A truth universally acknowledged, is that people love drama. And my personal favorite kind of drama happens to come in the form of K-drama–the genre of South Korean TV shows. By now, I think everyone who knows me, knows how much I love K-drama. I love the way these stories use subtle undertones to express strong emotion, instead of over-done on-the-nose acting. Before I discovered K-drama, I had never really seen such deeply developed characters, and plots, outside of books. Since then, I have watched dozens upon dozens of shows, and have become so invested in the lives of each character, that I can feel their joy, their pain, and even their sorrow. As a writer, I began to study some of the intricacies, and take note of the shape and structure behind each series, and I started to recognize a pattern; that same unbeatable formula found in every story throughout history. So today, I’m starting a brand new, four-part series where I am going to dig down and dissect two of my very favorite K-drama’s, and study the science that holds them together and examine just what it is that makes them so great.
The first series we are going to discuss is, Doom at Your Service. A supernatural/fantasy/romance drama, and one of the most original, funny, and gripping emotional-roller coasters that I’ve ever seen. This post is going to contain some spoilers, but I’ll try to include only what is necessary to the discussion. Throughout this study, I will be referring to elements of the Three Act Story Structure, as described by K.M. Weiland, in her various teachings. If you’re not familiar with the Three Act Story Structure, you can find out more here.
Doom at Your Service.
The story picks up with our main character, Tak Dong Kyung, during an unfortunate, yet ordinary day in her life. Currently working as an editor for an online web-comic publishing house, Dong Kyung, is accustom to working long hours, and leaving little time for herself. Misfortune has followed her all her life, but on this day, Dong Kyung’s luck is the worst it’s ever been. Over-due student loans, and a humiliating public break-up are the least of her worries, after she pays a visit to her doctor, and receives the devastating news that she has a life-threatening brain tumor, with very limited options for treatment. Even with these grim prospects Dong Kyung seems unfazed, and indifferent to the information. Since losing her parents at a young age, Dong Kyung feels like this is simply the cherry on top of her already miserable life. She keeps the news to herself, and returns to her apartment. Later that night, after a few drinks, she recklessly makes a wish on a shooting star–wishing for doom upon the whole earth.
From the very first scene, we sympathize with Dong Kyung. We have all had bad days, and while they might not be as bad as Dong Kyung’s, we can still understand what she is feeling. So too, do we understand why she wishes for doom upon the whole earth. Often, when we are going through a difficult time, it’s hard to understand how the rest of the world can simply carry on, while our own world is crashing down all around us. At this point in the episode, things start to get interesting, because little did Dong Kyung know, Doom is a person, and she has just summoned him.
Enter, Doom, (Myeol Mang), an immortal being, who’s only purpose is to exact doom upon the human race. When you get a flat tire on the way to work, spill a cup of coffee on your laptop, or even face the consequences of a crime you have committed, you can thank Doom for visiting–the personification of misfortune. After living for centuries, watching continuously as humans live, die, and repeatedly make mistakes and cause terrible atrocities, any empathy that could have existed in him has been long buried. So when he hears the call for world-wide doom, it’s an opportunity he can’t pass up. Every year on his birthday, he grants one wish to a human, and Dong Kyung is just the human he’s been waiting for.
The arrival of Doom signifies the Inciting Event, bringing a tipping point for Dong Kyung, and the entire plot. We were given a brief look at Dong Kyung’s “normal” world prior to this moment, and now we are about to witness its complete reversal. Doom’s presence foreshadows this upcoming change, as his mere existence challenges Dong Kyung’s understanding of the world. The doorway to a new reality has just been unlocked, and already, she can see a glimpse of the other side.
Upon entering her apartment, Doom gives Dong Kyung an offer she can’t refuse: live pain free for the remainder of her life, (exactly 100 days), and after that, bring ultimate doom on the earth. She scoffs at the offer, and tries to get him to leave. She thinks she imagined the entire scenario, until the next day when the debilitating pain from her tumor is miraculously lifted by a simple touch from Doom. Frustrated, and at the end of her rope, Dong Kyung questions what she has done to deserve this. She doesn’t actually want to destroy the earth, simply because she is going to die. But when she tries to break the contract, Doom makes it clear the penalty she will face for not following through on their deal– Dong Kyung will live, but the person she loves most will die in her place.
Dong Kyung is horrified at this turn of events, as the person she loves most is her younger brother, the one whom she has worked most of her life to protect and care for after the loss of their parents. This moment conveys the First Plot Point, the final nail in the metaphorical coffin, ensuring that the old view of reality is gone forever. Dong Kyung, has now stepped through the doorway into this new world, but it is only the beginning of her journey.
Moving on, we see Dong Kyung’s Reaction as she grapples with this extreme change in her life. Dong Kyung despises Doom for making her agree to his offer, but she is determined not to let him win. She comes up with a way to save her own life, while not losing anyone else close to her. Her plan? Fall in love with Doom, so that he will die in place of her brother.
This is where the magic of Kdrama comes into play, promising an extremely painful road ahead for the characters, as well as the viewers. In the beginning it is clear that Doom is the villain in this story, but after a few episodes you will begin to second guess that notion. It appears that Doom is the one person that can help bring a change in her life, and likewise, she is the only one who can bring a change in him, too. It is the unlikelihood of two opposite souls, both broken, and hurting, that makes them a perfect pairing.
Doom first appears as a ruthless, uncaring soul, devoid of any heart or feeling towards anyone or anything. But as the story progresses, that hard exterior begins to show cracks, and Dong Kyung, recalls a faint memory that is in direct contradiction to what Doom has repeatedly claimed:
“I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I don’t cry.”
For Dong Kyung, this situation proves that for too long, she has sat back and allowed the world to run right over her. For most of her life, she has not understood or acknowledged who she truly is, but Doom begins to show her that maybe there is more to this life than she first thought. Consequently, as Doom and Dong Kyung become closer, she also realizes there may still be some humanity in him yet.
Now let’s review what we have covered so far. Doom at Your Service, flawlessly delivers an incredible Hook within the first few minutes, in the form of Dong Kyung’s shocking diagnosis. And it immediately follows through with the Inciting Event, as the appearance of Doom, himself. From the moment he is introduced, every aspect of the story, and Dong Kyung’s life begins to teeter in the balance. And while all of these outward events are occurring, it’s as if they were specifically designed to poke and prod at both Doom, and Dong Kyung’s deepest, personal, inner-conflict, and the Lies they each believe about themselves.
In the next part of this series, we will find out that that is exactly the case. Dong Kyung, and Doom, will both have to examine and confront the Lies they have clung to, as the Truth becomes so blindingly clear that they can no longer ignore it.
In my next post, we are going to get into the magic of sub-plots, character realizations, and epic climaxes, so be sure not to miss it. I hope you enjoyed taking a deeper look into the world of Kdrama’s with me, because there is more to come!
As always, thank you for reading,