel can go up to 30% no problem. And that’s just normal. And now, he’s up for another KBS drama, which makes me think that somebody in that network is really, really invested in rehabilitating this guy’s career. There is a definite agenda there, I don’t think he got that role by chance. Somebody knew what it would do, what it could do for him, and they chose to give him this opportunity on a platter which is – it disgusts me because it amounts to reputation laundering in a sense.
Anisa: And I think I remember when the trial was going on, before they kind of settled and the case was thrown out – I remember people online talking about how he comes from a very influential background and he comes from – I don’t want to say something wrong, but he comes from a powerful family who is not only rich but like, influential, so I’m sure that has something to do with it.
Odessa Jones: Yeah. And another thing that it has to do with is that those weekend dramas, which do get high ratings, no matter what, pretty much…but those weekend dramas are aimed at this audience of older people who, in a way, how do I say it. You know, feminism does not exist in Korea, it exists in a very, very small group of young people, and so the generation that is watching the latest Park Shi-hoo drama – that generation is a generation that not only does not have many feminists in it, but also possibly a generation that really – that look at something like that rape case and say, “Oh, well that woman deserved it, because she drank alcohol,” or, “Oh, that woman deserved it because she went out with an actor.” Because that’s what conservative, old people – that is the attitude here, and in a lot of countries
Anisa: Yeah, I think that that is not something that is limited to Korea.
Pogo: I also think that there’s a difference in how that generation perceives sexual consent, and what is acceptable in sexual relations between men and women, versus how we do it. There it’s, “Oh, she didn’t say no” means, well, that’s an implied yes. Whereas we’ve sort of grown into this idea of there has to be an informed consent and if that doesn’t happen – obviously it can’t happen with a drunk woman, when your facilities are compromised in a sense, then you can’t have that consent and to us, that’s rape – but, that’s not how that generation sees it so, I kind of get it.
Odessa Jones: I was going to say that when I saw that he was getting back into dramas, it made perfect sense that it’s a weekend drama, for all of those reasons.
Anisa: Interesting. And, I just want to also bring up the fact that I remember – and I don’t follow as much the Korean internet response, because I just find the translation sometimes – that whole thing, it can be kind of toxic – but I remember reading a lot of the international community even saying things like, “Well, she accepted a settlement – that means that she was lying,” or like – she accepted the settlement so she got what she wanted and he should just be free to live his life and move on. You know, like as if – because to me, the fact that he settled and he gave her that money means that he actually did something wrong, but a lot of people were taking it as – oh, well, she got what she wanted – she just wanted the money, you know, and it almost meant that they didn’t have to feel bad anymore, for what she had gone through. And it also kind of relates to the Kim Hyun-Joong case in that way too, because there’s also that aspect in that case where it’s such an egregious case of abuse and yet, the fact that there’s some kind of settlement money that changed hands is – suddenly makes everything ok. Paroma, do you want to jump in?
Paroma: Hey guys – I just had one thing to add to the whole Park Shi-hoo thing. So, around the time in 2016 when he made his comeback after like three years of hiatus – he was doing some international stuff and a movie I think – so, he had tried to make a comeback before that, but the netizens were like super negative about it so he dropped it. I think it was like Golden Cross that he tried to come back with, so he didn’t take the role. And after that, the next time, I don’t exactly remember what drama this was but it was in 2016 and his agency did this trick that they sued 79 netizens for negative comments on his comeback – and they did it just as a new drama was releasing, so it effectively silenced the detractors and didn’t allow the wave that had previously stopped him from making a comeback to happen again. Once the drama was on air and it was being received by – as you guys said – a side of the population that really didn’t care about his scandal. if you will, so much, then once that happened, he was pretty much in the clear. Okay, I’m done – I’m out. Bye guys.
Anisa: Thank you for sharing that interesting and sad fact.
Pogo: Okay – it’s interesting that Paroma brought up Golden Cross just now because I just checked it and that was a KBS drama too, which really lends a lot of credence to my theory that somebody at that network is very, very invested in rehabilitating this guy’s career, and his biggest hit before that, Princess Man, which was a 2011 drama was also at KBS, so I just think that it’s got a lot to do with him having connections there and, as a consequence, a lot of backing…
Anisa: Yeah, I see that. Should we talk about the Kim Hyun-joong case for a few minutes, and then I want to get into the specifics of, like, K-dramas as a cultural product. I’m sure that you are familiar with the case of Kim Hyun-joong, but just to refresh, he – I think it was three or four years ago now, but his ex-girlfriend went to the police with evidence, pictures and stuff, of him having beat her up and I think she was pregnant at the time, and there was also evidence that his family had tried to get her to go to the doctor with them under kind of shady circumstances, and she was afraid for her baby’s life. So, it became a huge thing. I think he even admitted to doing it, although he said something like, “I was practicing taekwondo with her and she got hurt.”
Anisa: Yeah, that was his excuse. And there was like, you know, medical reports – pictures, it was very clear and I remember at that time there were people that were completely disgusted and there was very vocal – I don’t know if it was a minority of his fans, but they were like, she made him do it – she must have done something – why else would he hit her? Oppa is good, he wouldn’t do anything – it was crazy, and his company eventually just sent him to the military as like damage control. Because he was coming up for military anyway, and this was just a good way of getting him out and making him look penitent, or whatever, so he kind of like apologized or whatever, and like I remember seeing the pictures of his fans seeing him off when he was going to the military and there were like crowds of women there, and it just blew my mind, so yeah.
Odessa Jones: I remember the pictures, but I don’t – I’m not sure, I don’t know much about the case – the specifics of it.
Anisa: No, I followed the case pretty closely, because I remember it just being very – I think it was the first one that’s really shaken – because there have been a few since then with like K-pop stars and stuff, but I think that was the first one in this generation of stars that I think kind of shook the international fandom in this way, or that was kind of shocking. Because before that it was like – oh these pretty boys that dance, and they’re so lovely and they’re in K-dramas and we love them, and it was a first look at the uglier side of the entertainment industry for a lot of fans who had, until now, this really idealized picture of the whole thing, and I’m talking about internationally.
