Ghostly Shows, Part 1

One of the things I find really interesting is the use of ghosts in Asian shows. Most Western shows treat ghosts as either evil beings or guest stars. We have shows like Medium or Ghost Whisperer which have ghosts, but none of the ghosts stick around for more than a couple episodes. Occasionally you’ll have a ghost as a regular guest star on shows like Charmed, but the only Western tv show with a ghost as a main character I can think of is Being Human.

Contrast that with their use in Asian dramas. Sure, we still get the evil beings and guest star versions of ghosts (think Master’s Sun), but we also get ghosts as main or supporting characters. Even when we don’t get actual ghosts characters still talk about them.

One of the grey areas is whether the spirit of a person in a coma counts as a ghost or not. I am going to say they are since in every instance I know of the person has the same rules as a ghost and many times they don’t even know know about the coma at first.

My criteria for the shows to be discussed are that they must include actual ghosts, not just mentions of them or one character having a vision of a dead person one time, and have aired since 2010.

Who Is the Ghost?

Ghost as Main Character

Interestingly enough, the shows which have a female ghost as a lead are Korean. In Arang and the Magistrate (2012) Arang is a virgin ghost with memory loss and a mystery about how she died. In Oh My Ghostess (2015), Soon Ae is a virgin ghost with limited memory loss and a mystery about how she died (anyone else see a pattern here?). In 49 Days (2011) Ji Hyun is in a coma and gets chance to live if she can accomplish some tasks as a spirit.

The only male ghost I know of that gets top billing is Lin Hong Pei in the currently airing I’m Sorry, I Love You (Taiwan). Hong Pei is a little different because his presence is directly tied to a watch he was holding when he died. Continue reading

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I Remember You vs. Pinocchio

Pinocchio and I Remember You both aired this year in Korea. One was about rookie reporters finding their footing morally and professionally while righting wrongs from the past. The other was about police investigating crimes and tracking down a psychopath who has been on the run for decades and directly caused the destruction of our leads’ families. On the surface these shows don’t have much in common, but I am intrigued by the different ways they handle the issue of brothers separated after their father’s tragic death. I am only going to talk about that aspect of these two shows, and items closely related to it, because if I talked about everything I’d have to break this up into at least two or three posts.

Cause of Separation

In Pinocchio the father dies because of a stranger’s stupidity, but the real tragedy hits when those strangers then lie about what happened with the fire and a reporter spins things so the deaths of many firemen are on his shoulders. This causes the family left behind to be reviled by their community. When older brother Jae Myung doesn’t come home one night mom breaks and commits suicide and tries to take her younger son, Ha Myung, with her. Ha Myung is rescued from the sea. Ha Myung thinks his brother abandoned him, and he doesn’t want to live as the son of a criminal, so lies about losing his memory and doesn’t look for his brother.

In I Remember You the mother had already died when the father is killed by psychopathic murderer Lee Joon Yeong, whom he had been studying/analyzing. The younger brother, Min, leaves the house to escape and ends up in Joon Yeong’s car and is kidnapped by him while older brother Hyun is left behind. Hyun ends up with significant memory loss, and since he is a young child he leaves the hunt for his brother up to his foster mom, cop Chief Hyun.

The combination of choice and chance resulting in the separation of the brothers is almost exactly opposite between these two shows. In Pinocchio chance results in the death of the father, but choices by everyone else results in the separation of the brothers. In I Remember You Joon Yeong makes the choice to kill the father but it was chance that had Min end up in his car and separated the brothers.

The one choice that was the same in both shows was the lead not actively looking for his missing brother. Both of them were children at the time and they made the choice for different reasons, but the choice was still made to not look for the missing brother. In time that choice would come back to haunt both of them. Continue reading

Little Cultural Differences

When I first started watching Korean dramas it was the little things that threw me. I can handle the foreign language and reading subtitles just fine, I expected not to know the history or legends, but sometimes the little things took more time and effort to get used to. Even though I have been watching Asian dramas regularly for around five years there are still sometimes cultural differences which confuse or surprise me.

