Can I just say I fell off my chair when I first heard the premise of Crash Landing on You? A rich South Korean heiress crash lands in North Korea, falling in love with the North Korean soldier who finds her. A romance between a South and North Korean is probably even more impossible than romance with an alien (You From Another Star). With North and South Korea technically still at war, the only way for a North Korean to meet a South Korean (and vice versa) is to defect—and never return home or see their family again (thus, both characters come from prominent, powerful families, making their romance even more impossible).
But that wasn’t why I fell off my chair. It wasn’t Hyun Bin’s dashing good looks either. K-drama fans may not realise the political significance of Crash Landing, but this is probably the first South Korean drama ever where:
- North Korea isn’t the bogeyman
- North Koreans feature prominently, the roles acted by top South Korean actors (and as a result look neither stunted nor emaciated)
- North Koreans have rich emotional lives
No wonder then, that the show has aroused so much controversy with South Korean conservatives, who blasted the show for romanticising North Korea. It’s a very deep divide in South Korea: there is a large segment of the population who will probably never accept North Korea as anything other than an evil authoritarian regime, the country’s greatest enemy that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. To be fair, there’s good reason. Memories of North Koreans terrorism (kidnapping South Koreans, bombing Korea Air, etc) are long. This show would have been impossible if South Korean conservatives were still in power. But Moon Jae In is the current president, and Peace Through Strength has been his guiding principle to relations with North Korea—and thus, we have Crash Landing, a drama that for the first time presents such a humanising, empathetic portrayal of North Korean society.
It’s easy to dehumanise an entire country and its people. North Korea is the raison d’etre for US troops in South Korea. Fighting communism and national security was the reason for the US military’s large presence in Asia throughout most of the Cold War. But Cold War posturing, even if the Koreas are still at war, will never bring peace. So while Crash Landing is indeed controversial, it is also a timely reassessment of our prejudices against North Korea, and a reminder of our common humanity.
P.S. Given the many fantastical elements of the show so far, I’m putting my money on a North-South Korean union in reunified Korea sometime in the near futre. Hey, anything’s possible in K-dramaland, right?