Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Korean drama (Kdrama) used to be a Southeast Asian entertainment niche. But with the worldwide popularity of Netflix, Kdramas and KPop have become increasingly popular in Latin America and Europe as well. So if you're a fan of at least one of the male lead characters in Kdramas, you probably fondly call them Oppa as well. "Oppa” (Korean = older male but it’s meaning has been extended as a term of endearment for a Korean male pop star). Whether you’re a social media pro or just a lurker you couldn’t possibly miss photo or video posts about them. “Crash Landing On You,” “The King: Eternal Monarch,” “Itaewon Class,” Lee Minho, Hyun Bin, or Park Seo Joon, raise your hand if you don’t know any of them. I’d be happy to give you an Oppa/KDrama 101 lesson over a cup of bubble tea.
Photo credit: change.org
Thanks to streaming services, my Covid-19 lockdown life got introduced to different dimensions of enjoyment. Like many, I devoured hours watching my Oppas (binge watching in short!). The viewing experience is almost always surprisingly positive. That’s what made the social distancing saga less daunting for me. Why? Let me count the ways:
1. The emotional enjoyment. Most KDrama narratives depict a solid story line of unconditional love. My favorite screenwriters also invest in positive character development – trust, respect, empathy, assertiveness, etc. To me, this is something beyond cultural; to be loved is a basic human need while trust and respect are two fundamental elements in any human relationship. Oppas are excellent in expressing emotions in the most romantically surreal and heart fluttering ways possible, e.g. hugs and eye contacts that speak a thousand words, poetic expressions, and persistent effort to beat all odds just to be with a loved one. Impactful lines are conveyed against a backdrop of excellent cinematography and musical scoring. You can almost guarantee that you will be transported by the narrative. Call it cheesy, but that’s the core of the “feel good” moment. And once you reach that point, everything else becomes just icing on the cake. Thus, the more suggestive scenes in KDramas are rather implicit and swear words are unheard of. For me, this is utterly refreshing.
One of the most common realizations that emerged during this pandemic is the fact that human beings need to experience and share love in whatever shape or form. Our Oppas and the rest of the cast all bring us to that experience and identify with them - we share their laughter, joy, sadness, vulnerabilities, anxieties, anger, faith, and hope while they endeavor to keep their moral integrity high. We appreciate the values that they instill and connect with the emotional journey towards love, forgiveness and renewal.
So, that my friends, are some breadcrumbs of the self-help therapy I didn’t know I needed.
2. The visual enjoyment. Most of our Oppas are stunningly good-looking. They have that “if looks could kill” beauty that keeps millions tuned in every week. Others have undeniable charm that captivate audience for reasons I cannot explain why. Therefore, seeing our Oppas on screen is a delightful treat by itself. They also bring us to a state of wishful identification through their high fashion, travels, food, elegant homes, and yes, skincare products. I won’t necessarily call this “delulu” (slang for delusional of sorts – a social media jargon I just learned, by the way). Let’s put it this way: for those who can afford to travel, it could be adding something to their bucket list of destinations. Or acquiring a fashion inspiration without spending on the Chanels of this world. Having good skin is one of my standards of beauty so I can appreciate how they could influence our choices of skin care products and cosmetics. Asians are known for being resourceful so I chose the opportunity this element of enjoyment could bring instead.
3. The cognitive enjoyment. While most KDramas follow a certain plot formula, there are brilliant writers who are willing enough to take the risks and could weave the romantic storyline with political, social, and even scientific complexities. Period dramas (historical genre) are good with this. They execute thought provoking plots with stunning visual effects. My favourite period drama of all time, “Jewel in the Palace” (c. 2004), depicted how a woman from the Joseon Dynasty overcame the political, social, economic and emotional challenges of her time. There are two things I particularly love about period dramas: first, how they bring about visual appeal using their traditional costume and second, how they portray collective values in order to create a great community.
The most recent series, “The King: Eternal Monarch,” introduced us to the concepts of parallel universe and time travel complete with convincing mathematical articulation, all in a non intimidating way. I mentioned non intimidating because I dislike Math and I sucked in Physics but still found it interesting enough that I made some digging into the scientific evidence of a parallel universe. There are numerous NASA articles on the web if you’re curious.
I can certainly go on and on around this topic but for now this is my take and sharing of the lighter side of life in the midst of all the craziness around us. Next time you get hooked on a KDrama or feel like you’re developing an Oppa “obsession,” let’s have a conversation.