Pogo: So, basically, the thing that I’ve noticed about the Korean idol industry, is that they literally sell people as products. It’s not just about how good you are at the actual performance and the music, it’s about, as they call it, the whole package, but to me it’s really mostly about image and personality and when it comes to that, it ends up with being fans needing to believe this illusion that their idol is a certain way. For a lot of us, I think, in the case of say – if you are a fan of a Western pop star, like – ok, I was a Madonna fan growing up, and I didn’t really care about what she did in her private life, but with a K-pop star, that’s – it runs a little differently because you are selling them the whole person as it were, and to keep the fandom going they need to believe in the illusion that the person isn’t problematic…so basically what happens when we come up against a case like Kim Hyun-joong, is you’re asking these fans to accept that the whole image was a lie and some of them just can’t do it because their whole judgment has been called into question.
Anisa: And all that time and love and energy – everything that they’ve put into him – Odessa, go ahead.
Odessa Jones: It’s a different response than you get in the United States. It’s interesting that in the United States you get people writing articles saying – oh, can we still enjoy this person’s movies if this person is horrible to women? Or, can we still enjoy this person’s – the movies this person made or the TV shows this person is in, you see people discussing that and the flip side in Korea, there’s no question about that – like, if you genuinely believe that somebody was a bad person, you wouldn’t be able to watch their things. Or you wouldn’t be able to appreciate their work at all, because the work is so deeply dependent upon the way the personalities are sold and so, I think that’s why in some ways it’s even harder to have a #MeToo movement here, because in America the entertainment industry can say, “Oh, well, Harvey Weinstein’s bad – we don’t want to work with him anymore, but we’re still happily going to watch all of these movies that he made with his studio for decades and decades.”
Anisa: Yeah – there’s a whole separating the art from the artist.
Odessa Jones: Yeah – whereas, in the Korean industry, if you know that Park Shi-hoo is a terrible person, then you can’t justify him being in dramas. You can’t justify watching his dramas.
Pogo: The thing with that whole argument about being able to watch the movies or the creative output of somebody who has proven to be a terrible person – my personal take on it is that I get how people do that, because sometimes great creative gifts are given to awful people and there’s definitely an argument to be made that people who aren’t terrible should be able to appreciate – not appreciate, exactly, but take away whatever that art gives them, without having to take away whatever makes the person who made that art bad.
Whereas, in Korea, because you’ve got this whole concept of – you know, this person must be a certain way before they’re allowed to face the public, but if you have a public facing job dependent upon your image then your private life has to be this certain way too. It’s not the same, but I get both sides of the argument because entertainment industries by default are image dependent. It’s just a question of degree and how much you are expected to buy into the image, because I think most consumers of Western media, or at least for the most part I think, we are willing to accept that that is just an image and that people can turn out differently and that it is a role, whereas in Korea I think it’s expected that, well, your private life has to hold up to scrutiny too.
Ji Sung in Defendant
Odessa Jones: I think there is a reason for that, which is not – I think everybody in every culture is kind of equally – equally has to wrestle with the fact that actors are acting. It’s not true. This is the fundamental problem that you go through in your brain every time you watch acting. You know they’re lying to you, but you want them to lie to you, so you have to reconcile that in your mind somehow and it’s easier to make that jump in Western entertainment because I think Western entertainment is so focused on selling action and not morals, and not sincerity. I think Korean storytelling – and I think this might apply – I haven’t watched as much storytelling from other Asian countries, but I think I see it in a lot of Asian storytelling, that they are selling the importance of sincerity. Your characters – their greatest virtue is their sincerity. Is this person believable? Is this person honest? Does this person show us their true emotions? That’s why we have so many men crying in East Asian dramas, even though I don’t see men around me crying at all here in Korea. But in the dramas…
Anisa: You mean it’s not true, Odessa? You’ve shattered all of my illusions!
Odessa Jones: I will tell you some crying stories later; I’ve got some good ones. But in general, the reason the crying comes into the dramas, or the reason that I do have colleagues who will, like, burst into tears at a going away event or something is because that’s how these men show their sincerity and that’s a sign of sincerity. Sincerity is very important and with that being, like, the most important thing in Korean dramas, then the fact that actors are lying to you becomes more of an issue and more of a problem.
Anisa: Yeah, I definitely see that. So, this kind of leads me to the next question that I wanted to ask you in that, does this – I mean, I think we always knew this kind of stuff was going on, maybe in recent months it has become clearer how widespread and entrenched and everything it was – oh yes, side note: Odessa Jones wrote a great piece about men’s tears – check it out. So, I guess what I want to ask is, has this kind of upswell and this kind of bugs-crawling-out-under-the-rock-that-we-lifted-up kind of thing – has it changed the way that you watch entertainment in general, and Korean dramas specifically? Did you always kind of like have this same idea that you have now about, I guess – can you separate the art from the artist and have your feelings changed recently about this?
Odessa Jones: Oh, that’s such a tough question. I love that Pogo brought this up already about can you separate the art from the artist. I have to say that I’m with Pogo in that I wrestle with that question – I don’t have a clear answer to that question at all, and it’s been a dilemma for me with some of the people who have been accused of terrible things in American entertainment, but with the Korean things that I watch, it has not changed how I watch them much and I think that might be because, since I have always watched Korean dramas as an outsider to this culture, I always had this part of my mind which was like watching out at being careful and looking to see – how are they treating women here? Is this scene good? Is this scene problematic? And so my reaction to those problematic scenes now is the same as it was in the past – I’m still paying attention to those and noticing those and my favorite writers of dramas – my favorite dramas in general, I think the biggest factor in making a drama one of my favorites has always been, how do they treat women in this drama?
