Monday, March 31, 2014

8 Essential Elements of a Stereotypical Korean Drama

I am a big fan of Korean dramas and I am excited that there are growing numbers of non-Korean fans that watch them. It's always a good thing to have greater exposure to media and arts from around the world, as opposed to just from the United States or the West.

In loving tribute, the following is just a playful summary of the most familiar and overdone tropes in a very stereotypical Korean drama. Not all dramas are like this, and not all the dramas referenced here are bad. Furthermore, there are some very intriguing and creative shows that deviate from the formulaic.

That being said, here are some of the most essential elements of a typical Korean drama:

1) Hard-Working Heroine

Yoon Eun Hye from "The First Shop of Coffee Prince"

Often juggles multiple part-time jobs, or "albas." She's pretty, but made to look more "real world pretty" than "TV pretty." Friends and parents may criticize her for being fat even though she's only a size 3 or something. Often has a brazenly outspoken personality that gradually evaporates when she finds herself literally in the middle as the two male leads gaze intensely at her, wondering whom she will allow to take her home. Cue signature ballad from drama soundtrack.

2) Hot Sociopathic First Male Lead

Lee Min Ho from "Boys Over Flowers"
This guy gets so much female attention that he'll actually get angry when a supermodel type wastes his time with declarations of her unending admiration and love. Often has convoluted relationship with parents because his mother has an out-of-control Elektra Complex and his father is a cold-hearted tycoon that makes Daniel Plainview seem like that Costco CEO. Takes it out on hapless world population. He may have a serial killer's personality, but it's okay because he's just too hot to live.

3) Dreamy Puppy Second Male Lead

Jung Yong Hwa from "You're Beautiful"

Sometimes, the best friend of the first male lead. Childhood friends, or some other long-standing bond. Other times, they're adversaries from rival schools or companies. Also handsome and wealthy. May have a much younger sibling whom he dotes over, probably an adorable little sister. He may be heavenly, but he's merely really hot, as opposed to just too hot to live. And that's a deal breaker. Doomed to be alone forever.

4) Vicious Mean Rich Girl

Kim Ji Won from "Heirs"

Though she and Hard-Working Heroine come from vastly different social spheres, their pasts are always somehow intertwined. Perhaps Hard-Working Heroine's parents and Vicious Mean Rich Girl's parents were friends long ago. Or one's parents work for the other's. Always wears heels and has a different designer handbag in every scene, signifying up-to-no-goodness. This girl has had the tragic misfortune of being born gorgeous and wealthy, and she's not going to let the world get away with it.

5) Debt-Ridden Father

Park Sang Myun from "Mary Stayed Out All Night"

Perpetual financial troubles means that Debt-Ridden Father is always away and forcing the heroine into conveniently compromising situations, such as having to get into a contractual relationship with the Hot Sociopathic First Male Lead, which segues nicely into...

6) Outlandish Contractual Obligations

Yoona and Lee Beom Soo from "The Prime Minister and I"

Sometimes, the guy has to fake being married to the girl. Why? Maybe to throw meddlesome parents off the trail so he won't have to marry Vicious Rich Mean Girl. Maybe for the sake of political appearances. Or maybe they have to live together in order to keep the house or business. Whatever it is, the guy and girl will definitely be totally hating it at first. But by the end, they'll be finding excuses to keep the contract intact while trying to act as if they want to tear it to shreds.

7) School With No Teachers

The rule in Korean dramas seems to be that the more elite and exclusive a school is, the fewer teachers and less adult supervision there are. The popular kids reign supreme with absolute authority. May perhaps be subversive commentary on flaws of Korean education? Stretching?

8) Greek Korean Chorus

The dutiful Chorus from "School 2013"

Follows main characters around, narrating their moves and motives. Helps those audience members who still can't deduce heroine's character arc despite her many soliloquies. Hey, it's the new vocal fry.

Monday, March 24, 2014

7 Fairy Tales That Should Be Made Into Disney Movies

Having finally just watched Frozen, I've been inspired to think of more fairy tales that Disney can turn into movies. Sure, most of the classics have already been made, but there's plenty of material out there! However, alterations have always been a necessary part of Disney's adaptations because so many of these fairy tales are plain messed up in their original form. For example, there's version of The Sleeping Beauty where the prince has, ahem, "relations" with the comatose princess.

