Korean shows and storytelling
So he starts to sing. This is the name of a short video that Berlin artist Bani Abidi made in 2000. It is the first of his works that I have ever seen and it made a permanent heart-shaped impression on me. In this work, you watch a woman tell the story of a movie. In fact, the woman in the video recounted the storylines of 26 different Hindi films and Abidi spliced it up into a story arc that has it all. Everything like some Hindi movies had it all in the past and Bangalore 99 dosa variety carts have it in the present.
So he starts to sing is the immortalization of a once-familiar experience of someone telling you the story of a movie or TV show they had watched. Partly because there was no guarantee that you would be able to watch a particular movie. Even more if he was obscure or eccentric or the kind that only appears at film festivals. But even though you knew you could watch the movie, you still enjoyed the story told.
For a long time, however, this telling of history has been absent from my life. At most, on occasion, friends may ask about a must-see movie or show, “Are you going to watch it?” », Before discussing a theme or a point of the plot or the end. The ending has become somewhat important recently. It hadn’t always been that way. When author Khaled Hosseini mocked America’s dependence on being protected from the knowledge of the end, I nodded. He wrote: “In Afghanistan, the end was all that mattered. When Hassan and I got home after watching a Hindi movie at the Zainab cinema, what Ali, Rahim Khan, Baba or Baba’s myriad of friends – first cousins and first cousins walked in and were coming out of the house – wanted to know: Girl in the movie find happiness? Did the movie bacheh, the guy in the movie, become katnyab and make his dreams come true, or was he nah-kam, doomed? Was there any happiness at the end, they wanted to know. Completely familiar, right?
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I’m happy to report, however, that I’m back in the storytelling and spoiler-conscious attitude. And that’s mainly because I fell into the delicious world of Korean dramas. Unlike, say, my solo Grey’s Anatomy addiction, watching K-drama is a team sport. I watch episodes I have heard descriptions of, sometimes shot by shot. I watch shows of which I have heard detailed accounts. Sometimes several people. Recently my friend G asked me if I had watched This winter the wind is blowing, a spectacle she described as an absolute disaster. Say, I demanded. She replied, “Not on message. He needs hands, face and a whole body exclamation. We hope to meet for that purpose despite the three jobs and the four children we have between us.
Another evening I wrote to my friend A in Dibrugarh, “your husband is wonderful in Youth record“, referring to the tall and ridiculously handsome elf Park Bo Gum that A has claimed for herself. The only reality that stands between me and A Reunion for a K-drama story is the significant gap in the industry of teleportation. In the absence of meetings and even the kind of long phone calls in which I heard the whole story of Secret garden or half of the story of Souvenirs from the Alhambra, we move on to recaps and screenshots.
I started reading recaps online when the original Gossip Girl was broadcast. I have come back to them with a lot of enthusiasm now watching K-Dramas. When finally A in Dibrugarh looks Youth record, I know the scene that will make her scream and clap but while waiting for her to catch up with me I know there are episode recaps and comment sections that I can join with plenty of people who would have enjoyed the Bo Gum’s campy interpretation of evil chaebol. Yes, yes, I agree with you, stage mate, I want a whole show with this version of his perfection. By the way, I want to note that a reviewer I read compared Bani Abidi’s film to an early prediction from the supercut fan – an online compilation of the “good bits”. The supercut, while fun, is not my affection.
While the in-person or online recap is an epic tale, the Kathakali version of fan engagement, the screenshot, is a more modernist creature. The screenshots of the shows I love are like a short poem, a cross between EE Cummings and Kay Ryan. Unlike the full recap, the screenshot fragment is like looking through a kaleidoscope. I started taking screenshots of shows when (almost a decade late) I was watching Zindagi Gulzar Hai. The play between the moment I loved and the caption I loved made the screenshots irresistible.
This is where I disagree with Hosseini. If there is only the end, then what is the movie or the show? Listening to the story and watching the movie were meant to make you feel like you’re on a pool float, wearing sunglasses, and holding a fruity drink, an aspiration I learned from watching movies. What, after all, was an end for us, used to entire industries making films with terrible second halves? Your friend at least knew which tracks would give you the feeling of floating, the Park Bo Gum is the one my husband feels. Yes, your friend’s version, her ending, is the best show. So we start singing.
Nisha Susan is the editor of The Ladies Finger webzine and the author of Women who forgot to make up Facebook and other stories.
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