If you are a drama fanatic and you have watched tons of Asian Dramas, especially K-Drama and J-Dorama, then most probably you have already caught yourself before staring wide-eyed and with your jaw dropping in front of the TV screen telling yourself “WHAT THE SHOCKS? I’VE SEEN THAT HAPPEN ALREADY!!! COME ON!”
The heroine fell from a ladder and her love interest caught her mid-air and then suddenly a romantic theme music played in the background while the two lovebirds stared at each other’s eyes in slow motion. And then there’s also that scene where the heroine was drunk and then coincidentally a guy she accidentaly bumped into in the morning saw her laying on the ground and throwing up. He brought her home and took care of her for the night, and all of a sudden the next day for some reason the girl found out that he will be her new boss in her new job.
Sounds like a story you watched?
Yeah, right! Me too!
But I just made those up. Asian stories are so cheesy romantic like that, I can literally come up with my own versions.
And because there are just too many similarities between Asian dramas (doesn’t matter which country it came from), I thought I must come up with 10 common themes to share with you!
1. THE POOR AND THE RICH LOVE TEAM
Most, if not all Asian primetime dramas revolve around a love team between a poor girl and a rich man (it has to be the girl who’s poor because it’s more romantic that way… but I see changes in trend these days). The characters almost always live extremely different lifestyles from each other that putting them together definitely causes friction. One can’t stand dirt. The other can’t stand grandiose stuff. They are totally different from one another and so initially they are allergic to each other’s presence. But soon enough they will get attracted to each other’s unique qualities. And then in the end it will be a rags to riches story!
The best sample for this is Taiwan’s Meteor Garden. It is a story about a poor girl who got the privilege to study in a school for rich people. One day she crossed paths with the school’s Flower Boys (F4) and struck the wrong string.
They gave her a red card (a death message) and bullied her to make her drop out. But she held her ground and fought. The group leader of the F4 liked this part of her of course. He demanded her to date him and while at first it’s all forced, in the end they both fell in love with each other and had a classic mushy gushy rags to riches ending.
2. HOSPITAL AND AMBULANCE SCENES
There can’t be an Asian drama without a hospital scene. There must be a life endangered or else the story wont be complete. Some characters get run over by a car and get amnesia. Some have serious diseases. Billions get shot and stabbed and burned (I’m exaggerating). Some attempt suicide. No matter what it is, someone has to be sent to the hospital and someone’s gotta be there to cry for him/her. There must always be an ambulance scene or running with the patient on a stretcher scene. Holding hands while crying, chanting prayers and forbidding the person to die.
Boss and Me, a Chinese drama, is a good sample for this. The boss’ sister gets sick and is stuck in the hospital. She needs blood transfusion but her blood type is rare and she has to have a donor if she would live. Her brother looks for a donor among his employees in the company and he finds one. That girl loves food and as a sign of gratitude, he’d give her food everyday and in the end they fell in love with each other.
3. SLOW BACKGROUND MUSIC IN EVERY SOLO FLASHBACK DRAMA MOMENT
Every Asian drama hero and heroine have their own Music Video Award worthy solo flashback drama moment where a character reminisces his/her past and cries over it. The memories come back and along with it, the drama’s theme music would play along and make the whole scene even more dramatic. Sometimes the character would even move in sync with the sound which makes it rather weird (in my opinion).
One sample I could give for this is the Indian drama Yeh Hai Mohabbatein. Indian dramas and movies in general incorporate music in order to make things more interesting for the viewers. It is the main idea behind Bollywood. In this story the main character Raman separates with his wife because his wife cheated on him with his boss. Their kid is put under the custody of the boss and basically his life fell apart. But he picked himself up and became the top person of his business. He had a relationship with another woman and tried to move on. Long story short, there are lots of epic music video scenes in this drama and they all revolve around past memories. There are tons of other Indian movies like this that you can watch if you would search the net.