So how should these stories be changed? For starters, the encouraging trend in Disney and Pixar movies is to have female protagonists who are active and engaging, which is a great thing as I've mentioned here before. Moreover, for these heroines, romance is merely a sidequest as opposed to the end goal. Perhaps taking a cue from Studio Ghibli films, Disney movies are no longer about beautiful-but-boring heroines acting out a 1950s tween's dream life of finding the perfect boy.

As long as we spunkify the heroine by at least 30%, turn the tragic ending upside down, and commission a Tony-winning composer to write a few songs, these following adaptations are sure to be a hit!

1) The Six Swans

Princess must weave 6 special shirts to save brothers who have been turned into swans by evil witch stepmother. Oh, and she can't talk or laugh while completing that task. Oh, and people start to think she's a witch and plot to burn her at the stake.

Mute heroine brings up The Little Mermaid problem.

Modern Adaptation:
Give her a different disability, such as blindness. Make the heroine cocksure and bratty, a welcome change from the "adorkable" princesses we've seen as of late. Center the story around her relationship with her brothers. Kind of like Frozen, except instead of Elsa, you have 6 dudes. Maybe they were very protective of her when growing up, but now, it's up to her to save them.

The powerful (and complex) relationship between sisters and brothers. And girls can save boys too (and not just because they want to marry them).

2) The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Twelve beautiful princesses go to a magical lalaland every night to dance, causing them to go through dancing shoes like kleenexes. This is costing the king many monies, so he wants mystery solved. Old war vet, with the help of an invisibility cloak, figures out the truth, earns big reward, and marries eldest princess.

Story kind of comes off as an indictment against young women and their frivolous, spendthrift ways.

Modern Adaptation:
Cut down the number of princesses from 12 to around 5, and make the eldest one the protagonist. Make the king a recluse (known as the Mad King) who has banned dancing in his kingdom because his beloved deceased wife was a great dancer. Princesses haven't seen their father since they were very young and they kind of hate him because of all the stories they hear. One day, they discover a portal to that magical dancing world, which is actually a world created by the faint happy memories of the king, which he has magically preserved to protect from being consumed by his own insanity. Slowly, the princesses discover more about their maligned father and are able to save him. And they have a fabulous time dancing while they're doing it.

Finding out that your parents are more than what you thought they were.

3) The Red Shoes

A stuck-up village girl named Karen decides to flout social convention by wearing flashy red shoes to church. Shoes start dancing on their own, forcing her to beg an executioner to chop her feet off. But those dastardly shoes, her bloody amputated feet in them and all, continue to haunt her until she truly repents for her haughty ways. Then she dies blissfully.


Modern Adaptation:
Unsalvageable. My mistake.

4) The Nightingale

Emperor of China loves nightingale's song, but becomes enamoured with a mechanical version. He forgets about the real bird and lets it go. But when emperor is about to die, the bird returns to him and saves his life with its beautiful song.

Lack of a dramatic arc. High potential for Orientalist racist nonsense.

Modern Adaptation:
A mechanical singing nightingale? That sounds like something that would happen in a steampunkish version of old China, so change it to that setting. Change from emperor to empress. And it's not only nightingales that are being mechanized, but also artisans and farmers and solders. Heroine has to guide her kingdom through this exciting but unsettling period. High potential for tech jokes. Make fun of Google bus?

How to reconcile the advantages and dehumanizing effects of technology.

5) Vasillisa the Beautiful

Russian story that's reminiscent of Cinderella. Vasillisa has a cool animated doll that can do a lot of hard labour. The famous Baba Yaga (the witch that lives in a hut with chicken legs) makes life hard for poor Vasillisa as well. But she is able to overcome her wicked stepmother, stepsisters, and Baba Yaga, and eventually makes her way to the city.

Too similar to Cinderella.

Modern Adaptation:
Turn into heroine-led action movie. Russian fairy tales are really cool, but Disney will probably only take one shot at it. Therefore, this story will have to incorporate all the most famous elements of Russian folklore. So insert the Firebird (Cinderelly didn't have to fight no firebird) and Koschei the Immortal as well into an awesome thriller of a story that celebrates the uniqueness of Russian culture.

Russian stories are really kickass.

6) The Matchstick Girl

Beggar girl sells matches in the winter. Before freezing to death, she lights her last few matches, seeing wonderful sights before succumbing to the bitter cold.

Holy moly, is this depressing.

Modern Adaptation:
Put some Dickensian meat on the bones of the story. Heroine can be an orphan who is being exploited by Big Fire. She survives her day to day life solely on her wits. Kind of like a female version of Aladdin. Fervently believes that she has a loving grandmother somewhere in the city and wants to find her. Disney has never done Dickens before (though it has done 19th century novelists before in Victor Hugo with The Hunchback of Notre Dame), so here's their chance!

