The content of this post abounds in spoilers! Stay away if you do not wish to be spoiled for these dramas: Mawang, That Winter the Wind Blows, The Princess Man, Rooftop Prince, King of Dramas, Queen In-Hyun’s Man, Jejoongwon.
An ending is the crowning glory of any fictional work, imprints the general impression on the receiver. If it’s good and satisfying, the viewer will often end the drama saying “I want more! I want a sequel”. If it’s bad, the viewer may say “What a disappointing drama..psht this ending, are they kidding me?” The final episode of a tv series is consequently of significant importance.
But…what is a bad ending and what is a good ending? Can there be any definite template? I should think not. However, drama producers already learn from the dramas that sell wildly and popularly. Each new drama tends to bring a repetition of successful formulas. So, each new drama tends to be like more of the same; more and more things have a similar feel to them. In 2011, The Princess’ Man set a certain standard. Bridal Mask in 2012 successfully replicates it.
Wait..wait..what?! What nonsense is this? Princess Man is not the same drama as Bridal Mask!
I am not saying that Bridal Mask is the SAME as the Princess Man. They are two distinct dramas, with distinct stories, set in distinct time period. Of course, they are not the same. All I am saying is that The Bridal Mask replicates a certain schema, which involves a lot of tragic events, intensity and very good production values. Korean Dramas for a long while now have been setting new standards in production values. Koreans put a lot of effort into beautiful packages, sometimes much more than substance. Consequently, a lot of these korean dramas end up being entirely pretentious. It becomes boring after a while, too, because they really tend to even cue dramatic music in the same moments. The bearing this repetition of formulas has for the endings, is that when similar patterns are reproduced we can perhaps predict to what sort of ending it may lead. This is how dramas lose their freshness. Until a drama which is not afraid of breaking standards comes out. Then new standards are set. The cycle goes on.
So, on to the endings. Popularly, two types of endings are discussed: the bad ending and the good ending. Rather than assigning rigid sentimental values to them (that is rather than saying that a good ending is necessarily a happy ending or that a bad ending is necessarily a tragic ending, which is far from truth and an oversimplification), we can talk of technical aspects of good ending. A good ending has various definitions: it can be seen as a clearly defined one which doesn’t leave any loose threads; it can be viewed as a happy one, where characters live and end up together, it is also an ending which stays true to the overall tone of the drama and offers a sense of completion. There are endings which are rushed because they rely on time lapse and may, as a result disappoint or make the drama lose its emotional grip over the viewers. Let’s have a look at some examples of Asian soap opera endings. Spoilers follow, of course.
I felt that the ending of the Devil was trully its crowning glory, but it is debatable. The drama itself may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is somewhat similar to the movie Old Boy in the way revenge is planned and executed. The entire drama is like going through various stages of hell. The ending brings a sense of peace, even reconciliation with the fate that through ripple effect has dealt heavy cards. If Mawang is a reconciliatory ending, though, then in Old Boy you will get a completely different ending, an ending that is very disturbing in fact. They both achieve something different: Mawang gives a closure to the series which in this context can be even claimed to be “happy”. But was it pointless? Some say after all the effort, it was. I’d say, it’s a crowning glory.
2. THAT WINTER THE WIND BLOWS
All right, this ending can be rather controversial. Basically the writers played on ambiguity here. They made it both definite enough and open enough for viewers to choose to believe what they want. There are arguments for an ending which is happy and and ending which is simply melancholic. Both are valid, and it depends on how you want to see both the rooftop scene and Ji Sung conversation as well as the last scene which can be seen as a dream sequence. I like this sort of ending insofar as it tries to appease everyone. Choices are fine. But you may be disappointed because it’s not the most logical ending. Even though chances are he would have survived the stabbing, Ji Sung is not quite heartless so the assumption is called ambulance and somehow things worked out for the best. Modern medicine is capable of a lot, there is no reason to think he would have died. He mya have lost consciousness.