Anisa: Yeah, it’s interesting that you bring up being a cultural outsider when it comes to Korean dramas. I just want to put a pin in that and just say that in terms of separating the art from the artist, for me – and I agree it’s, as you both said, it’s kind of tough to wrestle with at times, especially when it’s someone who, in terms of American celebrities, it’s a lot of times someone you’ve grown up loving, so it’s a little bit different from someone who you begin to be a fan of as an adult. I think we are a lot – we have these rose-colored glasses of nostalgia that are sometimes – that cloud our judgment. I think for me, now, it’s more like, if I don’t know what a person is like behind closed doors, I just don’t know and I’m probably just going to watch their stuff. If I find out something about them that’s pretty clearly bad, maybe I will still have fond memories of things I’ve watched in the past; I don’t think I can watch anything new or like, put my money into something that they’ve created just because, especially when I know how – I’m sure this is true of every entertainment industry but, here in Hollywood and stuff, the way that resources and money and opportunities are reserved so specifically for a small amount of people and there are so many people who are talented, who are women, and women of color and other people of color and people who are disabled and people who just don’t get to make their projects and they don’t get those opportunities and yet we have extremely terrible people who just keep getting movies. Like, how many movies has Woody Allen made now? And he still is getting awards, and nobody talks really talks about – yeah, so it’s tough though.
Pogo: The thing you mentioned about the really small number of people getting opportunities and resources put into them, again and again and again, it’s interesting because I noticed that with a lot of recent diversity efforts, the pushback against that has been – oh, we’re going to be lowering our standards by admitting more people into the pool that get considered for these projects.
Anisa: The I’m not racist, but crowd, yeah.
Pogo: Yeah, the “I’m not racist, but, yeah – maybe they’re not just good enough,” whereas, we have had enough recent successes that actively advocate and feature diversity that, you know, people – I would actually like to have people think of it the other way. That instead of lowering standards, it’s just opening up the pool to equally good actors who wouldn’t have got the chance at all otherwise. To bring up a Western media example, look at Star Wars. Basically, the first two trilogies – the ones made between 1977 and 2005 – essentially it had one type of person and mostly a lot of men, but there’s been an insane amount of pushback against the fact that the lead of the new trilogy is a woman and that the lead of the spin-off Rogue One is also a woman, and that that spin-off prominently featured people of color in it, which is not something that any Star Wars movie has ever done to this degree – and those people turned out to be the biggest fan favorites, you know. So, what you are getting by getting actors like Diego Luna or Donnie Yen into your movie is not a lowering of standards, it’s just opening up the field to people who would have had that door shut in their faces before.
Odessa Jones: And, far from being a lowering of standards, it makes things better. And it’s interesting that you mentioned Star Wars because I was born in the 70s. Growing up, the only female role model I remember having is Princess Leia. That was it. She was the only strong female character, because you know, the movies that were on TV at that point were things that were made in the 60s and 70s – or the 50s, so until I discovered movies from the 30s that sometimes had good female characters in them, pretty much Princess Leia was it. So, even in that movie – which from today’s standpoint looks very white and very male, even that film, it was the female character that gave it so much of what made it a success, definitely.
Anisa: And as you both said, not only are we getting really talented people that we haven’t gotten a chance to hear from before – it also means that we’re getting more interesting and better stories because, guess what, we’ve been seeing the same story of this male white hero for, you know, 100 years and it’s a great story but it’s one type of story. And the more perspectives you have, the more different types of experiences you represent on screen, it’s just going to make the stories better and more interesting, and we won’t have to keep watching the same recycled plotlines over and over again.
Odessa Jones: And that gives me some hope for the entertainment industry. We know that it is an industry, it is about money – it’s about what makes money, it’s about what the profit margins are, and they are always looking for new stories to tell because they need them to make that profit. And so that gives me a little hope that some people in the industry at least will see that they need those new stories. Those new stories are good for the bottom line, when they spend a lot of time worrying about the bottom line – it’s a competitive business.
Anisa: Yeah, it’s the only thing that’s really going to change things, as you said, and speaking of the stories that we tell, I want to talk about Korean dramas specifically. Basically, well, we know the basic, classic story. It’s almost like a Cinderella story, or maybe you could call it a Pride and Prejudice redux: where the guy is rich and he’s cold and he’s cold and kind of proud and kind of a jerk and maybe has some kind of secret pain in his past, and the girl is, you know, she’s poor and she’s hard working and she’s a door mat and she’s very good natured and a lot of times he has some kind of power over her. Maybe he’s her boss, maybe he’s just so disgustingly wealthy that the power dynamic is just kind of icky in their relationship. Or, you know, he has some kind of – like I’ve seen dramas where she borrows money from him for some kind of lifesaving operation that she needs for her family or like, to help her get out of debt – there’s all kinds of ways that…
Odessa Jones: Or, like, she’s going to give him her kidney or something – I mean, we’ve seen every variation of this.
Anisa: Or she’s homeless, and he’s providing her with a place to stay – yes, there are so many. So, this has given us a lot of these tropes, and within these dramas, we have the tropes like the wrist grab and the jealous boyfriend – once they start dating he’s like, why are you wearing that – I don’t like the fact that your legs are exposed or – just like, his family being disapproving and telling her to get lost – the makeover in the department store where he basically, like, remakes her into this image of the girl that he wants – so many. And also, society telling her: this is a guy that you should be with because he’s rich and good looking – forget his character and the fact that he treats you like garbage.
We can bring up a lot of examples, but do you think that these tropes are changing? And are they always inherently problematic, or is there a way that we can have these tropes in our dramas, because we’ve all enjoyed dramas like this, that have these types of plotlines, right? Whether it’s a guilty pleasure or we were just young and very enamored with this kind of prince character – prince charming character – do you think that there’s a way to do these tropes in a way that works and is not problematic, or do we just need to change the type of story that we tell?
Odessa Jones: One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot is that I would love to reach the point where we didn’t have to think about romance stories in a political way – so that we could tell stories that would include every one of these tropes, because we’ve known people who have fallen in love with all kinds of crazy people for all kinds of crazy reasons and why not tell all of those stories? But I don’t think we’ve reached that point until women are equally represented in the entertainment industry and then, I think, when we reach that point it’ll be less of an issue, but until then, when I see the wrist grab, or when I see bad behavior – I have to think, is that just because a man wrote the script, and a man is the director and a man is the cinematographer and a man is the foley artist and the best boy and whatever all those jobs are in the movies? If women were doing half of those jobs and getting equal pay, would we be having the same stories?
Anisa: Yeah, and how do those stories actually deal with them?
