K-dramas and the fascination with the Love-That-Dare-Not-Speaketh-It’s-Name:
After watching K-dramas for over three years (wow, has it really been that long?), I’ve noticed an oft-used subject matter is the kinda-sorta-maybe romance between two people who have some sort of relationship with each other that should preclude any romantic involvement.
The title for this post is a quote I read from dangermousie (credit to her), and it was so spot-on and funny it actually inspired me to scribble down a list of K-dramas which have stepped a toe (or went near full body submersion) into the water of the always taboo subject matter of incest. Only J-doramas have actually “gone there”, you know, went the Full Monty.
Fauxcest v. Formalcest (or am I splitting hairs here?):
K-dramas are like a tease doing only the shimmy and shake in front of you. These dramas only pretend its incest, when really its fauxcest. Fauxcest is pretend incest: looks like incest, smells like incest, but it ain’t incest because that would be so gross! Fauxcest is when the two participants were formerly related in some way, but are now no longer so-related; or were formerly unrelated, and then for some reason think they are suddenly related, only for that misunderstanding to be resolved before the kiss-and-makeup moment. The shadow of the incest looms over them, but the ickiness is dialed down to near zero because, at the end of the day, they are NOT related.
An off-shoot of fauxcest is formalcest, which is when the participants are related by institutional relationships, and not by blood. Step-siblings, in-laws, adopted kids, these all fit into formalcest. There is no moral obstacle to their being together, other than a barrier than is mere formality. Formalcest is not as taboo, ergo not as fun, because people spend time just refusing to come out of the formalcest closet.
Back in the early days of Hallyu, it was used so often it should have its own character name in the drama. Four out of five early dramas I watched had either fauxcest or formalcest somewhere tucked inside (leading me to speculate whether everyone in Korea was secretly in love with a sibling or relative). These two plot devices have been used less and less, and I thank god for that! The torch of fauxcest and formalcest appear to have passed to the next big plot device – the “my parent killed/maimed/abused/stole a song from your parent” conflict.
I wish fauxcest and formalcest a safe journey into Mexican telenovela land. As a (not so) fond farewell, I hereby countdown the most famous K-dramas that have featured these plot devices, in increasing level of ickiness, starting from no-big-deal to that’s-kinda-creepy to whoa-momma-I-need-to-stop-watching-now level of nausea-inducing ickiness.
Six Degrees of Ickiness:
My Girl – this is here only because the formalcest was stupidly used as a plot device. The girl and the guy agree that she will PRETEND to be his missing sister. After the truth comes out, only person objecting is old fuddy Gramps. Girl still runs away, girl is stupid. Guy is stupider for not just telling Gramps to bugger off from the get-go.
Tree of Heaven – step-siblings who become steps in their high school years. Not icky at all since the formalcest was put in place after they are adults.
What Star Are You From? – Guy dated girl1, who dies. He meets girl2, who turns out to be girl1’s long-lost younger sister. Girl1 and girl2 are played by the same actress. Mildly icky that he would fall for two completely different personality girls, who look identical.
Snowman – Girl loves her brother-in-law. Bad girl. The sister dies, brother-in-law is now a widower. Ottoke? Ickiness is rather high because the guy was married to (i.e. slept with) your own sister, girl! It’s the thought of it, if I was the girl, plus all the guilt, that makes this icky.
Stairway to Heaven – Step-brother loves girl, takes girl away when she gets mowed by his own sister (her step-sister), pretends they are lovers when she loses her memory. Then he kills himself to donate his cornea to her when she goes blind. Pretty icky, because it was a combination of formalcest, one-way infatuation on the part of the step-brother, attempted murder cover-up, and kidnapping (he didn’t let her go home for YEARS, under the guise of “taking care of her” – let’s add patronizing delusional sociopath to this list). Since the drama was already a giant-WTF in every other aspect of it, throwing this in was like flaming the fire of insanity.
Bad Love – Girl has an affair with guy1, who dumps her to go back to his wife. Girl then falls in love with guy2, who turns out to be guy1’s brother-in-law. It’s formalcest plus adultery, let the good times roll, baby! Mid-to-high level of ickiness, because girl also miscarried guy1’s bastard child.
Winter Sonata – I’ll skip all the crying to get to the end of the drama, where Bae Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo suddenly believe they are half-brother/half-sister when his mother tells a Big Fat Lie. Medium icky, because they both still think “screw-it-I-want-to-be-with-you” after they find out. But the lie is resolved quickly. Bae Yong Joon still made me feel icky that I couldn’t help but find him cute in this drama.
Autumn in my Heart – Two kids who grow up together believing they are bestie brother and sister suddenly find out around middle school they are not related. They separate, and spend years mooning and missing each other. They reunite and declare their undying love for each other, which is now okay because they are NOT related. Extremely icky – we are shown scenes that the brother always felt romantic love for his sister, even before the big kid-switch reveal. But in the end, they are still NOT related, so it’s okay, except when Song Seung Hun kissed Song Hye Gyo. I cringed upon watching that. It was so icky because those two acted like it was brother and sister kissing.
Damo – Girl loves guy1, meets guy2 and falls in love with him as well. Turns out guy2 is her long-lost brother. Real incest, people! And we know from the beginning they are related. Yet WE DO NOT CARE! Yup, I love guy1 not because guy2 is incesty, but because guy1 is awesomer than awesome. They all die in the end, so this issue is moot. It’s icky on a philosophical level only (through the roof icky actually). But when you watch the drama, you don’t feel icky at all.
Ireland – Girl is adopted by Irish couple, comes back to Korea when the IRA kills her adopted family. Meets guy1 and marries him. Meets guy2 and falls in love with him. Guy2 may or may not be her long-lost brother. Very very icky, especially since girl is an extremely selfish and self-absorbed beeyotch. No sympathy for her icky plight.
90 Days, Falling in Love Days – Two cousins fall in love in high school without knowing their relationship, then break it off when they find out they are related. Years later, both have married other people, when guy discovers he’s dying of a terminal disease and has 90 days to live. He decides to screw morality, responsibility and all the good stuff, and be with her until his dying breath. This is real incest, but since he’s dying, AND since he’s played by Kang Ji Hwan, he can do whatever he wants. But still, this one is fauxcest skirting really close incest plus adultery, it’s like a double-helping of icky.
One Fine Day – Boy knows girl is not his blood sister, girl thinks boy is her blood brother. They are separated, and reunited as adults. Boy always loved girl, girl falls for boy still under the mistaken belief he is her brother. Again, pretty icky. What makes OFD one notch above extremely icky is that there is a second use of this plot device in this drama. It’s a formalcest turned real incest! Girl is adopted by family, and her adopted brother falls in love with her and tries to rape her. Later, it’s discovered that she was adopted by her real father (who had her out of wedlock), and her adopted brother is her half-brother! And her real father is all “no big deal, don’t blow this out of proportion” when he knew all along his son had feelings for his adopted daughter, and he knew those two kids were related by blood. Icky through the roof!
I’m glad that K-dramas appear to be putting these plot devices out of their misery. However, without the ridiculous, over-wrought use of them over the years, we might have missed out on the enjoyment of so-bad-but-I-can’t-stop-watching dramas.
Thank you, fauxcest and formalcest, for the hours of sheer hilarity and headdesking you gave me. I like to think there are plenty of obstacles you can throw in the path of the OTP without ever having to resort to resurrecting these turkeys.
If I missed any dramas that used either or both of these plot devices, please let me know, so that I will make sure to stay far, far away from said dramas. 🙂