4. VERBAL RECITATION AND REITERATION OF VALUES LEARNED
It’s like a kinder values teacher telling you exactly what lessons are learned in the story. There’s always some sort of flashback moment where the character (usually the heroine) looks back to everything that has happened to her so far and then while reminiscing she would have a voice over monologue talking about how each of the struggles she faced turned her into a loving, caring, and strong woman. Of course there are all sorts of other lessons but you get the point.
One sample I can think of that shows this theme is the Japanese drama One Liter of Tears (一リトルの涙), a story of a girl named Aya who developed Spirocerebellar Degeneration Disease or SDD at the age of 15 – an incurable disease that made her lose control of her body movements till she ended up paralyzed and then dead. This story is a true to life story (and I highly recommend it!). The girl was asked by her doctor to write a journal so he could assess the progression of her disease by analyzing the changes in her handwriting as well as from the content of her journal.
Now, the drama used the content of the real journal to make up these “values learned” scenes. The actress Aya would walk on a park while limping and balancing herself, and then suddenly there’s a voice over that makes you able to read her mind. And that’s where the lessons in the journal are recited.
“Today I walked on the same road I took yesterday and I still see the same things, but today I know that the me yesterday is gone and will never come back. But I’m still here and I must continue moving forward.”
Dramatic. Full of flavor. Very typical of Asian dramas. (Not against it though!)
5. THE EVIL MOTHER AND MOTHER-IN-LAW
Now this is the real deal! I do not have the numbers for it but I am going to bet on my life that 60% of all Asian movies has this theme. Evil mother, mother-in-law, stepmother and foster mother. All types of mothers. Asian dramas make them the star tyrant. They are like next to serial killers and drug lords in the level of their evilness.
The sample I’m going to give you for this is the Philippine drama Pangako Sa’yo (I Promise You). This is a story about a young girl named Yna who survived an earthquake and grew up to be a chef. She didn’t know who her mother is. She fell in love with the son of the mayor of their place and the guy’s mom didn’t approve of her. She got bullied in all sorts of ways, and things just got worse when the guy’s mom realized that she’s actually the daughter of her all-time enemy. Lies were told. Evil plans were plotted. Murders happened. Blood shed. And THAT people is how evil mothers can be in Asian dramas.
6. STUPID AND COMEDIC SIDE CHARACTERS
Unlike Western dramas that are really serious when it’s supposed to be serious, Asian dramas cannot exist without comedy. No matter how serious and deadly the plot is (say it’s a drama about syndicates or gangs) there would always be one or two characters who are not just funny but also unbelievably stupid to offer comedic relief and color to the story. It could be the best friend of the character or it could be the side kick. They would mess up a mission, let out a secret, accidentaly bump the character in the worst moment possible, give out uninformed opinions out of the blue, and anything stupid basically.
It Started with a Kiss is the sample I will use. It is a Taiwanese comedic slice of life drama so there really is comedy in it. But what’s unique here is the amount of stupidity that can happen in just a few seconds that you won’t even believe it.
It is a story about a dumb girl (Xiang Qin) who fell in love with a school genius (Zhi Shu). The girl and her father ended up living together with the guy’s family when their house collapsed in what they believe is a strong earthquake (though it’s just that the poor quality of their house couldn’t even withstand strong winds). Her lack of common sense and knowledge coupled with the stupidity of her circle of friends brought all sorts of trouble to Zhi Shu’s quiet life.
7. FROM UGLY DUCKLING TO A GODDESS
It seems like Asians have a fascination for positive physical transformation. There are tons of movies that revolve around this theme. There is Mirabella, Diary ng Panget (Diary of an Ugly Person), and Artificial Beauty. It’s not surprising because Asians care a lot about beauty and they have a fast growing market for plastic sugery and artificial implants. This doesn’t mean though that everyone’s for it! In fact, if we look at the number of shows about transformation, there’s almost equal number for natural beauty transformations.