Pogo: The thing about these tropes is they keep showing up in entertainment a lot, and they kept showing up in earlier entertainment, because they are wildly popular and the stories featuring them are wildly popular. And I think it’s also worth noting, before we start talking about anything else, that these things aren’t exclusive to Korean entertainment. These tropes aren’t exclusive to Korean or even Asian entertainment – they’re pretty universal in a sense. They are just rather more concentrated in entertainment coming from more conservative societies, and a lot of people apparently do find it appealing, because look at Hana Yori Dango which was adapted into Boys Over Flowers – there have been something like 5 different TV shows.
Anisa: Oh my god, yes.
Pogo: In different languages all across Asia, and every single adaptation has been a smash hit, and I think we can all agree that the male lead in that one treats the female lead horribly at first.
Anisa: It takes all of these tropes to almost like their worst extremes. It’s terrible.
Pogo: But even within that, I think there are certain choices made in adaptation that are really questionable. Like, in the manga itself, there’s an attempted sexual assault by the hero on the heroine – ok, this is while he’s still bullying her, etc. all of that. The Japanese drama, interestingly, leaves that out. It keeps him a terrible person, a bully and all of that, but it doesn’t have him attempt to sexually assault her. The Korean drama, on the other hand, leaves that in, and that’s a choice.
Anisa: I found the Korean version to be much worse than the Japanese version in those ways, personally.
Odessa Jones: And it’s so interesting that I don’t even remember that from the Korean version, which makes me wonder how much of our experience watching dramas is our ability to forget things or not notice them – like, forget the most offensive parts that disturb us the most.
Anisa: Paroma, do you want to jump in for a second?
Paroma: Yeah, hey – I just have one point. If women had more positions in the industry, would these kinds of stories still be told? As much as I think women being in strong positions in the industry would change narratives, bring in new stories and all of that stuff, we have to remember that things like Boys Over Flowers – they are mostly watched by women, it is women who made them into a success. We have, what do you call that when you just take something into your head subconsciously…
Paroma: Internalize. We have internalized our sexism to the degree and accepted this kind of behavior in these heroes so much that this seems almost normal to us. We know it’s bad behavior – we don’t want the hero to stay this way, but it’s okay to us if the hero sometimes behaves like this, so long as by the end of the show he shows a little bit of character development, and that’s all we need apparently. That was my pessimistic view, I’m out again.
Pogo: The thing I also wanted to say about the popularity of these tropes is that they feed into internalizing misogyny in a big way and also into fantasy because you have this very badly behaved rich or more powerful man and the woman in the relatively weaker position and despite all of the bad behavior at the start what you get by the end is the woman, one way or another, affecting change in the man to the degree where he isn’t so terrible anymore. I can’t even say they’re good by the very end, they’re just better, but that really does tap into this idea that we are fed that the right woman will change even the worst man which is also a really problematic view.
But it’s a fantasy and I think a lot of people accept it as such because what I’ve noticed is that it’s always the men who are given the license to behave badly in this situation. I get the appeal as a storytelling device because it generates conflict at the start of your story and that’s a major point from which you can jump off to changing relationships or changing characters, but it just doesn’t make sense to me other than the obvious explanation, which is misogyny. That it’s always men who are given this leeway and not women.
Paroma: I have a point, I have a point! When books started getting printed and women were suddenly authors and not just readers, those first stories that women started writing were sort of about women changing the men in their lives – like, women were the good, moral centers and the men in their lives were sort of rascals and they were sort of morally compromised until the good woman comes along. That trope was already there, but women were writing those in more exaggerated ways and that was the hero’s journey for the women because while the troubadours were writing about men journeying afar and, you know, conquering lands, women had always been heroines of the hearth. So when women started writing, they were also writing from the same old tropes and we kind of got stuck in them, where if we change the man in our life and he looks to us and nobody else, then that is our wish – we got the treasure – we’ve conquered our continent.
Anisa: That kind of speaks to the inherent power imbalance in real life, right? Because, in one way, that sexism is coming out in the sense of – the only way you can change your life if the man has complete power over you, or he has a really big amount of power over you, and he changes because of you, then the power is given back to you, but it’s problematic because that’s not how it works in real life. But I can see the wish fulfillment in that.
Odessa Jones: And there’s one thing I have to add, because Paroma, that was so interesting what you just said about the women writing these stories about the hero’s journey, women’s style. One of the very earliest English novels is Pamela – and I had never actually made this connection in my mind – Pamela, which came out in 1740 – it’s basically the plot of Boys Over Flowers. I can’t believe I never noticed this before! The title is Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded and it was a pretty over-the-top plot and you can imagine the plot was, take Boys Over Flowers and put it in the 18th century England pretty much. So I think there’s conservatism happening in society that maybe these stories continue to be appealing. There’s also conservatism in storytelling; I think sometimes people find a story that works and they milk it for as long as they can.
Anisa: Yeah, it’s the impulse to just keep remaking the same stories over and over and over again that we’ve seen in every entertainment industry, because apparently there are no good new ideas. Which goes back to having more types of stories told, which would solve that problem. But anyway, now to get back to what we were already talking about…
Pogo: The thing I wanted to say was that, while I understand the appeal of – again, I’m saying this for like the hundredth time – I understand the appeal of the tropes, but it’s such lazy storytelling. Because it often feels like that’s the only way some storytellers know to establish a relationship: to have the man be really nasty to the woman first for reasons – assorted reasons – it could be any reason at all, I’m sure within the story it’s justified. Oh, he had a bad childhood, oh he’s traumatized, you know, there’s a misunderstanding but, the upshot is ultimately always the same: it’s the woman on the receiving end of bad behavior from the man. And then the man is sort of behaving badly some more while he tries to conceal newly growing feelings, I guess.
