Is the rom-com dead in America? The answer Vulture writer Jen Chaney comes to, in her article “The Romantic Comedy Is Not Dead — It’s Just Not the Same As You Remember,” is that American rom-coms have shifted from the predominately white, heteronormative narratives of the 1990s and 2000s into stories that divert those old traditions (think HBO’s Insecure, The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Amazon’s Catastrophe, among a number of other titles.)
While I enjoy these shows, I yearn for television with narrative and tone that is romantic without being ironic, funny without being cynical, and bucks the trend of featuring unlikeable characters. I am all for diversity and for stories that break the love-fixes-everything trope, but I don’t think those two things and the qualities that make classic rom-coms so enjoyable are mutually exclusive. The very essence of rom-coms is the fantasy of falling in love (emphasis on the falling part) and the comedy and hijinks that ensue in the process.
While the rom-com may be dwindling or drastically transfigured in the US, it is alive and well in the world of Korean television. K-dramas wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are unabashedly romantic; there is little, if any, jadedness or irony in their depiction of love. It is a world in which holding hands and back hugs are treated as scandalous as foreplay, where a kiss is akin to sleeping with someone. But what K-dramas lack in physical contact, or perhaps because of it, they make up for in sweetness and the slow build-up of emotion. It is not your brain they want to stimulate, but your heart.
Although many K-dramas follow a script that relies heavily on stereotypical gendered roles, there are many dramas that play with and subvert them. One of my favorite romantic comedies of the past year was Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, which followed the college romance between male swimmer Jung Joon Hyung (Nam Joo Hyuk) and female weightlifter Kim Bok Joo (played brilliantly by Lee Sung Kyun). Bok Joo was stronger physically and emotionally than Joon Hyung. She wore baggy sweatsuits, had a blunt bob-cut, and maintained her low voice and unfeminine mannerisms throughout the 16-episodes. Moreover, she was a more accomplished and successful athlete than Joon Hyung, and it was her aspirations that separated the two once she left to pursue them (and he who was trying to follow after her).
Below are a list of other K-dramas for those of you in the mood for a good romantic comedy. Please share your favorites, and your thoughts on Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo.