Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Once Again is about divorce. To be exact, it depicts how the parents’ generation and their children’s generation perceive the “marriage termination” that 118,000 couples experiences in 2019 alone and the commotions that occur because of such difference. The elements of the work, such as stories, character descriptions, acting, filming, and art, follow the typical weekend family comedy dramas we expect.
Not a single day goes by without a quarrel, but the Song family is quite harmonious. And now, all four brothers and sisters of the family are divorced. The good-natured eldest son got divorced because of his economic incompetence, whereas the first daughter left her husband because of his affair. Now that the youngest also broke off her engagement, the only hope for the chicken restaurant owner and his wife is Na Hee (Lee Min Jung), their smart second daughter. However, Na Hee, who suffered from conflict with her mother-in-law and experienced a miscarriage, has also divorced her husband, Gyu Jin, whom she loved with all her heart at some point. However, due to economic problems, they decided to live together for a while and keep their divorce a secret. The drama features a comic touch of parents, who have a headache several times a day because of their four children, and the people around them.
If you compare TV dramas to food, KBS 2TV’s weekend dramas are considered “comfort food.” People don’t expect a change or an innovation because they are well aware of how the food tastes like. Once Again has the unique setting of “all four siblings getting divorced,” but seeing parents and all-grown-up children living in one house reminds me of large family-centered comedy dramas like Family from Sauna (literal translation), which aired 25 years ago, and My Father is Strange, which gained popularity three years ago. We all know that Once Again will also mend all conflicts in a convincing way someday and present a happy ending.
The point where Once Again can present a difference lies in the process of narrowing the gap between parents and children about marriage, divorce, and family as planned. So far, the situation and thoughts of the two generations have been well revealed. Parents love their children, but think of them as possessions or something to be proud of rather than independent individuals. They also believe that they will lose face if their kids cannot keep their family together. On the other hand, all-grown-up children still live in their parents’ house and can’t easily break away from their parents even though they want to live independent lives. Some exaggerated and comical touch makes the production seems a bit excessive. Still, because we can relate to the stories as “those that can happen to us anytime,” we fall into the drama with some understanding.
Because the popularity of weekend dramas lies in the fact that they deal with our (the viewers) stories, recent controversy over Once Again is all the more regrettable. The scene where Cho Yeon (Lee Jung Eun), who quit her job at a karaoke bar to open a kimbap restaurant, uses her “beauty” to attract guests has been embroiled in a controversy over the commercialization of sexuality. Current Korean society in which sex crime-related issues became a hot social topic is nowhere to be seen in the drama. Also, the scene where the first daughter Ga Hee (Oh Yoon Ah) says that she is living a life where “child support is paid every month even if I play all day,” caused a stir. As a civic group pointed out, it is very far from the purpose of child support and the reality where the parent with the child custody is not getting paid the child support from her or his ex-spouse.
The reason why weekend dramas fail to read the reality goes back to the expectations of viewers, production staff, and television stations. They neglect their attempt to properly read social changes and melt them into stories on the grounds that weekend dramas are considered a “comfort food” for viewers, meaning that they will watch the drama when the time comes. If they are not confident on how to reflect reality, they should at least understand the gravity of the issues. However, Once Again uses the material and situation that no one can laugh as comedy. No matter how poisonous the changes could be in such a genre, they should not use the same comedy topics that were used 25 years ago. People might have laughed back then, but more detailed thoughts have to go in to make viewers of various generations laugh.
Parallel universes, going back the time, and people with superpowers are not the only topics in the fantasy genre. Now that a big harmonious family, where three generations live together, has long become a relic, a family who considers a divorce a hotter topic than the commercialization of sexuality is even more fantasy-like.
Verdict: The story unfolds in 2020, but uses the topics that were popular in the 1990s (3/10)