Versus: Amnesia as a Plot Device
K drama fans all like to bemoan the use of amnesia as a plot point. Like the ubiquitous car accident, fans often complain that amnesia is a purposeless fabrication used to pad out a drama that might better be a little more tightly drawn. Today in Versus Wendilynn and Taleena argue: Does amnesia have a good place in K Dramas? Loaded with spoilers - be warned!
Wendilynn: Oh, the dreaded curse of amnesia. The plot device that slows down a drama faster than we can hit our heads in a car accident. I swear, if I ever find myself in a kdrama love, I’m wearing a helmet.
Taleena: OK, let’s get our areas of agreement on the table first. Amnesia IS overused. And often frustrating (I’m looking at YOU Joon Pyo), BUT it is legitimate and can add real resonance to a K drama plot. For all it’s overuse. It should stay.
Wendilynn: I grant you there are times when amnesia can be fun. For instance, in Secret Garden when Joo Won goes back to being 21. But the last drama I watched with amnesia was Trot Lovers and that had NO point other than to fill a couple of episodes because they didn’t have enough plot on their own.
Taleena: How soon you concede my point! I was thinking actually of Sensory Couple. So far, and I haven’t seen episode 5 yet, the amnesia is critical to the story line and the uncovering of the mystery. It can be used in an effective way.
Wendilynn: At least in Sensory Couple, her amnesia is complete. Its not vague. I mean, she’s become friends with the guy who she saw killing her parents and smiles brightly at him. She has no hint, fore-shadowing, nothing. If you are going to use this particular plot device, don’t use it as a convenience.
Taleena: I think I know what you are driving at: that amnesia as a late in show dramatic device is not earned?
Wendilynn: How many times do we see characters confess their undying love and then something bad happens to them? It used to be so badly used that the minute they confessed and got into a car you knew what was coming next. Its like knowing that in a 16 episode drama, the first kiss will happen at episode 10.
Taleena: I have a seven word rebuttal for that. So Ji Sub in The Master’s Sun. OK, I have more than seven words but those were the seven that count. (Side note - is this an excuse for a Ji Sub picture? Yes, yes it is. OK. TWO, but you can barely see him in one.) So Ji Sub has that near death experience and Gong Hyo Jin sees his ghost, he tells her he loves her, but when he comes out of surgery he has amnesia. This is an important turning point for her because without the amnesia she wouldn’t have found the gumption to stand on her own.
Wendilynn: That’s at least some character growth. In I Hear Your Voice, the point of that amnesia was to get around the pesky problem of a noona romance with a high schooler. Instead of sending him away to study till he’s an adult, (or just making his character over 18 in the first place) we’ll give them amnesia to deal with so they don’t take things too far since he’s a minor.
Taleena: OK, they did do something like that in Big with Gong Yoo, Shin Won Ho, and Lee Min Jung. When Shin Won Ho’s soul leaves Gong Yoo’s body to return to his own after the coma (OMO what a sentence. Why did I like this crazy drama again? Oh! That’s right Suzy. And my Sister has the same love for Gong Yoo that I have for So Ji Sub), he forgets Lee Min Jung. The amnesia though wasn’t an “out” for the Noona aspect though.
Wendilynn: Interestingly enough, I don’t have a big problem when amnesia is used after a spirit separated from its body. That sort of makes sense to me. But for awhile there, it was used mostly to just fill up episode time. “We can’t think of anything, so lets make one of them forget and we can string everyone along until we get an episode or more in.” Most of the time, that’s what it feels like they use amnesia for.
Taleena: I see what you are saying, but some shows wouldn’t have drama without the amnesia. I am thinking of one of my favorite dramas of all time, Nice Guy. (I feel fans judging me already.)
Wendilynn: That was a trip. Double amnesia by our two main characters. *rolls eyes*
Taleena: Leaving ASIDE Song Joong Ki’s amnesia at the end - which just made me cry and cry (what? I have a heart!) Moon Chae Won’s mid series amnesia was essential. Her character was so closed off and defensive that she would never have relaxed enough to fall in love otherwise. Plus, Nice Guy had double car crashes, double crazy everything!
