It’s nearly two years now of battling COVID-19 loss and major transitions around the world. Many people have been struggling mentally and emotionally with the chronic effects of the pandemic. Psychology names this post-pandemic emotion as “languishing”, termed as the “dominant emotion of 2021” by the American Psychologist Adam Grant.
A concept called “flow” is a suggested antidote to this emotion which is described as “the elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.”
There are several activities related to “flow” that are helpful in engaging one’s mind and giving a sense of meaning. In particular, watching Korean dramas that tackle emotional well-being helps languishers occupy themselves where they feel utterly present.
Mental health matters. This year, the following Korean dramas have been beneficial in raising mental health awareness and creating impact on a personal level:
1. Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
“Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” offers a refreshing atmosphere, a momentary escape amid the troubles around the world from the seaside location, cinematography to musical score. Everything just warms your heart.
While the story centers around two opposite lives, the writer also takes us to the daily life of Gongjin—a place where life is calm and slow-paced yet warm and profound stories abound.
During the press conference, Director Yu Je-won unveils the meaning of the drama title. “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” connotes togetherness or community—a warm message that says you can’t do it alone in life. He further explained that the drama has multiple characters whose stories represent our daily lives and are set to bring healing.
“The stories of every character are warm and alive,” states Shin Mina in the Elle Magazine interview.
A lot of realistic issues in life were tackled in the series such as marriage problems, divorce, relationships, shattered dreams, work maltreatment, loss of loved ones, effects of broken family to a child, discrimination, and others. It’s a drama packed with life-giving lessons through several stories beautifully written and crafted into one.
The narrative of “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” also takes us to the most charming yet heartbreaking character of all, Chief Hong Dusik who lived with undisclosed feelings of trauma and fear of abandonment, rooted from high stress producing situations.
“Life isn’t so fair for all of us. Some spend their whole lives on unpaved roads, while some run at full speed only to reach the edge of a cliff,” he says in the drama.
The wonderful thing about “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” is that it highlights how healing involves having the courage to be known and loved. It is in relationships that we get hurt the most. But it is also in relationships that we learn to mend the broken parts in us and restore. That’s the kind of healing relationship the drama portrays through Dusik and Hye-jin.
Starring: Shin Min-a, Kim Seon-ho, and Lee Sang-yi
Written by: Shin Ha-eun
Directed by: Yu Je-won
2. Move To Heaven
“Move to Heaven” is a healing series inspired by true stories, adapted from a non-fiction essay, “Things Left Behind” by Kim Sae-byul, a professional trauma cleaner in South Korea. It is one of those rare Korean dramas that strongly stirs emotions, relates to human problems and talks about the underexplored, delicate facets of life.
The narrative delivers untold stories of the departed through a trauma cleaning company named “Move to Heaven” which is managed by a family who navigates the isolated lives of the deceased and fulfills a restful departure in each story as they personally grieve and receive healing from their own brokenness.
What did the person value most in life? What dreams did the person accomplish or want to achieve? What type of book, food, music, films, or familiar places interests the person? What sacrifices and sufferings did the person experience to survive life? Is the person surrounded and loved by friends and family?
The drama reflects so much insight into how a single life simply leaves a mark and how a loss unravels moments, hidden desires, and thoughts through personal objects or possessions left behind.
It leaves you pondering that there is more to a person who has departed–that there are more undisclosed layers to a seemingly simple story. As well as it moves a viewer to contemplate the shortness and value of life and the significance of connection in relationships.
Other social issues are also tackled such as adopted Koreans, living with a disability or special care, workplace maltreatment, and domestic violence to name a few. Moreover, the drama amply illustrates that life is lonesome where family is out of reach and relationships are broken. It compels one to ponder thoughtfully about the value of time, family, and social connections.
Starring: Lee Je-hoon, Tang Joon-sang, Ji Jin-hee, Lee Jae-wook, and Hong Seung-hee
Written by: Yoon Ji-ryeon
Directed by: Kim Sung-ho
3. Hospital Playlist 2
“Hospital Playlist” is more than a medical drama that incorporates “life” into the incredibly busy career of doctors. It highlights the life’s up and downs of healthcare workers amid the noise and haste.
As the Season 2 was released during the COVID-19 pandemic, it sheds more knowledge and emphasis on the human aspect of healthcare workers, showing that they are emotional beings, too, who struggle with burnout, fatigue, failures, and frustrations.
