How romance is changing in K-dramas, disappointing viewers
SEOUL — Romantic relationships of young Koreans are changing fast, and marriage — once considered the destination point of a successful relationship — is no longer a must, and television dramas are quickly picking up on the trend.
Terrestrial broadcaster KBS began airing rom-com Men are Men this month, centered on the story of a woman in her 30s, Seo Hyun-joo, who declares “marriage to oneself” three times in her life in the first episode.
While producer Choi Yoon-suk said during a press event that he wants the drama to share thoughts about women who choose to stay single, the lead cast members seemed think otherwise, hinting that the direction the show was headed in was somewhat muddled.
Hwang Jung-eum playing the female lead said that she realized with the drama that “love is the most essential part of life,” while veteran actress Choi Myung-gil said the drama “constantly shows that ‘marriage is the completion of a romantic relationship’.”
“The drama doesn’t seem to portray the reality of ‘no-marriage’ accurately. The topic stops at being one of the ways to show another cliched story seen in previous rom-coms, when viewers expect something different — such as how Hyun-joo would overcome her decision and find a direction to a relationship that could replace marriage,” culture critic Jung Deok-hyun told The Korea Herald.
“The fundamental problem of Korean romance dramas is that even if they adopt something new — we’ve seen no-marriage, and even homosexuality in dramas — the stories fail to persuade the viewers and often return to familiar plotlines, which ends up disappointing the viewers even more,” Jung said.
Similarly, tvN’s Oh My Baby, in which a woman seeks a way to have a baby without getting married, was considered a novel attempt, but got a worse-than-expected reception in the end. Some critics of the show said it was ultimately a cliched story about a love triangle in which two men fall in love with the same woman.
With the lack of understanding about how to pull the story through, such dramas often employ unrealistic details and repetitions of coincidences to facilitate unlikely plotlines.
In the case of Men in Men, Hyun-joo decides not to get married owing to her misfortunes in her previous lapses of life, when in reality, no one would decide to live alone for such a fantastical reason.
“It’s not the new form of romance or relationships that grabs the audiences but how much effort the producers put into understanding that kind of material and delivering it. Unrealistic details and overplaying of coincidences only force the viewers to lose interest,” drama critic Yoon Suk-jin said.
Dramas dealing with ordinary yet realistic relationships, including romantic ones, such as tvN’s My Unfamiliar Family, are fare better at winning over viewers with details that the viewers can agree with, Yoon added.
Love stories easily arouse people’s emotions and empathy and Yoon noted producers may be approaching the genre too easily for that reason, with the result that the Korean TV is, and has always been, inundated with the romance genre dramas.
“Love is something that people will find forever (in dramas), but the shape of love constantly changes with the society, and what is more important here is how we perceive such changing forms of romantic relationships. But most shows seem to hold weak ideas of what they genuinely want to portray through the episodes.”
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