When fantasy collides with reality, a hit drama series is born
Cable channel OCN’s new fantasy drama “The Uncanny Counter” continues to gather a local audience every Saturday and Sunday. The drama, based on the ongoing webtoon of the same title, revolves around the so-called heroes, or “counters,” who have access to the gates of a place called Yung which houses the souls of the dead.
The counters camouflage themselves as employees of a noodle joint and hunt down the ghosts. The eighth episode, which aired on Dec. 20, marked a viewership of 9.3 percent.
These counters are not like the conventional heroes people might be familiar with. A character named So Mun, played by Joe Byeong-gyu, is treated as a laughingstock by bullies at his school. Do Ha-na, played by Kim Se-jeong, who entered the world of counters earlier than others, alongside Ga Mo-tak, played by Yu Jun-sang, as well as Chu Mae-ok, played by Yum Hye-ran, often seem to be outwitted by evil forces.
“The fantasy story that reflects some of the realities that people are currently facing seems to really speak to the audience,” said an executive at CJ ENM, the production company.
Action director of the drama Kwon Tae-ho also said he wanted to limit exaggerated action scenes that may not happen in the real world.
“While Western-style hero dramas put much more effort into building up a new fictional world, Korean hero dramas usually take very common daily life as their worlds,” said Park Ki-soo, professor of Hanyang University’s culture contents department.
“The ones they are trying to save are all someone very close to them such as family, rather than the general public all across the world.”
Yung is a middle ground between life and death, and while the people who live there may seem like gods, they are also people who are trying to be reincarnated.
“Korea tends to really stick to what’s real, and only imagination that’s inspired by some level of reality can bring out sympathy from the audience,” said Prof. Yun Seok-jin from Chungnam University’s Korean language and literary department.
Previous hit fantasy dramas like “My Love from the Star” (2013-2014) and “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” (2016-2017) also have fantasy elements that are based on reality.
“The fantasy drama was relatively unwelcome in the world of TV, but a popular genre in movies, online games and webtoons and became trendy in Korea since the success of drama “Secret Garden” [2010-2011] in which the main male and female characters’ bodies flip."
A book, with a title that translates to “Television Drama, Metonymy of Fantasy,” provides an analysis on fantasy dramas, which have become some of the most popular themes in the TV drama world in recent years. The book features research on how many fantasy dramas aired over the past 25 years, including the drama “M” in 1994 that featured superpowers and possessions of others’ bodies. It says there were seven in the 1990s, 14 in the 2000s and a whopping 105 in the 2010s.
“The more difficult reality gets and the more complaints people have about their lives, the more fantasy is sought after,” said the book. “This reflects the public’s desire to solve their real world problems at least in a fantasy world."
As more over-the-top platforms are now available, dramas with these themes are being more regularly produced.
“With Netflix on the scene, individuals’ detailed preferences have become more important, and zombie period drama ‘Kingdom’ or 'Sweet Home,' which features monsters, are getting more popular and becoming mainstream work,” said Park of Hanyang University.
“It is interesting to see how these dramas have characters who fight against any pain from the past or have an innate desire that comes on top of the fear of unknown beings out there,” said Park.
The CJ ENM official added that many dramas that deliver a message of hope seem to have been received well this year as many are tired of the pandemic.
BY MIN KYUNG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]