How to survive and remain a good person in a big, mean city that wants to exploit you for money.

7) Rumpelstiltskin

New queen has to spin straw into gold for the king. Some gnome named Rumpelstiltskin helps her out but then demands her first born child. She is able to keep her child because she guesses his name.

Father is kind of a real big jerk.

Modern Adaptation:
What if the queen somehow gained the ability to spin gold from straw from Rumpelstiltskin? The story could take place after the traditional happy ending of the fairy tale. The heroine is immensely popular and powerful because of her magical ability, but she is deeply unhappy because she knows that people only like her for her wealth. Plus, life's no fun when gold is literally always at your fingertips. So she decides to escape her unrewarding life to seek adventure outside. Kind of like Aladdin from Princess Jasmine's point of view.

Mo money mo problems.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Question: "So where are you from?"

It was early spring of 2011, and I had just started a semester at the Yonsei Foreign Language School in Seoul. Yonsei is located in the northwest quadrant of the city, situated near other major universities like Ewha, Sogang, and Hongik. Founded by Christian missionaries, Yonsei's American lineage is apparent in the various ivy-clad buildings and hedgerow gardens that are diced by narrow pathways. Later in the spring, its hills would be coloured by blooming cherry blossoms.

I was in my second week of school and just happy to have a chance to hang out with people my own age. I couldn't wait to experience the nightlife in the surrounding student hub areas of Sinchon and Hongdae with their proliferation of affordable bars and karaoke rooms. Before, "going out" meant going to see grandma. As much as I love her, it's not quite the same. Anyway, on that day, I was to have lunch with a classmate, a Japanese exchange student named Harumi (not her real name). I hadn't noticed her the first day of class, but it was either on the second or third day that she came in wearing a jumper dress and that was it for me.

As I waited for her in the lobby of her dorm, a stranger approached me. Maybe she was Thai or Filipina. Wherever she was from, she wasn't from around here and she asked me for directions to somewhere. Obviously, I didn't know the answer as I was only barely acquainted with this easternmost side of the university. She apologized and said she assumed that I knew because I seemed "so Korean."

I was then no longer fretting over whether Harumi would interpret our lunch as a date or not, and whether I wanted that or not. Instead, I wondered what made that girl think that I—a guy who had spent 98% of his life overseas—was "so Korean." And not just "Korean;" "SO Korean."


"Where are you from?"

That's the question that plagues or haunts many Asian Americans.

Even those who've never been asked it in that way (i.e. in a "You couldn't possibly be from this country!" way) are always anticipating the moment that it will come. Some may even have spent hours concocting the perfect comeback to put the imagined Smug Yankee in his or her place.

This conundrum is not unique to Asian Americans. For example, in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, the protagonist Willie becomes annoyed, even angry, when his grandmother talks to him in Hungarian instead of English. He's initially disdainful of his "FOB" cousin Eva who has come straight outta Budapest. And to him, paprika is the kimchi or Chinese herbal medicine that Asian American kids feel apologetic about when they have friends come over.

But of course, this isn't exactly the same because Asians cannot pass for anything other than Asian, no matter what we wear or how we change our speech and names.

This past weekend, I was having dinner and drinks with some friends of mine (if you guys are reading this: my WONDERFUL and BEAUTIFUL friends!) when we asked ourselves this question. All of us were Korean and American/Canadian to some extent, and our varied answers all reflected those nuances.

There are those who would rather simplify their answers. There are many Asian Americans who adamantly state that they are simply "American" (or "Canadian") and become offended at any perceived association with their ancestral home country. This shouldn't be, though I will admit that there was a time when I'd be satisfied if someone described me as simply "Canadian."

Let's imagine someone with extensive ties to Great Britain. Let's call this imaginary person "Ben." Do you think Ben would insist upon severing any links to his homeland? Naw. Chances are he'd work the British angle every chance he'd get:

Cute Girl: "Nice to meet you, Ben! Where are you from?"

Ben: "Well, I grew up in Boston, but I was born in England. ENG-land. In LON-don."

Cute Girl: "Oh wow! That's so cool!"

Ben: "Oh is it? Let me then regale you with my extensive knowledge of British culture. For example, did you know that we call fries 'chips' there?"

Cute Girl: "So fascinating!"