The drama portrays that beyond their medical expertise, they also feel anxious in dealing with life-and-death situations, pain as they pronounce a patient dead in front of the family, and struggle between being objective versus empathetic.
The moment they take off their hospital gowns, they go back to their personal lives as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, or friend. Just as the rest of us, they seek life outside work—food, camping, love, karaoke, time alone, or bonding with family and friends.
“Hospital Playlist” also reflects the reality of life, death, and relationships in a hospital setting. It is not just a drama that educates the viewers about medical terms, illnesses, and practices, but it also narrates simple narratives through the perspective of patients.
It walks us to a place brimming with various relatable stories—the hospital where people face the fear of the unknown, anxiety floods the mind, hope is grim, and where the brevity of human life is intently and soberly pondered upon.
It unravels the different journeys and struggles of patients—financial burdens, letting go or clinging to hope, intense anxiousness, depression, and fighting for life.
As it embarks on hospital adventures, it also entertains musically through a group of doctors that performs on weekends. Their friendship reminds us that at the end of the day or when life is at stake, family is what matters the most–the only relationship that will patiently endure our pain, protect us from a bad fall, embrace our shortcomings, accept us for who we are, and walk with us persistently.
Starring: Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung and Jeon Mi-do
Written by: Lee Woo-jung
Directed by: Shin Won-ho
“Happiness” revolves around residents in a high-rise apartment building locked down by the government due to the spread of a deadly disease.
As the world continues to battle with COVID-19 pandemic, “Happiness” reflects on this experience and takes its viewers to another challenge of fighting apocalypse in the form of a new infectious disease.
“It’s harder to endure the warmer days, but isn’t it nice to be able to breathe in fresh air without wearing a mask? The world is a bit different from how it was before COVID-19, but thanks to that, we learned how precious an ordinary day can be. Smile when you see people’s faces without masks on and take a deep breath as you look up at the blue skies. I hope your afternoon is filled with happiness.”
The timely message is the paramount driver of the show where each story, struggle, conflict, and emotion fit into people’s current life. For instance, the spread of disease, mandatory quarantine, use of masks, grocery hoarding, finding cure, study of antibodies, and vaccine needs are part of the series.
As the apocalypse hits the city rock bottom and the government navigates cure for the infected, it also takes us to the lives of multiple interesting characters representing various human behavior in response to crisis.
It exposes the human nature’s ulterior motives amid disease combat, showing the disparity between social classes. “I’m getting more disappointed in humanity everyday,” states Corporal Sae Bom as she encounters difficult people.
The drama serves a dose of present reality related to COVID-19 pandemic with its storyline revolving around pursuing happiness amid sickness and strife.
Starring: Han Hyo-joo, Park Hyung-sik, and Jo Woo-jin
Written by: Han Sang-woon
Directed by: Ahn Gil-ho
5. Deserter Pursuit
“Deserter Pursuit” is more than a military drama that narrates the untold stories of military life based on the webcomic “DP: Dog Days” written by Kim Bo-Tong.
The plot centers around two soldiers who are given a special mission to capture deserters and bring them back to the camp. It’s a detective kind of assignment for the duo that goes around the country to locate the subjects.
Although the drama is quite heavy and distressing to watch, it serves as an eye-opening experience that bravely tackles the struggles of new recruits and reasons why some enlistees decide to desert the army.
Every deserter pursuit brings you to every heartbreaking sight and feeling that the victim of abuse experiences—where the perpretators often go unpunished and the victims are left behind in the dark.
It also heavily portays the strong impact of abuse that sadly brings the soldiers to a psychological state of trauma, rage, violence, depression, and suicide.
This drama serves as a strong voice and platform, building awareness and helping the public understand the unresolved, denied, and neglected issues, not just in South Korea’s military camp, but generally the systems and institutions set up by society around the world.
“I hope something like this never happens again,” the drama states.
Bullying, harassment and abuse happen around us and these sinful acts remain a pressing global issue. And the message is clear on what the drama wants to impart to the audience—a call to social empathy, protect the victims, empower justice, take part of the change, and not respond indifferently as bystanders or onlookers.
Starring: Jung Hae-in, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Sung-kyun, and Son Seok-koo
Written by: Kim Bo-tong and Han Jun-hee
Directed by: Han Jun-hee