Frankly, maybe in a single drama it’s not that big a deal, but when you’ve got one drama after another after another – just – it takes a lot of bricks to make a wall, but ultimately that’s the wall, right? Personally, I’d like to see more dramas where you establish a couple’s relationship by having them actually behave like they like each other. I’m going to take an example here – I keep bringing this one up a lot because I love this drama, but Sassy Go Go. See, it starts off with, as many dramas do, a misunderstanding between the heroine and a fairly badly behaved hero who is closed off for his own reasons, but that’s solved by episode 2 or 3. And from episode 3 onward they are allies, and he’s actually realized he likes her, and he’s not trying to hide it and that’s a relationship that actually grows with them talking, not fighting, which – I didn’t realize how refreshing that was until I got to the end of that series and somebody made the comment that the hero in Sassy was somebody who would most likely be the second lead in any other series.
Anisa: And how sad it is that when the hero actually likes the heroine it’s like surprising and refreshing – we’re like wow, this is so great – we never get this.
Pogo: Yes – exactly, and he likes her and he enjoys the fact that he likes her and he’s not afraid to show it, and he really, really tries to make his point and get across to her that he likes her. He’s not trying to hide his own feelings and his masculinity isn’t so fragile that he’s threatened by it.
Anisa: And even the way that he shows that he likes her is to be her friend and not to try to own her in a way that a lot of these heroes are like, I want to have you – now that I’ve decided that I like you and I don’t hate you anymore, I need to make you mine somehow – I need to show you that I possess you. But he doesn’t do that he’s like, just trying to be in her life in a way that makes her life better.
Odessa Jones: Yeah, I think that if we want to look for hopeful signs, I think that we can find them – definitely in the rise of this second lead as first lead, let’s call him. The dramas that put front and center a guy who’s just really nice and really decent and I see so many more dramas like that the past few years. If you go back, I don’t know how far back you’ve watched dramas, but if you go back and watch Kim Sam-soon is such a beloved show, and the first time I watched it was only a couple of years ago and I was appalled by what an unappealing person the hero is.
Anisa: He’s terrible. I mean it’s Hyun Bin so we forgive him a lot, but he’s terrible.
Odessa Jones: Oh, I hate him – I didn’t like him at all, at any time, in that entire drama, but I watched the whole drama, because I’d heard so much about it. I was like ok – at some point I will start liking it, right? But I never liked him. And that was interesting for me, because I realized wait, so some of the stuff I’m seeing today in dramas that bothers me is the old stuff and the stuff that I’m seeing that I like is the sort of newer stuff – the new trend.
Anisa: Yeah, and it’s been kind of slow enough to change that I think, like you said, we notice it – more than noticing it quite as much as it happens, we notice it when we go back to older stuff. I remember, we were talking about this on one of our long yaks when we discussed Radio Romance, but Saya was saying how it feels like a little bit of a throwback because of the way that the gender roles are kind of interacting, and the way that the hero and heroine are interacting, and I mean – it’s bad, but in a way it’s a good sign because we’ve gotten used to actually having – I mean last year, we had some really great, complicated, interesting heroines who were flawed and smart and they were like career women and they had personalities and they had their own dreams. We just did I’m Not a Robot – that was just – we just recorded it and she’s an entrepreneur, she’s an inventor, you know, so we’ve been getting these better stories about women and it’s really nice to see. Any examples that y’all want to bring up?
Odessa Jones: Well, one example that for me is interesting because I do not like the dramas by the writer Kim Eun-sook – I have never really liked a drama by her, but, there has been so much change in the way she writes these relationships and they are all dramas coming from the same writer so you could sort of see the evolution of how she’s approached these things because she wrote Secret Garden which has creepy, stalker Hyun Bin as the hero in it, right? And then her most recent thing is Descendants of the Sun, which is about a man and a woman who meet in the first episode and like each other
Anisa: Well, her most recent is actually Goblin, but Descendants of the Sun was right before that.
Odessa Jones: Right, Goblin is the most recent, yeah. Oh, Saya pointed out to me that Goblin and Descendants of the Sun are things that she has written with co-writers, so it’s possible that that has an influence on her style – definitely. But, there’s definitely a different feel to those dramas and they still have her name on them and they still have huge ratings – they do really well, and I don’t hear any of my Korean colleagues saying, “Oh, I really wish the hero in Descendants of the Sun was meaner to the heroine,” you know?
Anisa: Yeah, I mean, Kim Eun-sook is – yeah, I have issues with her. But you’re right, her most recent ones have been better, and I don’t know if that’s because she had co-writers, because she’s written a lot of dramas and all the ones before Descendants of the Sun were extremely problematic.
Odessa Jones: They’re awful – they’re awful.
Anisa: They were terrible.
Odessa Jones: Yeah. It’s always…her heroes are the most entitled – they always expect to be able to get whatever they want, and her heroines are always these very weak figures who basically let the men walk all over them.
Kim Sun-ah and Cha Seung-won in City Hall
Anisa: I think, maybe, the only exception for me out of her older dramas would be City Hall, where they did still have a dynamic where the man had more power, but I found their relationship to be much more balanced and it was much more of an equal – like, they both had journeys that they had to take to come to each other instead of the woman doing all of the work, like he did a lot of work and he had to do a lot of relationship labor, and character labor. It wasn’t just all on her. I just really love that story, but for me that’s an outlier with her. I don’t – I mean, Secret Garden was a very cracktastic watch, but looking back on it, I mean – it’s so terrible. I think we’re all in agreement.
Odessa Jones: She’s not the best, but then there are other writers who write much better female characters, better male characters and are not as popular as she is, so that’s why I find her interesting that she has made these very popular dramas that still have some moderation of the arrogant male hero that we saw in the past.
Anisa: Yeah, it’s a good trend, and it’s nice to see that, as you said, they were still extremely popular even with the better heroes, and so it’s not that they have to be so misogynistic for people to love them and to fall in love with those shows – so that’s a hopeful trend.
I just wanted to bring up some recent ones where I found that the heroines were better, to recommend. I know that Misaeng is not really a heroine centered drama, but I really like how it showed, I mean I just love that one in general – it’s so good, if you haven’t seen it, everyone needs to watch it – but I really liked how it talked about the kind of subtle and maybe not always blatant sexism that women face in the workplace in terms of what’s expected of them and how they are treated in relation to their male colleagues. I really liked that. I liked Oh Hye-young Again, although I know that people’s mileage vary on that heroine; Because It’s My First Life, I mean, the ending was a little bit – it dove off the deep end, but for the majority I really liked how they treated the female characters; and then there’s Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food, which is still airing, but – oh my gosh – I’m really interested in where they are going with like how they deal with – I mean it’s very head-on in facing workplace harassment, relationship violence you know – I don’t know if you two are watching it, but…
Pogo: I haven’t started watching it either.