Ben is a very regal character

Anyway, you get the point. The truth is that not all nationalities are perceived as equal in our society. When people say that they just LOVE accents, what they really mean is that they like a very selective few accents from a very selective few countries in the world. Hint: They're all in Western Europe or its former colonies. 

By attempting to distance yourself from your own heritage—one that you're still closely tied to because chances are that your parents or grandparents are immigrants and you have a lot of family living back in the "motherland"—you're just readily admitting that you belong to a socially undesirable nationality. Look, society already does enough to devalue you. You yourself don't need to join in on hobbling your own knees.

As hard as you may try, you'll probably always get quizzical looks when you answer a call that asked for "all-American." Or maybe you will be the rare one to overcome that initial barrier because there's always room for The Exception. And those in charge will pay what they think is a compliment to you when they say you're so not like the others from your group. Congrats, you've levelled up! Add +2 to social status.


So we won't be "all-American." That can be a good thing. Take advantage of having multiple heritages to draw your identity from! Some people are so lacking in that regard that they're willing to pay lots of dumb money to go on expensive trips to India or Africa to imbue themselves with something other than plain old "American."


As for myself, I never answer this question glibly. I've spent most of my life in Canada, but almost nobody I know lives in the city I was born and raised in anymore (including my family), and I probably won't go back there except as a tourist. I've spent many of my most formative years in the U.S. as a student, but I'm not an American citizen or even a permanent resident. And I strongly identify as Korean because that's where my parents are from, but I've only lived in that country for a total of maybe only 3 years of my life.

Make of that as you will.


I spent nearly 2 years in Korea and I have lots of memories. Yet still not lost in that clutter is that little moment in the dorm lobby with that foreigner girl who thought I was "so Korean." It still sticks with me vividly. I think it's because for some reason, I was elated over what she had said. There was once a time in my life when I would've been irritated if someone said something like that because I was "from Canada," and any recognition of my Koreanness was a threat to that. But not anymore. Something changed and I wanted to fit more into Korean society. And it was apparently working! Moreover, it wasn't just because I was in Seoul. Even back in America, I find myself ignoring Avicii and True Detective because I'm too busy listening to Korean music and watching K-dramas.

And when Harumi came back down, I had to smile at the thought that I might be the "expert" who'd have to show her around the city.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dimes Are The Best Coins

There's a cafe near my house that only takes cash, so it often gives me a chance to empty out my piggy bank of coins. We don't use coins a lot these days, and there are lots of arguments that are made to abolishing pennies and even coins altogether. I don't have a stance on either issue, but if we were to eliminate coins, starting with the least to most useful, the dime should be the last one standing.

The dime is so efficient! It's so light and thin, but it's worth a relatively high 10 cents. If you're ever in a need to get a few dollars worth of coins, you'll love how quickly dimes add value. Sure, quarters are worth more, but they're big and bulky and have you ever tried carrying a wallet stuffed with them? You'd better hope that you don't fall into a river because you'll probably sink to the bottom. Say hi to Tony Soprano's enemies for me! And nickels are wildly disproportionate in their size:value ratio. Pennies? Next question.

Not only that, but there are many positive connotations with the word "dime." A "dime" can refer to an assist made in basketball, which happens to be the primary statistic of point guards. Fittingly, my favourite basketball players, like Magic Johnson and Jeremy Lin, also happen to be point guards. And although the following usage of the term is probably objectifying and sexist, a "dime" can also refer to an extremely attractive woman in somewhat dated hip hop lingo. A "dime bag" also means a certain amount of marijuana, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your own appreciation of mind-altering substances. But probably a good thing.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kim Yuna Has A Boyfriend: The Dream Is Dead! For now...

So it turns out that Kim Yuna has been in a relationship for these past couple of years with a Korean hockey player she met while they were in college together. Apparently, there's only one world-class skating facility in Korea and that's where all the speedskaters, figure skaters, and hockey players train. Naturally, they met and bonded and have been going out discreetly ever since. That's Level Beyonce in terms of keeping secrets and preventing leaks. Bravo.

But of course, this means that a lot of Korean (and non-Korean) guys will be disappointedly drinking down their sorrows with soju tonight. Including myself. Well, probably not soju because it's ridiculously overpriced overseas. At least I know I'm in pretty good company of heartbreakees with the likes of Jo In Sung, Jung Yong Hwa, Lee Joon, and so forth.

Oh well. Guess I'll just have to "settle" for Park Shin Hye then.

Congrats to the new(ly publicized) couple!