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The Six Biggest Issues K-Drama Took On This Year

BY Julie Jones | Dec 21, 2015 08:34 AM EST


Plenty of k-dramas are as fluffy and sweet as cotton candy. But even when they are light hearted, dramas can touch on serious issues being discussed in Korean society and around the world.  Here are six serious issues that were covered in k-dramas this year.

  1. Bullying: Bullying is an issue often touched on in dramas, with bullies features in "Who Are You - School 2015," "Angry Mom," and "She Was Pretty." In "Who Are You?" Kim So Hyun plays both a girl who is bullied and a girl who bullies. In "Angry Mom," Kim Hee Sun dresses up as a teen and enrolls at her daughter's school because she worries she is being bullied. And it's not just the students doing the bullying. In "She Was Pretty," the overweight younger version of Park Seo Joon's character is teased badly because of his weight. According to a recent article in the media outlet Korea Times, at least 30 percent of South Korean students have experienced bullying. Dramas can help point out the dangers both for the bully and bullied.

  2. Single motherhood: South Korea places a high value on the traditional family unit and as a result single mothers may face discrimination socially and at work. In "Ho Gu's Love" Uee becomes a single mom and the scandal threatens to ruin her promising career as a professional swimmer. The characters in "Ho Gu's Love" sweetly discuss how the single mother and baby are not to blame for their predicament and should be accepted. In "Heard It Through the Grapevine" a teen pregnancy is resolved through a quick marriage that neither family is really happy with. In "Mrs. Cop" Kim Hee Ae tries to juggle work and single motherhood. 

  3. Adultery and divorce: Changing attitudes toward adultery and divorce are reflected in k-dramas.  Until February 2015 adultery was illegal in Korea with potential sentences of up to two years. But that didn't mean it did not happen. And divorce in Korea was rare before the 1970s. As one in three Korean marriages now ends in divorce, the stigma of divorce has lessened. Adultery and the option of divorce are examined in "Valid Love," "Mask," "Twenty Again," "I Have A Lover" and "Beloved Eun Dong." While drama plots still tend to favor couples reuniting despite the odds, characters may now occasionally leave an unhappy marriage and have a second chance at love. Joo Jin Mo and Kim Sa Rang hoped for a bright future in "Beloved Eun Dong." Choi Ji Woo and Lee Sang Yoon enjoyed her second chance at happiness after she left her cheating husband.

  4. Debt: Household debt creates problems around the world and in k-dramas it drives characters to undertake some desperate acts. The results of that debt can range from tragic to comical. In "Mask" Soo Ae plays a woman whose family is so encumbered by debt that she will marry a stranger who is potentially mentally ill. In "My Beautiful Bride" gangsters harvest organs and women sell their bodies to pay off debt. In "Yong Pal," Joo Won treats gangsters on the side to pay for his sister's medical treatment. Debt had a comical result in "She Was Pretty" when student loans made it impossible for Hwang Jung Eum to keep up her looks.

  5. Corruption: Corruption comes up in some degree in almost every drama that features a chaebol but it was a hot topic this year. And it was spread around in different professions. In "Pinocchio," a news team was corrupt, in "Pride and Prejudice" and "My Beautiful Bride," the police were corrupt. In  "Angry Mom," the people running the school were villains. In "Heard It Through The Grapevine," the wealthy father's law firm helped unfairly influence politics and in "Punch," a lawyer who was corrupt tries to make amends. In "Remember" an entire legal system is rife with corruption.

  6. Mental Illness: Psychiatric problems played a part in a few dramas this year, reflecting the lifting of taboos surrounding the discussion and treatment of mental illness. Both "Kill Me Heal Me," starring Ji Sung, and "Hyde, Jekyll and I," starring Hyun Bin, took on dissociative identity disorder, while Joo Ji Hoon in "Mask" played a character with some symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and some of schizophrenia. And there were plenty of sociopathic characters in this year's mix, one of the most chilling being "Young Lady" in "The Village." Sociopaths were not portrayed as sympathetically as the characters played by Ji Sung, Hyun Bin or Joo Ji Hoon.

Watching a drama thoughtfully approach an issue can help spark discussions, promote understanding and encourage the need for change. Was there a drama this year that helped you think differently about an issue?

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