While you were sleeping and it’s subtle address of feminism Korean drama has made progress over the years toward feminism. This essay will focus on the Korean drama ‘While you were sleeping’ and how it takes it to the next level in portraying a relationship between the female main character and male main character. For a long time now, Korean dramas has portrayed women as a weaker character that needs protection and taking care of but Korea has gone more global and the younger generations has open their eyes to more independence and right for women.
The more recent Korean dramas had tried to change the portrayal of women but none has gone as far as ‘While you were sleeping’ where the female and male character was characterized to completely be equal and depend on each other. ‘While you were sleeping’ is a drama written by Park Hye -Ryun. She has made multiple best selling dramas in the past. The drama itself is a combination of romance, legal drama and a touch of fantasy. In the drama, Hong joo, the female main character was an ex-reporter. Her dreams can predict the future and in her dream she saw herself dead as a reporter.
So, in order to avoid that she quit her job and help her mom in the family’s restaurant. She will eventually find it in her heart to go back to work after seeing that changing the future in her dream was possible. The male main character, Jae-Chan was a rookie prosecutor who was working hard to be a good prosecutor. He one day got a dream where he saw Hong Joo died and when the dream became reality in front of his eyes, he tried to stop it and succeeded. Since then their lived intertwined. The drama tells what happen in and behind the court where Jae-Chan had to face the protagonist, Lee Sang Yeob, who was a smart but sly lawyer. And even though Hong Joo worked in a different field, her work has the same idea of finding the truth and investigating cases. They helped each other solving their cases. The women and men in Korean Dramas and more importantly, Korean society are measured by double standard.
To keep in mind, there are a lot of good Korean Dramas out there but these are taken from the most popular Korean dramas intended for the younger generations. We will see the portrayal of women in older Korean Drama to the newer ones. Most of the time, the storyline would follow the structure of two character who comes from different world or are very different but will eventually get rid of all obstacle and be together. The female main character would usually be working or holding down some kind of job. It shows that in Korea the woman are more modern and can be independent. But there’ll be a pattern, the Chaebols (a large business conglomerate) are mostly the male character, or that they would be smart enough to be a successful CEO or own a company.
One of the most popular old drama is ‘Boys over flower’ where Gu Jun-Pyo, was a very rich heir of a big corporation while Guem Jan-Di was a daughter of a very poor dry cleaning family. Another more recent example was ‘The heir’ where Kim Tan was again an heir of a big corporation and Cha Eun-Sang was the daughter of the maid. The more recent dramas have a more neutral ground like ‘Strong Women Do Bong Soon’ where Ahn Min-Hyuk was an owner of a successful game company, he was well off but not crazily super rich while Do Bong Soon was from an average income family. Although later found that he was actually an heir to a rich family but refused to be a part of the family drama. The more modern drama has tried to put the characters in a more middle ground but they still follow the ideals that the guy has to be crazy rich and smarter and the girl would be the hard work struggling one that needs help.
In ‘Strong women Do Bong Soon’ Do Bong Soon wanted to be a game designer but was not accepted in any company and moreover she could never hold down a job because of her ‘superpower’ that has been passed down through generations in her family. Of course, eventually the female character will get where the story wants them to be but not before showing how hard it is for them to get there because of their incompetence. Do bong Soon, eventually managed to design a game but only because the guy who owned the game company liked her and gave her the job. In ‘While you were sleeping’ both characters were from the same middle-income family and both were equally as smart in doing their investigation. Jae-Chan was passionate about his investigation but because of that, he was slow and has a lot of late assignments.
It also showed him acting silly in workplace not because of the girl but because it’s his actual personality and his workers saw him and mocked him for his silliness (While you were sleeping episode 7). He eventually got his colleagues’ respect but not before working hard for it. Hong joo was also a smart reporter who was famous for her stubbornness and wit. The drama also showed a short scene that address the gender discrimination in Korea where the protagonist male character found it uncomfortable and weird that there will be a majority of women jury in the court room instead of male and one of the jury stepped up and told him that’s it’s weirder that he found that weird but not if most of the jury are men (while you were sleeping episode 11).
No Korean movie has ever address this as forward as ‘while you were sleeping’. ‘While you were sleeping’ also took the relationship between men and women portrayed in Korean Dramas differently. The norm and most popular lines in Korean Dramas is where the guy would promise to protect and take responsibility of the girl both emotionally and monetarily. It was seen as a confession of deep commitment, reliability and love from women but it’s actually a declaration of ownership, as if the women are incapable of taking care of themselves.
A classic example would be from the Korean Drama ‘playful kiss’ where Ha-ni was a girl that was bad and clumsy in everything she did and Baek Seung-Jo who was the popular guy who was too good in everything he did, neither of them were a normal high schooler. The female character are usually hot headed and stubborn with a lot of emotion but no logic. When Ha-ni didn’t get the grade she wanted, she whines and went to Seung-Jo for answers and when she didn’t get one she whines even more, threatening to drop out of school. Ha-Ni’s future dream in the drama was also not her own dream but a dream to be whatever and whenever as long as she can stay with Seung-Jo.
A sign of complete dependency more than love. The more recent dramas give more independence to the female character than the old drama. An example similar to ‘playful Kiss’ would be ‘To the beautiful you’ where Jae-Hee transferred school and pretended to be a boy to help the boy she admired to be able to jump again. But it was merely temporary, she did not latch on to him for dependency nor did she give up her dream. A more modern symbol of standing but in the end, Tae Joon still found out about Jae-Hee and ends up protecting her behind her back.
The drama ‘Strong Women Do Bong Soon’ was also a more modern outlook on the female and male relationship as Do Bong Soon being considerably stronger than 40 men combined together because of her superpower. In the drama, she was hired as bodyguard for Ahn Min-Hyuk. But the drama was still showing a big gap as Do Bong Soon has no control over her power and hurt a lot of people unintentionally in the process. Of course, she finally learned how to control her power but from the help of Ahn Min-Hyuk which was unnatural considering her mom and grandma had it too but never managed to thought her how to control it. In the story from ‘While you were sleeping’ when Jae-Chan’s brother was in trouble he went to look for help with Hong Joo. Then they both put their heads together to find out the location of the fight and Hong Joo acted quickly by pressing the fire alarm, defusing the fight. In this case the female character came up with the solution (while you were sleeping episode 6).
Hong Joo was also shown to be smart and quick in other cases such as when Jae-Chan and his colleagues were having an argument and they suddenly involved Hong joo in, she was able to give a solid argument derived from facts (while you were sleeping episode 9). But she’s not the only one who helped Jae-Chan, Jae-Chan also helped her and they both depended on each other just like a relationship should be. When Hong Joo was running away from a murderer with a victim, Jae-Chan came to the rescue with backup. Of course, as heroic as it was, it was also dangerous which got him reprimanded by his supervisor. But it showed that he was no superman, but just another guy trying to help his girlfriend.
In conclusion, Korea has gone more global in the past years. The younger generation wants more independence and rights for women and it can be shown in the difference of the older Korean Dramas to the more recent ones. But no other Korean Dramas has address feminism like ‘While You were sleeping’ where the relationship was taken to the next level of being equal and the characters depended on each other equally. Seeing the new trend of Korean Drama, I’m sure that ‘While you were sleeping’ won’t be the last Korean Dramas that addressed feminism in Korean society.