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How K-dramas Affect The Soju Fantasy

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

Many of us have probably experienced “The Soju Fantasy”, brought to us by Korean dramas that romanticise drinking with others. Almost all Korean dramas include at least one scene of a character drinking themselves to the point of no return before a miracle happens that solves their issues. It’s unrealistic, but it gives people hope.

K-drama scenes use Soju to make all the characters’ wishes come true. It is seen when Kang-doo got the sweetest first kiss from Moon-soo because of her excessive drinking by the river in ‘Just Between Lovers’, or when Ji-soo and Hyung-shik had a steamy love affair right on the pool table after drinking to oblivion in ‘Strong Woman Do Bong-soon’, and many other scenes in other K-drama shows.

Fight for my way Soju

Fight For My Way

These drinking scenes are often accompanied by the famous red drinking tents: pojangmacha (포장마차). Those bright red tents often feature cheap plastic for doors and ajummas (middle-aged women) serving steaming hot Korean street food. It is commonly used in K-dramas as a place for warm drinking with close friends and for flirting drunkenly with a friend. It is usually here that characters have an emotional breakthrough with the aid of Soju.

In fact, many Korean Dramas seem to associate drinking Soju and having an emotional or spiritual breakthrough, whether it’s with a romantic partner or friends. These moments move the audience as much as it changes the characters. The secret rooftop in ‘Fight My Way’ where the Fantastic Four celebrated life with drinks, or the Misaeng office gang drinking oju to soften a harsh work day, are instances that draw audiences in, sharing the characters’ relatable emotions the same way a good shot of soju can help people share their emotions in real life.

Strong Woman Do Bong Soon Soju

Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon

This is why people develop Soju Fantasies. K-dramas provide a colourful safe haven for people to dream of true love, closer friendships, and no negative consequences for getting drunk.

But Soju can also be bitter. The characters go through suffering and pain that is reflective of real life. Soju in the fictional K-drama world may be analogous to our dramas. The way alcohol comforted both Gil-dong and his father after his mother’s death in ‘Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People’, mimics the way K-dramas comfort people in real life by distracting them from their discomfort.

In historical dramas (sageuk 사극), rice wine is depicted the same way modern soju is — an escape from reality. Nothing has changed in terms of how we depict people dealing with their emotions, making Soju a huge staple in Korean dramas.

Dramas are, ultimately, a better version of daily life. Through the process of character growth, we must realize that it is not Soju that the dramas romanticize, but the relationships between characters. Soju simply serves as a nudge for the characters. And these relationships are attainable in real life, Soju or no Soju.

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