Netflix Valentine’s Day tips: ‘Crash Landing on You’, 5 more

This Valentine’s Day, grab a box of tissues and get ready to shed a tear – or more. Because the nuanced, slow-paced storylines of Korean dramas have become a poignant alternative to Hollywood romantic comedies.

Across genres – action, crime, science fiction – Korean dramas regularly incorporate romantic elements. And making viewers cry is one of their main measures of success.

“Korean creators are masters at moving people’s hearts without big flashy shows,” said Young-hun Choi, director of K-drama “One the Woman.” “The iron rule of Korean dramas is that…you have to be able to understand the characters.”

This is in line with Korean cultural norms, according to Choi: “Traditionally, Koreans often move according to their hearts rather than their heads, based on interests and advantages and disadvantages. Among these emotions, tears are particularly important. One of the things that successful Korean dramas have in common is that in any genre of drama, there are always scenes that move viewers and make them cry.

At the heart of this emotional reaction is what Suk-Young Kim, a professor at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television who studies Korean popular culture, calls “miltang”: a Korean word for dominant rhythms of a romantic film. encounter, and which shows why audiences can’t seem to stop watching a romantic K-drama once it’s started.

“It’s like being pulled and pulled by your potential romantic interest in a very tantalizing, cliffhanger way,” Kim said. “It’s like an emotional tussle, in a much more subtle and cute way. I think that phrase also points to that fuzzy middle ground between erotic romance and friendship.

The slow-forming friendships of K-dramas, which evolve into romance over time, often register as healthier than the rapid-fire romantic comedy, often marked not by awkward moments but by grand gestures.

For many drama fans, the most refreshing part of K-dramas’ approach to romance is how the love story unfolds. without frank sexual tension. The audience connects with the main characters on an emotional level, an investment that deepens as the payoff is withheld. In the popular drama “Romance Is a Bonus Book” (Netflix), for example, the romance between two longtime friends who reconnect after their divorce is handled deliberately, treading as lightly as old friends.

“I think the Korean drama genre as a whole has cultivated a kind of expert technicality to present this,” Kim said. “Viewers are completely swept up in the emotional dynamics between the two would-be lovers in the making, and take you completely on that emotional journey with these characters.”

The premise of the recent hit “Hometown Cha-cha-cha” (Netflix) might be familiar to fans of Hallmark holiday movies — the big-city dentist falls in love with a small-town orphan — for example. , but the gradual development of romance is distinct. It’s a reflection of the real differences between Korean and American dating culture, according to Kelsey Jeong, who discusses love and dating in Korea from a Korean woman’s perspective on the “Kelsey the Korean” YouTube channel. .

In “Crash Landing on You”, a South Korean paraglider falls in love with a North Korean soldier.

(Netflix)

“On the bright side, the cute and wholesome part is also true,” Jeong said. “I think it’s slower in Korea. And it’s more about the emotional connection, which can be good or bad.

Whether it leans towards realism, as in “Hometown Cha-cha-cha”, or pure fiction, as in “Crash Landing on You” – in which a South Korean female paraglider accidentally ends up in North Korea and is Saved by a Handsome Soldier – K-drama romances all lead to the genre’s most crucial element: the kiss.

“In Korea, kissing scenes don’t appear as often as in the United States. That’s why the kissing scene is so important in Korea,” Choi said. “I think a kiss is often symbolized like the fruit of love in Korea, so the back and forth and adventurous journey of the couple running for a kiss is a typical Korean romance. Like the first kiss or the first night, for Koreans, love is something pure and beautiful fantasy.

But that doesn’t mean Americans should be fooled into thinking that dating in Korea mirrors the fantasy depicted on TV.

“There are definitely toxic Korean men and there is definitely toxic masculinity in Korea. But it’s not shown in the drama,” Jeong said. “So, for example, the cute and wholesome part of Korean dramas , when the guy doesn’t have sex with you until he’s totally in love with you, that’s a flip side of the misogyny we have here, because guys think they have to protect you sexually.

Throughout the pandemic, the popularity of Korean dramas has skyrocketed. According to Netflix, the global viewing hours of its Korean shows have increased sixfold compared to 2019. And there may also be a reason for this. In Korean dramas, love trumps everything and the characters always take the moral route – reassuring at a time when the real world may question these precepts.

“If you just talk about the Korean context, it has almost become a kind of psychological treatment for people who feel so disturbed by this fast-paced pace of life,” Kim said. “So having predictable elements to reassure people was really important in that regard. And I think if we extend that to today, elsewhere, outside of Korea, we live in a very fragile world.

If the content of K-drama romances hasn’t won you over yet, perhaps their addictive structure will – all you have to do is start one.

“American dramas overall have a more self-contained field for each episode. There is seriality, with continuous characters [and] continuous narrative line, but you have a sort of closure at the end. You kind of feel like your car was driven back to the parking lot,” Kim said. “In Korean dramas, you feel like you’re racing on the Autobahn at about 100 miles per hour, and the episode ends there. So you go crazy as a viewer, because you have to see the next one, and the following.

Need more K-drama romances to watch? Try these:

If you like “Romance Is a Bonus Book”, you might like “Something in the Rain” (Netflix). The love story centers on an older woman who falls in love with her best friend’s younger brother.

If you’re a “Crash Landing on You” fan, you’ll want to check out “Descendants of the Sun” (Netflix), in which a soldier and a surgeon find love in a war-torn country.

And “Hometown Cha-cha-cha” fans should give “When the Camellia Blooms” (Netflix) a watch. This is another slow-paced romance set in the countryside.

James C. Tibbs