Here are some of the things that made me realize I was watching something from another culture.

  • Piggyback Rides-I could probably count on one hand the times I’ve seen adults give each other piggy back rides in American shows.
  • “Come here” hand motion- In America if we want to motion someone to some over we do so palms up, while in Asia they do it palm down. A little thing, but it still looks so strange to me.
  • School Age– Initially I didn’t know that the age to start school is different in Korea than in the US. It made a world of difference once I found out high school seniors in Korea are 20 instead of 18 like in America. This makes a huge difference in the ability to live alone and have romantic relationships.
  • Hospitalization– Why does no one go home for something as simple as a leg in a cast? Hospitalizations are treated so differently that I wonder how much is drama magic and how much is based on reality.
  • Nightly showers– Every show shows its characters taking a nightly shower. This was strange to me for two reasons. Firstly, American shows don’t have the same obsession with showing the personal cleanliness habits of their characters. Secondly, most people I know take showers in the morning.

Continue reading

Kicking the Evil Second Female Lead to the Curb

Quick, name one show which had fan wars anywhere near the level of the Chilbongie/Oppa debate but with the guy’s romantic options. You can’t do it, can you? It could be partially because the female fans don’t get as tied up in knots about that aspect, but really, there is a distinct lack of shows where there is a viable question or chance for the second female lead (SFL) to get the guy. Instead we get the evil second female lead who schemes, lies and does what ever she can to get a guy who’s really not that interested (think Huan Huan in Fall in Love with Me) .

However, lately I’ve noticed an upswing in the number of SFLs who defy the expectation of the evil SFL who is obsessed with the male lead. I am fully on board this trend of non-obsessed SFLs and I hope to see it continue. We still get plenty of the obsessive evil ones, but there is a gratifying variety in the SFLs from the past year as we see three types of SFL in addition to the evil, obsessed b*%$# SFL. Continue reading

Secondary Couple Syndrome

Sometimes the romance between the secondary leads is so much more interesting and compelling than the OTP, and that’s the relationship we’re tuning in for. I have decided to name this Secondary Couple Syndrome (SCS). To be fair, for many shows the degree of SCS waxes and wains, and it’s a rare show that ends with me caring more about them than the OTP, but it still happens.

There times the secondary leads save the show from devolving too much into depression or melodrama; they are our needed comic relief. They also provide a counterpoint to the OTP. Frequently when our OTP’s relationship is in trouble or on a break the secondary couple is doing well and acts as hope that things can work out. Continue reading

Healing the Broken Mind

In the past year there have been several shows that had main characters who dealt with significant mental health issues. I think it’s an interesting trend. While the types of mental health issues vary (HJM and KMHM both deal with DID, but the symptoms are very different), there are some interesting commonalities in the way these issues originate and are treated, and the way characters react to them. I am only looking at shows with mental health issues which are NOT rooted in physical causes (e.g. amnesia, dementia), and which are diagnosed by a professional. The shows that will be discussed are: It’s Ok, It’s Love; Hyde, Jekyll, Me; Kill Me, Heal Me; Heart to Heart. Continue reading

Why Do You Watch Asain Dramas?

This is a conversation I have on a pretty regular basis. People are surprised when I say I watch more foreign tv shows than American ones. I am not Asian. None of my family members are Asian. I have yet to even visit an Asian country. So why do I watch Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, and Hong Kong TV shows? How did I even get introduced to them?

I had a friend while I was in grad school who is Korean American. She ended up doing a study abroad in Korea and when she returned she recommended I watch Playful Kiss and Boys Over Flowers. I don’t remember which one I watched first, but after finishing both of them I went on the search for more Korean dramas, and that lead into other Asian shows.

I usually give people a brief list of reasons why I watch them, catered to that individual, but here’s the comprehensive list of reasons why I got hooked on, and continue to watch, a lot of foreign TV shows. Continue reading