Wendilynn: Putting aside that I loved Nice Guy, I thought Joong Ki’s amnesia served no flipping point. The ONLY reason they used that is because he’d been so bad and made so many bad choices that instead of people just forgiving him and saying, “lets learn from this and move on”, they wipe out everything he’s done for revenge so he can go back to the beginning when he was just a loving student doctor. Seriously?
Taleena: I have a feeling we could just argue Nice Guy for days, but I have to disagree. I mostly thought Joong Ki’s amnesia was stuck in by the writers just to mess with the fans, not for any particular character rehab purpose. The fact that Joong Ki had the brain tumor and didn’t get surgery just to lengthen what ever tiny bit of happiness she had was restitution enough.
Wendilynn: What character development? By giving him amnesia, they wiped out EVERYTHING he learned. Her, Him, gone. That was such a stupid ending to a really great drama.
Taleena: Both of those characters were SO emotionally damaged they needed a clean slate to be together. It wasn’t going to be her. She got over her amnesia. Joong Ki was going to die because he felt he didn’t deserve her. (Oh but they deserved each other!) Honestly, it was the only possible way to have them together at the end with the sort of personalities they both had.
Wendilynn: There is this sort of cancer idea that infest these dramas. And that’s this idea that in order to be happy you can’t have any problems or emotional damage in your background. If you’ve done anything wrong, then you have no right to be happy. That’s totally poppycock. Our problems generally help us understand each other better. It gave the relationship in Nice Guy real depth because both of them had such similar lives in dealing with betrayal by loved ones. They could understand each other in ways no one else could because of all the crap they had gone through. Instead, no, lets wipe everything out and give them a cheap happy ever after where they don’t remember anything. I have to agree with you that the writers messed with us and cheapened the ending with that stupid amnesia.
Taleena: We are moving away from amnesia just a teensy bit, but I must defend Nice Guy. It wasn’t that “in order to be happy you can’t have any problems” because Kwang Soo’s character had tons of problems and was allowed happiness. Same with Choco. It was that Moon Chae Won came to love Joong Ki no matter what, but Joong Ki would never have forgiven himself for his perceived failings. He would forgive everyone else, but not himself.
Wendilynn: Well, he never got the chance to learn because they wiped it all out. Now for another drama where amnesia gave them all sorts of fun for confusion to the plot was Winter Sonata. It was almost “Rocky Horror”-esq in its confusion. At one point there was all that going back and forth about “Am I your brother? But we’re lovers? oh, I’m not your brother, but now you're lovers with him and I want you back”.. what the hell? lol You might has well have just had them yelling, ‘Janet, Rocky, Brad, Rocky, *grunt*” *chuckles*
Taleena: I got..nothing. There is no defending the amnesia in Winter’s Sonata. Nope. Sorry. You win, let me go cry bitter tears. Quick! Let me divert your attention with the best use of memory loss in K drama history! In Kimchi Family, the father is wandering the countryside looking for the boy orphaned by his friend’s death many years before. He has Alzheimers and is losing the here and now, when he at last comes home he has a moment of clarity with his daughters and then is lost in time once again. No cheesy car crash, no brain tumors or body swaps, just the preciousness of memories. That is how K dramas should handle it!
Wendilynn: Now, I’m with you there. Shining Inheritance also used Alzheimers to connect the family. The Grandmother’s memory loss brought in our female lead into a story that helped the family heal after the tragic loss of both lead character’s fathers.
Taleena: So in the context of this article, yay for Alzheimers? That’s just wrong.
Wendilynn: Well, so far, I haven’t seen a drama that cheapened its story with Alzheimers as a poor excuse for lack of enough plot.
Taleena: Alright. We are agreed. Amnesia, when used carefully, is a potent tool in the k drama writer’s box, but overuse drives us crazy.
So - amnesia is the jalapeno pepper of k dramas. Right? What do you think Drama Fans? Love amnesia or hate it? What drama uses it best and who is most egregious in its abuse? Let us know in the comments!