This new romantic comedy series has started airing over at tvN, a Korean cable channel. Big whoop, you'd tell me. Another rom-com from Korea. What's new, right? Quite a lot, I will say to you. Because romantic comedy is a very good genre to play "spot the difference" between the government controlled public television (for the most part, because there have been wonderful exceptions) and the corporate owned cable television.
For those who do not know this and have not read any of my previous articles on this, here is the short explanation. Public television is controlled by people and laws that use dated and sometimes even fascist ideology and practices when it comes to content. This means that, in public television, gay characters are not tolerated, a divorced woman is tainted and has no right to live, work and love and people are virgins until after their wedding, even if they are 30+ years old. Ok, not on all series, but these are some of the extreme and quite common issues that will seem plain weird and creepy to anyone living in the modern world.
We've had some fine and scary examples of that form of attempted (and often achieved) censorship lately, when the Korean Communications Commission and the Korean Advertisers Association started making a fuss about things which they deem harmful for audiences and which any person living in a modern society would consider plain crazy.
A Thousand Kisses has been one of the latest targets of the KCC
And as I say in my articles on cable tv, these limitations do not seem to exist much there. Whether they exist in the real Korea or not, I do not know, but they are definitely not traits of a modern version of the world. And a romantic series is the best way to illustrate that. Because those are usually for teen audiences and receive a lot of "treatment" from these moral government committees.
I shall refer to Korea as Korea from now on and for the entire article. But there is another Korea here... The one that exists in public television and is sometimes the version these pseudo-prude fossils want people to accept as "how things should and must be". Or, in some occasions, it's the result of some unrealistic cliché that has somehow become the norm. I shall refer to this Korea by "Korea".
"Flower Boy Ramyun Shop" is about an older woman who gets romantic with a younger man. Strike one, ladies and gentlemen! Women don't have that right in "Korea". It is shameful and indecent for a woman to like any guy younger than her and she is a whore if she does. It's been done in series before and it is one reason why I appreciate one of the recent ones, "Babyfaced Beauty", because despite its many rom-com clichés, it did manage to really push some boundaries.
Boundary pushing in its most adorable form
But this series as well, does just that. Eun Bi is a healthy woman in her mid twenties and she finds a younger guy attractive. Even though she misunderstood his age. But you see, how could she not? If a guy flaunts his looks and looks mature enough, is it the woman's fault she actually fell for it? It is in "Korea". But not in Korea, I hope. After all, any ajumma there can go crazy over an "oppa" 25 years her junior and she's just a "fan" and no harm done. She's married with children too, but that's ok. Because she generates money with her obsession. So, those we like...
Another interesting albeit smaller fact is that living in the US will not magically grant you prestige, a degree and awesome English skills. Not in Korea. Only in "Korea". Chi Soo comes back from there in the beginning of the series. And he can't, for the life of him, understand more than a few words in English. In fact, he came back because he couldn't handle the studies and, by his own admission, can barely order a hamburger so learning to study, speak and communicate in English is a nightmare.
He is also shown for what he is. A spoiled immature brat. See, most of these rich young types in rom-coms are spoiled and mean and all, but they are somehow talented and wonderful in everything else. They never read, but they are geniuses. They are perfect in everything, simply because they are rich and with superior genes, so stop dreaming, poor kids of Korea and know your place! Not this guy. He is lousy at school and because he is rich, he has that as an excuse to slack off. He is flawed. Very flawed. Which makes his immature and cruel behavior all the more realistic.
Begging daddy not to send him back to the US
But let's go back to Eun Bi now. And the first almost-kiss scene with Mr. Brat. You know, women in "Korea" are pure (dumb) creatures. A very hot man wants to get romantically close to them after the mutual feelings have been accepted or, God forbid, kiss them like adults do and they throw a hissy fit and yell and scream. The man insulted their purity and tried to defile their body which should be preserved, like kimchi, for after the wedding or something. But you know, fermentation leads to rotting...
Not this woman, folks. Not this woman. She is about to get back with her boyfriend, whom she waited for while he was in the army and you know what she did when Chi Soo cornered her and leaned in for a kiss? She puckered up and waited for it. The slut! An unmarried woman actually getting caught up in the moment, when a handsome passionate man tries to kiss her. How dare she! What about her purity!?
Not only that, but she actually likes it when her highschool students start applauding and approving of the new hot teacher and even ask her if she has a boyfriend. A woman who dares enjoy compliments and not act all coy and as if she isn't worthy of them? The nerve...
If my reaction did not convey this clearly enough, then know that my body is ready
The characters in this series are interesting. The things that happen are interesting and there is actual plot. If it continues like I hope it will, I am sure there will be more things happening here that are impossible for "Korea".
As a corrupted and vulgar westerner, I dream of the day when good, solid rom-com kdrama is not a rarity but the norm. One which is neither as shallow as what we usually get but does not fall into the trap of going for melo or tragedy just to seem poignant. I dream of a fluffy, funny romantic series where characters and actions will make sense without being boring. It can happen. I know Korean actors and makers can do it. But it will take many factors working perfectly together.
A lot of series have come close. They have. "Protect the Boss" is a good example. "Coffee Prince" is another. "That Fool" actually had characters that appreciated each other as human beings and didn't only let their hormones guide them to romance.
Love is care, respect and understanding. These series show love, not just romance.
We could have more of such shining examples of hope and quality, if only people would be allowed to create. Open-minded, creative and talented people that live in the world of today and carry the ideologies of this world.
I don't know if Flower Boy Ramyun Shop will keep being this good and I don't know if it will make this dream of mine come true, but I am enjoying its freshness nonetheless. A freshness which I feel has even more chances to shine in cable television. And I sincerely hope more such series will be made, be it there, on public television or the new general service channels. Anywhere where the antiquated, sexist and inhuman moral "values" of certain people cannot touch them and where a plot is not merely a garnish for pretty faces, idols and non-existent acting.