Anisa: It somehow balances an extremely cute love story with like some really serious issues with, like, how women are treated in society and I’m really interested in where it’s going. I mean, it always can potentially take a very bad left turn, but I’m hopeful.
Odessa Jones: Well, I really want to see it.
Anisa: Any favorites that you want to bring up?
Pogo: Odessa, you go first, I’m still thinking.
Odessa Jones: One of the first – so this is going back a couple of years, but the first drama I ever really watched in real time was It’s Okay, That’s Love and I was hooked – that got me hooked because the heroine was so complex and I was one of the people that loved her. Other people didn’t like her – this is the challenge with complex heroines – but for me that show was so amazing because of the complexity that it brought to all of its characters and also because of the way that it took the – the hero is an alpha – he does all of the alpha male stuff in the beginning, and is a jerk at the beginning, and then we learn that he’s being an alpha male because of mental illness. And so that typical Korean drama behavior is constructed as something that is a flaw that he has to like, get over, so it’s a smart drama in that sense – it approaches all of that. And then, some of the fluffiest dramas are also the ones that just make this stuff the easiest – I’m thinking of the ones that I watched to get over the Trump election.
Anisa: I needed a lot of K-drama therapy for that one.
Odessa Jones: Yeah, I would not have made it through that winter without Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo – of course, that’s just a perfect rom-com – having a hero who’s just – there’s never anything problematic in that entire drama, basically, which is so exciting. Watching a K-drama and at no point saying, “Why is he treating her badly in that?” There’s none of that. And also, that was the winter that Shopping King Louis was on. I don’t know if you guys watched that but I love that show and Seo In-guk is an actor – he has never chosen a part in which he’s mean to women. I don’t know of any other actor who can say that, but he’s been the first lead in lots of things where he was never mean. I know if he chooses a part, the character is going to be a nice guy. I don’t know if that will stay the case – his career is not, I don’t know if it will ever take off, but there are some actors like that. You’ve got to watch out for them. And there are other actors who, pretty much, don’t seem to care. Like Hyun Bin – if he’s in something, it could be awful.
Anisa: And I think – we love Ji Sung around here. I think it’s interesting – I wouldn’t say that Ji Sung has never chosen a drama in which he’s mean to women because hello, Secret – I feel like that drama is not trying to show that as a behavior that a hero should have and is not really trying to show it in a positive light – so I think he kind of gets a pass on that one, considering all the others that he’s done, like Kill Me, Heal Me. I just love him in everything. He was amazing in Defendant.
Odessa Jones: I mean, I’ve watched his stuff going way back to some ridiculous history dramas and even in the history dramas that are set two thousand years ago he’s, like, incredibly nice to every female character.
Anisa: And then you have his real life personality, and then you’re just like, “I’m a puddle of goo, take my money, I’m going to watch everything that you’ve ever made.”
Pogo: I really like this rise of the beta male over the last few years. I think it’s something that has been coming for a while now and I think that the first drama that I watched that I can pinpoint the hero being a nice person to the heroine throughout, and not being mean to her at any point that I could think of, was I Hear Your Voice. Park Hye-ryun as a writer seems to be pretty good at doing these relationships where her leads are kind of equals in a sense, if not material equals then at least emotional equals. You don’t have this thing where he tries to be mean to her to hide feelings or have a major misunderstanding or whatever and that’s something that I noticed in Pinocchio too. It does approach their relationship as being something that starts with them on equal footing and it keeps it that way throughout, so nobody really has a power imbalance and nobody is playing noble idiot or being mean to each other – they have their ups and downs, but it kind of makes sense as between he characters and not as them following a trope.
Another one was, of course, Weightlifting Fairy which was kind of amazing. I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it – he’s never an asshole, he’s sweet all the way through. It was astonishing to me. And they fight and they squabble, but they’re friends. It portrays them as being equals, and not really needing that kind of conflict to make their relationship grow or change. You don’t need conflict leaning into misogyny there. Another one – quite a few 2017 dramas, actually – was Fight My Way, where, again, they are lifelong friends, they are both struggling, and if at any point somebody is struggling with their feelings it’s just them being really thick and not into the other person. Sure, they’ll tell each other, “Hey, mind your own business,” but he’s not treating her badly and neither is she treating him badly. That’s something that Park Seo-joon does really well, he plays nice people in a way that’s as swoony as an asshole hero changing. Having a nice person realize their feelings can be just as effective as having a not-nice person having to change.
Anisa: And you don’t have to get over your initial disgust of them!
Pogo: And then, of course, Odessa brought up Seo In-guk and I’m going to bring up the first thing I saw him in which was, of course, Answer Me 1997. Lifelong friends and there’s no shortage of conflict between them and the friendship even breaks at one point, but he’s never mean to her and yeah, he may be the top student, but I think the drama makes a really good point of showing them within the relationship on equal footing. He might be a young genius, or whatever, but it doesn’t make him better and the drama doesn’t treat him as though he’s better than her for that.
Anisa: And also, Father is Strange was another 2017 drama that had great relationships: the relationships between the parents and the relationships between all of the siblings and their romantic partners. The one that was kind of problematic was the one between the in-laws who – the dad was terrible to the mom and like, [Lee Yuri] basically becomes her mother-in-law’s legal advocate and like, has a verbal beat down with her father-in-law and it’s great – it’s awesome. I loved that part.
So I mean, that was a really great one for relationships and, like, to your point Pogo and a lot of the dramas we brought up – also School 2017 was great in that way – I like how we are getting so many friendship before love dramas – from friends to lovers, I feel like that trope has become a lot more common. And it’s kind of been in concert with the rise of the beta male, because it’s so great to have, like you said, two people who actually really like each other before they become in love. It provides that conflict that we used to get from the initial relationship being – we’ve had a misunderstanding, or you’re just a terrible person and we hate each other to I really like you, in fact I love you so much as a friend that I am afraid of what’s going to happen to our relationship if we start a romantic relationship – and that is such a more compelling conflict to me because you’re already so invested in their relationship. You’re invested in liking both of the leads.