A sample I will use here is 200 Pounds Beauty, a Korean movie that revolves around a woman who weighs 200 pounds. She had an overall plastic surgery. She got all her fats removed, implanted silicone in her butt and breasts and even had her whole face changed. Nobody was able to recognize her and her only proof of identity was a tattoo she had. The main plot revolved around her search for love life whilst pretending to be a different person.
8. THEY ALL GO TO THE WEST
Another striking realization I had while watching Asian dramas is that there is this constant theme of leaving Asia to go to Europe. There are tons of dramas too that run mainly in Europe and the U.S. There is Lovers in Paris, Love Story in Harvard, and On the Wings of Love. One thing that intrigues me though is that most dramas like this has the same types of plots. The main character is sick and tired of life in their country and want to start a new life. The solution is to go out of Asia and just come back once he’s successful. In another story the character wants to do some soul searching and reform his life. He goes out of Asia and look for his soul somewhere else. He comes back to his country a whole new person. (Weird because the trend in Western movies is to go to Asia because some drug lord is in hiding in there or because some illegal headquarters is stationed in there.)
My sample here is the Korean drama Spring Waltz. Arianne went to Austria for a tour using a ticket she won in a jewelry contest. That’s where she met a guy in a train whom she accidentaly poured some juice to. After that their paths kept on crossing and to sum things up, they ended up together. Turns out they were childhood friends that just lost touch of each other. They learned they’re actually best friends with the help of a jewelry the girl kept through the years.
9. CHASING CARS, TRAINS, AIRPLANES, SHIPS AND HELICOPTERS
This is the cheesiest meatiest of all Asian themes in my opinion. Asian dramas take the idea of running after the one you love both figuratively and literally. Because the trend is that women love crying in public for all the crowd to see and once they take their crying in the bus, the love of their lives who broke their heart (and ended up feeling sorry) would run after the fast moving vehicle! What’s weird is that every drama try to outdo the other by tweaking the scene. One drama shows a guy chasing a car. The other shows a guy chasing a truck. Then a train. Then a ship. Then a helicopter. And then a woman running after an airplane!
One great example I have for this is the Filipino drama Ang Probinsyano (Man from the Province) where a policeman playing undercover as a sexy woman jumped right into the ocean and swam after a fast running yacht where his love interest(?) is in and under hostage. (Not sure if they’re a love team yet. It’s ongoing.) But you get the point. I wonder what other kind of vehicles they’ll use next time.
It’s weird to put this on number 10 but then I wanted to save the best for last. I think this is the most obvious theme ALL Asian movies have. Confessions. All TV series, all movies, and even all Animes and comics have it! Asians love the idea of openly professing love in the sweetest most unique way. Confessions happen in beaches, streets, school, office, parks and basically everywhere.
One sample of it would be the Thai movie Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It is about a high school girl named P’nam in love with their school’s hearthrob P’shone. She has no self confidence because she has dark skin, wears glasses and braces, has no fashion sense, and elementary school style hair. The story revolves around her effort to be beautiful so that she can have the confidence to confess to P’shone.
In the end she became the school’s prettiest girl. She confessed and got rejected because P’hone already had girlfriend. Time passed and she realized that P’shone liked her even before she became pretty. So much for her effort. The story ended when P’shone confessed to her on a TV show.
Now if you have already watched all the 10 sample stories I gave you, you would notice that each one of them have at least 4 to 5 out of ten of the themes I discussed. That’s just how common those common themes are. It shows that Asians look for the same things in their TV shows and that there is a similar appreciation for certain values, customs, and attitudes.
I’d like to see this as a positive sign and a possible means of connection between Asian countries, especially in the realm of TV and entertainment. However, it is hard to do so when the similarities I see are creepily cheesy and typical. (Most of the time I like to watch something new and different.) But I’d still give it a thumbs up as it makes me laugh.
There are still tons of other common themes out there that I didn’t cover and you might want to share some of them with me. So please leave a comment!
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