A few months ago, I decided to watch the Korean romantic comedy series Romance is a Bonus Book. It took me just a few few episodes to get hooked and, since then, I have watched another two series: Strong Woman Do Bong-soon; and What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim.
They each comprise sixteen episodes and the plots are pretty formulaic. I noticed that all three have the following in common:
- The male lead is always in a socially superior position. Although the female may be better than he is in other ways, the male is always financially better off, and socially more powerful than the female. In the three series I watched the male lead was the female lead’s superior at work. In two of the series he was her employer and actually the owner of the company.
- There will be another male character that seems to be a serious contender for the female lead’s affections, but I cottoned on quite quickly that they do not stand a chance and are there just to create some tension between the male and female leads.
- There are one or two romantic ballads that are played repeatedly throughout the series. They come on whenever the male and female leads have a ‘moment’, another clue as to who female lead is going to end up with.
- In all three series I watched, the male and female leads have sex, but it is never explicit. In Bonus Book, if you blink or don’t pay attention to what the guy says, then you may miss the hint entirely. In any case, whether or not the couple has sex doesn’t affect the plot. This is often also the case in Western films and TV shows, but the sex is shown anyway, i.e. gratuitous. I must say I prefer the ‘innocent’ nature of the Korean romantic series. They remind me of classic Hollywood films, which focus more on the romantic or comedic aspects of the relationship, relying on sexual chemistry rather than sex scenes to spice up the plot.
Speaking of chemistry, there is plenty between each of the three couples in the series I’ve watched. The courtship is always sweet and cute, the sort you would expect to experience as a pre-pubescent teen, but it’s appealing despite my great age and the debauched life I’ve led. Or perhaps it’s appealing because it’s so innocent.
I enjoy these series partly because they are so predictable and partly because of their wholesome nature. It’s good to know that a happy ending is coming and I prefer not to dwell on why the male lead always has to be in the position to pamper the female lead with expensive gifts. The woman is never a gold digger though, never greedy or self serving. She may enjoy the treats he lavishes on her, she might be in awe of his fine home and extravagant lifestyle, but she would be devoted to him even if he were a beggar and homeless. She is always thoroughly capable and talented; her lack of assets is not an indication of a want of talent or industry. When she gets the handsome and wealthy hero, you may be sure that she deserves him. And you may also be sure that she’s the sort of woman who will add to his fortune. Haha, I’m rolling my eyes here!
These series are like the Denise Robbins and Mills & Boon books I sometimes like to read. I don’t aspire to be like the women in them. Maybe I want to be as rich and generous as the men! Sure, these series (and books) are an escapist pleasure. They offer some harmless easy-to-digest entertainment in stressful times. How sweet the couples look, like children, so full of love and hope.
When watching the hero of Secretary Kim promise to always love and protect his bride-to-be, I found myself wondering how soon he would change. How soon would she? These frothy fantasies don’t succeed in making me totally forget about the real world. For just the duration of sixteen episodes, I kinda wish they would.