Pogo: The thing that’s great about friendship to lovers dramas is that – they are hard to pull off because, I think they are hugely dependent upon chemistry. You need leads who feel relaxed and easy enough around each other to be believable as best friends but who, at the same time, can take it up in intensity and be swoony when they realize, well – they are not just friends anymore, does that make sense? Which is why I think they are probably tricky to cast, whereas I guess the conflict to romance relationship is a little easier because you know it’s just – oh fireworks, and then a kind of calm. Whereas you have got a slightly different style of procession for friendship to lovers dramas – you need – it’s really dependent upon the actor and I don’t see that always being believable, though I do think in cases like Answer Me or Fight My Way or School 2017 even, they work because of the actors.
Anisa: And I think even with traditional kind of “I hate you until I love you” dramas, they also run into that problem with chemistry because sometimes you can really believe them as enemies, but when they like each other it just doesn’t work. Maybe in the writing it works, but those two characters don’t have that romantic chemistry.
Pogo: Yeah, and the thing about it is that, my test for chemistry is do I want to see these two characters continue to interact, like do I actually look forward to them interacting – and if the answer is no, then that is a negative for chemistry.
Anisa: Yes, I agree.
Pogo: It’s not just about people looking pretty together, or even individually being good actors, it’s kind of more about how they vibe and how they fit the roles, and sometimes K-dramas can get their priorities really skewed on casting, so I think that is more of a behind the scenes issue.
Anisa: Does anybody have anything else to add to our discussion before we go into our conclusion?
Odessa Jones: I just wanted to say who the two writers are, who I think have done the best scripts in recent years in these terms, really addressing the complexities of these power relations between men and women and neither of these writers have anything that is coming out this year, so it’s driving me crazy. I want so much to see some more stuff from them, but the first one is Jung Sung-joo and she did the script for Secret Love Affair – which is like the best K-drama I’ve ever seen – it’s so good.
Anisa: It’s the one with Yoo Ah-in and – what’s the name of the actress? Kim Hee-ae.
Odessa Jones: Yeah, it’s really one of the best dramas – one of the best stories I’ve ever seen. It’s so good. But then she also wrote Heard it through the Grapevine…
Pogo: Oh my god, Heard it through the Grapevine is so good! Sorry.
Odessa Jones: Yeah, it takes the structure of the story and it’s kind of a traditional structure: you’ve got a boy who’s really wealthy, you’ve got a girl who is definitely not wealthy, and how are they going to make this work and his family opposes them, etc. etc., but she takes that structure and she gives it a totally new spin. The characters are just very three-dimensional characters and the guy – the male lead – the boy who has gotten his girlfriend pregnant is just a cream puff and it is fascinating
Anisa: Those two are on my list – I haven’t watched either one of them, but I’ve heard great things.
Odessa Jones: They’re both amazing.
Pogo: It’s like 30 episodes, but it’s so worth the investment.
Odessa Jones: And Secret Love Affair – that one is so – I don’t know, if Tolstoy wrote a K-drama it would be Secret Love Affair.
Anisa: Wow – that’s high praise.
Odessa Jones: Yeah, so I wish she would do something soon – her last thing was Heard it through the Grapevine which was in 2015, so I want to know where she is. And also, I want to know where Kwon Ki-young is because she did – she’s done a few things that were just so interesting and so unusual. She did Hello Monster [aka I Remember You] which had Seo In-guk and…
Pogo: Park Bo-gum.
Odessa Jones: Yeah. It’s ostensibly about a serial killer – it’s just a very unusual story. It’s got Jang Na-ra, who is a very tough female character, a very independent interesting female character in that, but then she also did Protect the Boss which has Ji Sung and ostensibly a traditional story of a rich chaebol with problems and the woman who tames him, but she did some really interesting things with that. The script is really good, the characters are interesting, she makes it very entertaining – that creepy aspect of that power imbalance are never there in that script. And then she wrote All About My Romance and – All About My Romance – I might be the only person who has ever watched it.
Anisa: I watched it! I’m the other person – I love that drama. Nobody else knows – it’s so good!
Odessa Jones: It’s such a great script and it doesn’t have much chemistry between the leads, like it was not perfect, but the script was so good and they were like two human beings who were like – it’s such a great drama. Sorry, maybe you could say something more.
Anisa: I was just going to say, this is a writer whose work I have always loved and I always forget her name but, yes, I love all of her stuff, so thank you for bringing her up. And Saya is a big Ha Myung-hee fan and I also – I haven’t watched a lot of her stuff, but she wrote High Society, Doctors, Temperature of Love, One Warm Word – the only one of those that I’ve watched to completion is One Warm Word, but I loved it and I found it very smart about relationships. I find that people don’t respond as well to hers, but Saya really loves her.
Odessa Jones: Yeah, actually, I’ve only seen High Society, but High Society had a really interesting take on things. It wasn’t great, but it was also taking what could have been a traditional story and messing with it and telling it in a different way – especially the secondary romance which was a rich man, poor girl romance that sounds like you’ve seen that a billion times, but she took the rich boy, poor girl romance and made the characters three dimensional. It had Park Hyung-sik, which helped.
Anisa: Yes – we love him. She’s definitely a writer’s writer. You can tell she really thinks about this a lot and she really is deliberate with what she wants to address – the issues she wants to address, but she does it – like, I really love her dialogue to be honest. Another writer that I want to bring up is Park Yeon-Sun who wrote Alone in Love back in the day – I love that drama. She’s also done Age of Youth, Seasons 1 and 2.
Pogo: Age of Youth – I love that one.
Anisa: Yes! Wild Romance, which was extremely unpopular but I really liked it; she did White Christmas; she’s amazing. And I’ve also seen Mrs. Kim’s Million Dollar Quest, which is like a very much older drama from 2004 but I watched it back in the day. But I’ve noticed with her that I love the way that she does relationships between men and women. She is so smart – not just between men and women but just, the people in her dramas are real people and they interact like real people and they make you cry – and even when she writes bad people, she writes them in a way that is just so interesting and so true to life, and things have consequences, and they have fallout, and it’s just really – I just love her. I just really, really love everything she does.
