In Part 1, we gave you some pointers about makjang, the k-drama style that thrives on the absurd.
Here, we recommend some titles you might want to check out if you decide to join the insanity. TBH, no one needs a k-drama background to enjoy makjang. All you need are some snacks, a couple of blood pressure pills, and a very open mind. So open that it willingly believes that someone who looks like the wife, talks like the wife, and acts like the wife....is not the wife. Gasp!
If you've never watched a makjang before, the easiest way to slip into it is by surviving the first 4 episodes of this year’s ratings juggernaut Penthouse. At a gleeful 22 episodes, it already has more than enough insanity and injustice to drive you up a wall.
However, if you want to start slow, Mask (2015) with Ju Ji-hoon (Kingdom) is a milder makjang where a poor doppelganger is paid to assume an heiress’ identity in order to marry a chaebol (someone from the ultra-rich). There’s a lot more romance and a lot less dead bodies, but some suspension of disbelief is still necessary.
The Innocent Man (2012) stars a very young Song Joong-ki as a betrayed lover who takes revenge on his rich ex by making another heiress fall for him. It would have worked too, if the heiress had not gotten into an accident and lost her memory. As these revenge makjangs go, what starts as a scheme often grows into something real (and regrettable).
Money Flower (2017) is another mild revenge makjang where the main lead is the poor adopted son of a powerful chaebol. He eventually works his way into the family business and systematically destroys it from within. Unlike most makjangs that take their time, this one is pretty brisk and has quite the romance. It’s also enjoyable to watch the main lead fix up a woman to distract his rival, only to end up falling for her instead.
That Winter, the Wind Blows (2013) casts Hallyu superstars Song Hye-Kyo as a blind heiress and Jo In-sung as a conman out to get her fortune. But in a twist of events, he ends up pretending to be her long-lost brother, which is inconvenient when he starts falling for his faux sister. The ballad-filled soundtrack is also perfect for commiserating with the couple's sad (and very weird) fate.
For pro levels, Penthouse’s writer Kim Soon-ok, otherwise known as the “Queen of Makjang,” has also penned other frustrating classics such as Temptation of Wife (2008). Here, a wife who is nearly killed by her husband comes back to haunt him, but with a seemingly different identity and personality. So addictive was the show when it aired that hospital patients wrote to her, saying they “forgot about their pain and focused completely on the drama.” Soon-ok also created The Last Empress (2018), a drama set in a fictional modern Korean monarchy, where a poor theater actress ends up marrying the emperor. Obviously, it does not take long before the power struggles, revenge plots, and murder ensue.*
*Try to count the number of ceramics and appliances the characters destroy in this show just because they're angry.
Other pro-level fans also follow the works of Im Sung-han, another classical makjang writer and the creator of 2013’s insane riches-to-rags family drama Princess Aurora (2013), which was so notorious for its high body count that even the main lead wasn’t spared. George RR Martin would be pleased.
With Penthouse 2 set to return this Friday, we may yet see the revival of k-drama’s most polarizing genre. So is the makjang simply shallow entertainment, or is it a testament to our endless fascination with the absurd? Is it merely crazy television, or is it brutally honest about the evils of people and society?
Shakespeare himself once scribbled “Exit, pursued by bear.” K-drama is merely following that strange instruction----and throwing a pepper-pasted slap in.
And now for the trailer of the second season of Penthouse. Get ready for more broken ceramics, dysfunctional parenting, ill-advised decisions, and more insane plot twists!