Finding Christ in a Korean Drama

For the past couple of years, Dori and I have been watching foreign drama series on Netflix. The first was in Spanish, the other in Turkish. Though we found them educational and entertaining, I won’t recommend them to you, because, as I said more than once to Dori, they could have been titled, “Love without God.” We did't finish the Turkish one because it seemed pointless.

I had almost given up on Netflix, but then Dori found a series from South Korea. We’ve been hearing about Korean soap operas from our Chinese friends for years. They are famous all across Asia. I had watched parts of one or two shows, and they seemed rather lugubrious to me. Families gather around a dying parent in the hospital and everyone is weeping profusely; and other such scenes.

But this one looked interesting. First, its title intrigued me: “Crash Landing on You.” The brief description said that a woman from South Korea brings chaos into the life of a soldier in North Korea, and that surely does happen. She literally falls from the sky on a hang glider that is blown off course into the Northern part of the DMZ and then, when he orders her at gunpoint to “come down” from the tree in which she is caught, crash lands upon him.

Thus starts a relationship that fits the phrase, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” I mean, everything is against this developing romance – two countries in a state of hostile readiness; classic male-female miscommunications and misunderstandings; a pre-existing fiancée and a rejected former fiancé who wants his girl back; a truly wicked colonel bent on eliminating both of them by any means; etc., etc., etc.

As I said to Dori last night, the other two series we watched relentlessly posed the question, “What is love?’ but had no answer. “Crash Landing on You” powerfully portrays true love.

(Warning: Very occasionally,  a couple of the characters  use mild profanity. Ordinarily, I can't stand even a bit of foul language, but because the dialogue is all in Korean, with English subtitles, and these outbursts are rare, it doesn't bother me enough to make me want to stop viewing. Others may respond differently, however.)

The woman’s name is Seri and, though she possesses beauty, intelligence, wit, and charm, she is, as she admits, worthy of her nickname “Picky Princess.” Selfish, demanding, oblivious to the needs of others, she has fought and scratched her way to the top of South Korea’s fashion world, alienating her family and driving her employees to distraction. She’s rich, but miserable.

Now, in North Korea, she has nothing. Totally dependent on Captain Ri, she nevertheless treats him as her personal servant and his men as her private staff. She wants to get back home in time for an important board meeting of her father’s huge company, at which she will be declared the next CEO. But she’s a very illegal alien. For reasons that we only learn later, Captain Ri hides her in his home as well as he can, and then tells a lie – the first of several – to protect her from that wicked colonel.

It’s a good story, with beautiful music, excellent acting, and plenty of suspense. I think it is a work of art and a first-rate production, that has apparently “smashed” South Korea, but the real reason it has gripped me so powerfully lies elsewhere.

By the end of the first part of the story, I have an overwhelming impression that Captain Ri resembles Christ more than almost any character I’ve seen.

Let me say at the outset that Captain Ri is only a guy, and he has his faults. More a man of action than of words, he repeatedly fails to say to Seri what he should and says what he shouldn’t – but often in response to her maddeningly fickle talk. At one point, she exclaims, “You don’t understand anything!”

True, he doesn’t understand her. But then neither does she, as she admits. He’s too simple and uncomplicated to play her games well. He does understand some things, however: Loyalty, kindness, consistency of purpose, keeping promises – to mention a few.

So, how does he remind me of Christ?

To begin with, he is a just and honorable man. There are dark dealings in the North Korean military, and he bravely seeks the truth, despite threats and violence. In his house, he gives Seri his bedroom and sleeps on the couch in the living room. Except to protect Seri, he tells the truth regardless of the potential cost. He is fearless for what is right and good.

From the outset, he serves Seri unselfishly, even when her demands are outrageous. He prepares meals for her, buys clothes that make her look less foreign, and does all he can to find a way for her to return home.

Though she tests his patience to the limit by her sassy talk and fickle emotions (she is beginning to have feelings for him, and he for her), he remains calm and kind.

He orders his men to protect her, which they do, despite her silly prattle and foolish forays into the neighborhood. As the colonel intensifies his campaign to ruin Ri by increasingly dangerous machinations, he rises to the challenge with indomitable courage and marvelous cunning.

By the way, he is also a super-soldier – a crack shot who can also take out six guards with his bare hands.

When she wanders off or is taken away by evil men, he rushes out to look for her, and will not rest until he finds her and brings her back home safely.

More than once, he risks death to save her life.

All this is not lost on Seri, of course. Though his character does not change – he is consistently kind and considerate – in the face of such goodness she begins to soften. He’s the first man who, she begins to realize, truly loves her, and not for what he can get from her.

For, as she says more than once, she brings him almost nothing but trouble, endless trouble, trouble enough to ruin him and his family.

At first, he cares for her because he is a decent man. Later, he loves her because he loves her. Slowly, this dawns on her, and she begins to change. That unfolding transformation is lovely to watch.

In a crucial scene, when he appears unexpectedly, beaten and bloodied, she slowly approaches him, reaches out her hand tenderly to touch his wounded face, and says, “Who did this to you?”

“I’m all right,” he responds.

“I’ve brought you nothing but trouble,” she says, not for the first time.

“Don’t say that,” he replies, with tenderness. “You’re no trouble.”

Here I am reminded of a sermon by Skip Ryan, the founder of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville. At the conclusion of a dramatic depiction of the sufferings of Christ for us, he has our Lord say, “It was my pleasure.” He was happy to endure beatings and blasphemy and the cruel cross, just to save us from death and eternal destruction.

Later in the scene described above, Ri faces the charge that he broke the law by harboring a South Korean intruder. Seri defends him. “It was my fault,” she objects.

“No,” he counters quietly, “it was my fault.”

He takes the blame to clear her name and preserve her from paying an awful price for being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My mind goes back to her question: “Who did this to you?”

Jesus, who inflicted those dreadful wounds on you? Who left your back torn to a bloody pulp? Who stabbed thorns into your head? Who pierced your hands and your feet? Who mocked and reviled you?

Who did this to you?

I did!

Just as Seri was the cause of Ri’s pain, so I was the one whose folly and sin brought unspeakable torment to the Son of God.

And what does he say?

"Peace. You’re no trouble. It was my pleasure.”