Plenty of discourse has already been established regarding K-Dramas as wish fulfillment. Rich, successful, and powerful characters have interesting stories to tell, of course. Undoubtedly, with an eminent character that stands out, it is easier to construct a universe around them, placing supporting characters meant to enhance the aspects of the characters while also making way for exceptional plotlines.
However, what truly stands out among the sea of K-Dramas that speak of extraordinary characters are the rare gems bringing out the diamonds in the rough, the underdogs – the ordinary. These stories truly see the brilliance in everyday life, find joy in the smallest things, and glorify the simple. While stories about heroic protagonists are classic entertainment, narratives about normal people leading boring old lives are cathartic in nature for viewers tend to see themselves in these regular and plain characters. When these characters find their way in life and soar to the top, when these plain characters do something extraordinary, that’s what touches viewers’ hearts. That is what makes them human and not just characters behind a screen. Empathy is born rather than sympathy and that is what proves the power of the ordinary.
‘When The Camellia Blooms’ is a prime example of such a story. Oh Dong Baek, a young single mother moves to the fictional town of Ongsan with a purpose. She loves cooking and wants to provide a space for the townspeople to rest, simply sit for a while and forget the worries of their long arduous day. Dong Baek opens up a bar, calls it “Camellia” and patiently waits for business to bloom. The people of the town are jaded towards her at the beginning, mostly because they don’t understand how she’s able to endure in the face of adversity. She’s a single mother with a business that doesn’t do very well. Yet she is not bogged down and still smiles.
It’s not that they don’t want her to smile, it’s the fact that they want to be like her. Every single one of the characters is fighting their own battle in the town yet it is only Dong Baek who seems unfazed. We eventually come to know that her life is not as easy as it looks on face value. With an estranged mother and the father of her child who wasn’t even aware of the kid’s existence, there’s a lot she hides behind that smile.
Yong Sik is our male lead but it would be unfair to call him the protagonist for that role is reserved for Dong Baek through and through. Yong Sik acknowledges that she doesn’t need him even though he wants to protect her. Being with her teaches him that all Dong Baek needs is the courage to find her own happiness and fight for it. And fight she does. From the start right to the end, this woman fights for her child, her love, and even her own life. While doing so, she even manages to gently transform the town around her.
All the Ahjummas in town become protective of Dong Baek going as far as to form a squad of protection against a literal serial killer so Dong Baek won’t be afraid. Her strength even empowers supporting female characters like Hyang Mi (So Dam Bi) and Ja Young (Yeom Hye Ran) to find their own voice. What is this, if not victory in the truest form?
Another perfect example of this is ‘Fight For My Way’ which features four best friends living in mere one-room apartments on a monthly lease in Nam-il Villa. Everything about these characters screams ordinary. However, Ko Dong Man (Park Seo Joon) carries a past with him that is not so ordinary after all. At the same time, Choi Ae Ra (Kim Ji Won) looks forward to a future that shines. All things considered, the drama starts at a point where neither of them has anything going for them. Choi Ae Ra gets cheated on despite being the one supporting her boyfriend through a job she does not want to do, Dong Man is intimidated at work and rejected at blind dates while he struggles from leaving behind his life’s dream of becoming a taekwondo champion, Kim Joo Man (Ahn Jae Hong) slaves away his days at an office trying to save up money, Sol Hee (Song Ha Yoon) is stuck in a regular telemarketing job while all she really wants to do is raise a family with Joo Man. Not once in the drama is her dream belittled just because it isn’t anything material. In fact, all their dreams are given equal weight, proving neither one superior to another.
The drama follows these four characters as they gradually find themselves and finally decide to go for their dreams. The trajectory of their happiness keeps on increasing once they do that and this is when their lives turn extraordinary – not because they acquired huge wealth or fame but because they’re finally happy doing what they truly want to.
There are many such dramas that bring out similar sentiments of regular people. If you haven’t already, you can watch My Mister, Misaeng, the Reply Series, Let’s Eat 2, and Dear My Friends for more incredible stories!