A thought here that occurred to me is: Why is it that if an ending doesn’t fit into established schematas of either “good” or “bad” (with its various connotations) it is immediately bashed? Why is that you need to be told everything 100%? Why can’t the directors leave something to the viewer’s imagination and decision, as they tried to do here? Why do you absolutely need the security of knowing everything from A to Z? Use your imagination, intellect and overall feeling of the series to make sense of the ending. Think for yourself, then you can enjoy the ending for what it is. I still think the directors were just trying to offer a choice to the viewer and be clever with the ending. Take what you will out of it- for yourself. Individual viewer’s perspective is given something to play with here.
[Yeona]: That winter, wind blows or When do you expect from the start for a sad ending and you get : A dream? Or a happy ending? Fanservice? Or a confusing sad ending? Ah we will never know. But don’t get me wrong- I appreciate have endings too, if it makes sense. I will probably never understand Ji Sung’s choice, especially when he had the chance to not come at the game, he had the chance to protect his family. He chose Oh Soo over his family, so he should have been a man and stick with his choise until the end. We could think: we are human beings, people change, everyone does mistakes, but we are in the drama world so I think all these things can be handled in a different way. There are no excuses.
3. KING OF DRAMAS
Another widely disputed ending. The drama was extended by two episodes for reasons that remain a mystery to me. And this gives grounds to arguing that the extended ending was baseless and pointless. How could Anthony turn into THIS? This pathethic shadow of a man he used to be? Couldn’t he have at least gone to Florida?
If he had gone to Florida, he would have disappeared. Now my argument in favour of the ending we had is that it is a redepmptive sort of ending. It gives him a chance to live a more meaningful way. Blindness and sight are a curious theme in fiction; they tend to stand as metaphors for purity or deception. Anthony has been constructing himself and his life as fictional. At the moment when he loses his sight, his life begins to be more meaningful and authenthic. As for radio dramas? With radio drasm he can cater fo a whole different audience. Sound appeals to imagination. Do you listen to audiobooks? There is a stirring sensation when someone whispers the book into your ear, it’s soothing, it stirs your imagination as well. Besides seeing through imagination is equally interesting as seeing things on a screen-and even more so because then receivers, listeners may truly construct their own visions of what happens as they hear it. I really found it to be the best possible ending.
4. THE PRINCESS MAN
The Princess’ man ending belongs to what I would classify as a fairly balanced ending. To gain something, you must lose something else first.
[Yeona]: When it comes to this drama, the ending represents here only a small part for me. The blindness and the hint in the last minutes that maybe the father had a change of heart aren’t that hard to believe. It was a beautiful remake of Romeo and Juliet.
Another largely controversial ending. Did he come back from the past or is it his modern reincarnation? What is this ending? For many the obvious is clear but I sincerely congratulate the writers on leaving the audience with something to think about and think for themselves on this one too. It’s clear enough but at the same time it’s not really pinpointed decisively enough. Consequently, it leaves some ground for debate and speculation.
6. QUEEN IN-HYEON’S MAN
This is the sort of desperate “happy-we are together” kind of ending. It makes little sense that a mobile phone would work across ages. But it serves a s a great metaphor of soul mate kind of love. So you may be annoyed at its lack of logic or just accept it that she called him back because she is his soul mate. Or something like that.
[Yeona]: Can I get one of those mobile phones too? 😀
Jejoongwon uses a terrible, terrible time lapse for its ending. It’s like the director was in a rush to wrap things up and this really doesn’t work for a drama that has been, up to that point, told in a detailed way taking its time to develop the story and characters. Basically Jejoongwon ends with Hwang Jung and his wife separating on a railways station. She can’t follow him because she feels she is needed where she currently is, because she is a doctor. Then there is a sudden cut to five years or so later and we see them back together. Hello! What happened to those five years? Too bad. Jejoongwon remains one of my few really favourite Korean dramas but the ending should have been much less rushed in this instance. It’s like the director just didn’t care at the end. The message wasn’t strong enough to sustain and justify the time lapse. I felt I was deprived of some important developments.