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The refreshing "innocence" of Korean Dramas

Lilly Birdsong By Lilly Birdsong Published on April 1, 2016

North American TV is rife with shows full of sex, drugs and violence.  Popular TV shows like Game of Thrones, Sense8, and House of Cards have scenes that are bordering on pornographic.  There are even lists out there that can help you find the shows with the most sexuality.  Breaking Bad and Narcos are popularizing the drug trade.

Once you get "used to" TV like this, you almost expect it.  My sister and I used to joke and say that (in the old days of actually watching broadcast TV) you could tell how good the show was going to be based on the ratings at the beginning of the broadcast.  If they warned you about sex and violence, it was bound to be good.

The most startling thing about Korean TV Dramas is there's no sex.  Ever.  And no drugs.  There's some violence, depending on the story, but nothing like you've seen in shows like Spartacus.  

You'd think that someone desensitized like me would then get bored watching a show like this.  On the contrary, I found it refreshing.

Remember in the old days, when a love story was all about the build-up to that first kiss?  The anticipation of that connection?

There are some romantic dramas where you wait over 10 episodes before you even see the couple so much as kiss.  The most nudity I've ever seen in a K-drama is a guy with his shirt off.

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It took me a while to even realize about the drugs.  It's almost omni-present in North American TV that you have some characters smoking at least cigarettes, if not dope, if not something else entirely.  Then you've got shows like Skins that go so far in that direction that you wonder about the future of the next generation.  In Korean TV, I almost never see anyone even smoking a cigarette.  I once saw a character taking a powdered drug, but that person was subsequently arrested by the police.

Some of the reason for this comes right down to a government level.  The rating system in South Korea is different from ours.  Most "regular" TV shows have a rating of 15 - in other words, rated for people 15 and under.  In such shows, you are allowed to show "suggestive situations."  In order to show something that has a real "sexual situation", it would have to be rated 19 and thus it would be banned from broadcast during hours when children are up and about.  

In contrast, in Canada brief nudity is permissible even in a PG rating.  Depictions of sexual activity are allowed as young as 14.  Pornography is allowed as of age 18.

South Korea is one of the few countries in which Pornography is actually completely banned.   If you try to navigate to a pornographic website while you're in South Korea you'll instead receive a message saying the website is blocked by the government.  I'm personally not in favour of a censorship of pornography, but what it resulted in is a culture of television that relies on storytelling instead of overabundance of sex in order to attract an audience.

Korean Dramas are rising dramatically in popularity in English and Spanish-speaking countries.  The main consumers of K-dramas are millennials, who don't have as much resistance to watching TV with subtitles.  There are Korean Dramas like "You're Beautiful" cropping up on Netflix these days.  Or, if you've become an addict like me, you can have worldwide access to Korean TV through DramaFever, an online streaming platform dedicated to Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese content (though mainly Korean).  The best thing about DramaFever is that you can watch everything for free (with commercials) - or pay $5/month to ditch the commercials and stream across multiple devices with a unified account.  It's fantastic.

So - you hyped up and ready to get on the bandwagon?  Here are a few titles I suggest - and you can watch them all for free.

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Cheese in the Trap  I recently watched this show and found it SO funny.  It's about a girl that drops out of University after being picked on and terrorized by a guy who is (for all intents a purposes) a little sociopathic.  However once you see behind his horrible behaviour to why he acts the way he does, the story starts getting really interesting.

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Remember is one of the most poignant dramas I've watched recently.  A young man's father is accused of a crime he didn't commit, so the son becomes a lawyer in an attempt to free his father and clear his name.  His father, however, is suffering from Alzheimer's, so it's a race against the clock to see if he can make it in time.  The story had a surprise twist, though, that left me in agony.

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My Love From Another Star is definitely an odd premise.  There's an alien that got stranded on Earth after his ship crashed back in the Joseon era.  He's lived on Earth for hundreds of years without forming any real attachments, however right before he's due to leave Earth he meets someone that he falls in love with.  Will he stay or will he go?  It's one of my favourites because there's a touch of superpowers, some romance, some science fiction, and some great characters.

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Blood is one part vampire story, one part crime thriller, one part medical drama.  It's a story about a vampire who's trying to dig into the history of how his parents were killed.  The interesting thing about this vampire is that his day job is as a surgeon - and the only way he can get through being surrounded by so much blood is to take a suppressor drug to keep himself under control.  Will he end up breaking his cover?

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Marry Me, Mary a.k.a. Mary Stayed Out All Night is my go-to drama for when I need a pick me up.  Every time I watch this drama (yes, I've watched it several times) I'm just left all happy.  I have so much fun with it.  It's a story about a young girl whose father is heavily in debt, and so he promises her hand in marriage to the son of his (very) rich friend.  Mary, however, has no intention of marrying someone she's never met.  She meets a penniless street musician who she uses as a cover boyfriend, claiming that she can't get married because she's already dating someone else.  Hilarity ensues.  And great music.

All of the above dramas have something in common - they're refreshing, fun, and they have a component of romance that's completely and utterly addictive - right up until the last minute you're still wondering if they'll make it or not.  And sometimes, the answer is not what you think.  It keeps you on your toes!

I am a Sci-Fi writer. I love drinking whiskey, hanging out with my 2 cats, and kickboxing. Check out Children of RIVA if you're interested in my work. Oh, and in my spare time I work ... Show More