Odessa Jones: Oh, this is Park Yeon-sun – cool I will look for that.
Pogo: Start with Age of Youth, actually. That’s just 12 episodes – it goes by really easily.
Anisa: Have you seen Age of Youth?
Odessa Jones: I have not – I haven’t actually seen Age of Youth so I’m going to have to put that on my list right away.
Anisa: I highly recommend it. I think, maybe, my ending question to both of you would just be: we kind of talked about the cultural conversation in Korea and internationally about all of this #MeToo stuff and sexual harassment and these scandals, and it’s made me think a lot about how, after Park Geun-hye got arrested and resigned and put in jail, there were a ton of dramas about prosecutors and lawyers and police fighting against corrupt people in high positions of power. Like, we had a rash of them and I know, because I recapped like three of them. So I got really tired of watching prosecutor dramas. But I’m wondering, do you think that this kind of social movement is going to translate into dramas in the next two or three years? Do you think that people are going to change – they’ve already been changing but do you think we are going to see a little bit more of a change in the characters and the storylines that we see?
Odessa Jones: I hope we will see some stories that take this stuff on more directly – that challenge these topics more directly and I think it’s possible we will, because we’ve already seen some of these. This new kind of hero coming in to the trendy weekday drama. So it’s not that far of a leap to go a little further and write about some of these topics. That sounds very hopeful. I’m not always hopeful when I’m walking around the streets of Korea – there’s a lot of problems with gender relations here. But thinking about these dramas, there are these writers who are really trying to re-envision how things could be.
Anisa: And I’m hopeful that this is where we are going with Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food – I know that maybe it’s a little naïve to think that something that happened so recently can effect a drama that’s been in production for a while, but I really like how – like you are saying, it’s really taking these issues on head-on and from what I’ve seen in the writing so far I think that maybe this writer has the ability to deal with these topics in a really interesting way – so let’s all watch that and reconvene and talk about it.
Odessa Jones: Fingers crossed.
Anisa: Yes, I’m hopeful. Pogo, did you want to…?
Pogo: Yeah. The thing about Park Geun-hye the entire Choi Soon-shil or whatever her name was – that was her name, right? The so called shaman who had her in thrall and such – it’s funny because the drama I was watching at that time – probably at the peak of the demonstrations – was Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People which obviously couldn’t deal directly with the specific political issue because it’s a sageuk, but it did something really interesting in drawing a lot of parallels between what the production perceived were the issues with Park Geun-hye and the historical story they were telling, which was a story of probably Korea’s worst king ever and the people who opposed him. So it’s a different kind of story for me and it did something very interesting for a sageuk, which is that – usually, if you’ve seen sageuks they’re about kings and princes and people in power. This did something – this kind of spun that around by making its hero a member of the lower classes, and not giving him a birth secret to make him suddenly a prince or a noble or something like that, which I thought was very interesting because the traditional story of Hong Gil Dong involves him being an aristocrat’s illegitimate son. This drama purposely avoided it and made him the son of a slave, made him go in opposition to this very powerful and very wrong ruler and made him do it as a collective effort, which I thought was really, really interesting, and something I hadn’t seen before.
Anisa: I love that, and I love that you bring up a sageuk particularly, because I feel like sometimes fantasy or science fiction, or historical, or dramas that take place in another setting and not our so-called “real world” can discuss or tackle some of the issues that we’re dealing with in a much more effective way. Because you can kind of sneak up on people, or you can come around from an angle that they weren’t expecting and maybe reach people that you wouldn’t have otherwise reached if you are just doing like a very straight-on – like this is a story about this and you are going to learn a lesson, you know – and here’s the moral – and people are like, “I’m done taking my vitamins for today, thank you very much,” so yeah, absolutely.
Pogo: The thing about Rebel is that it addresses equality in a sense, not just economic equality, gender equality, and that’s something that I don’t often see in sageuks, because it is so often just a given that this is the power dynamic, this is the gender dynamic, this is how it is and this is how it will remain and maybe the weaker person there gets to buy into the power structure but, here it’s like no – let’s just do away with the entire structure.
Anisa: Awesome. I was already planning to watch that because you had said something in the past, but yeah, it’s definitely on my list. For sure, thank you for that.
Odessa Jones: Oh no, more things on my list! What do I do?
Anisa: Yeah, right? It’s never ending. I’ve got like five more things just from this one conversation.
So, on that note of perpetually adding to our watchlist, I think that’s a good place to wrap it up if no one has any more to add.
Odessa Jones: Oh, I will think of lots of things in the middle of the night.
Anisa: Well, we can always revisit this at some later point.
Pogo: It’s been great, guys.
Anisa: Thank you so much for joining us – both of you – Odessa Jones and Pogo, it’s been wonderful and thanks for bringing your insight and your intelligence and your K-drama knowledge and your general cultural knowledge to this. It’s kind of a difficult topic, but all three of us – I’m speaking for Paroma and Saya as well – we’ve been thinking about this and we’ve been wanting to talk about it for a while, so it’s been really nice to have you and to talk about this. Alright, I think we can end the call there. Thank you so much.
All: Bye guys!
Outro: Anisa again. That was a lot, and still, this is a vast and deep issue that we all had so much more to say about then we had time for in this episode. Fortunately or unfortunately, this global conversation continues to shift with many new developments having happened even in the short time since we recorded. We are inevitably going to revisit this topic in the future, especially since I got to talk a lot this time and Saya and Paroma didn’t. We appreciate you joining us for this more serious and tough discussion than the regular squeeing that we do around here. As always, thank for listening and we’d love to hear feedback. You can find more episodes on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Please leave us an iTunes review – it helps people find us! We’d also be ecstatic if you emailed us at email@example.com, and you can find us on Twitter at @dramasoverflowers. You can find a link to Odessa Jones’ piece about men’s tears in the show notes. Until next time, bye!
Age of Youth
This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity of reading.