After moving into quarantine this past week, I had some time to fill.
A friend recommended the Korean-drama, “Crash Landing on You.” I was skeptical at first, but after just one episode, I was hooked.
The show centers around South Korean businesswoman Yoon Se-ri, played by Son Ye-jin, South Korea’s “Queen of Melodrama,” and North Korean Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok, portrayed by award-winning Hyun Bin.
While testing out a new paragliding product for her fashion company, Se-ri is swept into a tornado. The strong winds carry her into the Korean Demilitarized Zone, where she is discovered by Captain Ri.
After a series of failed escape attempts, Se-ri ends up taking shelter in Captain Ri’s home as he helps her search for a way to return to South Korea. The two definitely do not end up falling in love along the way, and there are definitely no longing stares, tearful goodbyes or other tropes of forbidden love present throughout the show.
The true appeal of this drama is that it is not just a drama; it is also a comedy, thriller and a poignant portrayal of North Korean life. Kang Nara, a North Korean defector who helped advise throughout the production process, was impressed by the accuracy of certain aspects of the show.
“The producers did such a good job in adhering to the testimony of defectors like me that I was so moved, as I recognized my home village while I was watching,” Kang said in an interview with NBC News.
The show is surprisingly hilarious, mostly due to the four soldiers in Captain Ri’s unit. Each soldier has a different endearing quality: Kim Ju Muk’s obsession with K-dramas and South Korean culture; Park Kwang Beom’s good looks; Geum Eun Dong’s sweet, childlike nature; and Pyo Chi Su’s constant teasing of Se-ri and deep paranoia of capitalism.
As the series progresses, the soldiers become like a family to Se-ri, who is often shunned by her real family at home in South Korea.
The “ajummas,” or married women, of the village are another humorous presence in the show, gossiping with Se-ri about village drama and helping her adjust to North Korean life.
For this drama, no plotline is too outrageous, and no scene is too far of a stretch; it’s all fair game.
While the show is not politically accurate, “Crash Landing on You” is inspired by real-life events.
Screenwriter Park Ji-eun chose to base the drama in part on a 2008 incident, in which South Korean actress Jung Yang had to be rescued from her boat after accidentally venturing past the maritime border separating North and South Korean waters.
With the help of North Korean defector and writing team member Kwak Moon-wan, the creators of “Crash Landing on You” were able to depict certain aspects of North Korean life with relative accuracy.
In an interview with the Washington Post, North Korean defector Kang Ha-na expressed her surprise that numerous scenes throughout the drama were experiences that she had had in North Korea.
“I also made kimchi out of seawater and showered in a makeshift steam bath under plastic sheets,” she said.
The show also includes portrayals of power cuts — common occurrences in North Korea, where electricity in rural areas is less than reliable — and extreme poverty throughout the country. The drama included North Korean defectors in its production team and cast, allowing most aspects of the series’ development to be advised by individuals’ personal experiences in the country.
Sokeel Park, who works with a South Korean company to help North Korean defectors adjust to their new lives, appreciated the show’s portrayal of North Koreans.
“It is refreshing how it portrays various aspects of North Korean society without unnecessarily passing judgement and shows North Koreans as complex people who are ultimately relatable and even lovable, even if they are culturally different,” Park said in an interview with the BBC.
One reason people may be hesitant to watch this show and other K-dramas is the language barrier: Some people are deterred by the presence of subtitles. A common complaint among people who don’t watch movies or TV shows in foreign languages is that subtitles require viewers to read while watching.
As South Korean director Bong Joon-ho said after winning four Academy Awards for his film Parasite: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”