As it seems, the keyword for Korean TV dramas this year is "nocheonyeo" - the headstrong single women in their 30s, no longer mortified by the now common nickname. The word, meaning "old maid" and embracing females in their 30s, highlights the vast difference in perceptions between Korea and Western societies.
Following the popular TV series "My Lovely Sam-soon" - "My Name is Kim Sam-soon
", which ended in an overwhelming success in July, major broadcasters have been busy creating a "special" old maid of their own, aiming for the same amount of attention "Sam-soon", the sassy heroine of the successful drama, had received.
SBS primetime drama "Love Needs a Miracle" and morning drama "Wild Flower", and MBC primetime drama "Young-Jae's Golden Days
" and weekend drama "My Wedding Story" are examples of the "sam-soon wanna bes".
Until recently, these single females had always been "non-mainstreamers" in popular TV dramas, often appearing as the main character's old and unattractive sister or a conniving sister-in-law.
Although perhaps less attractive than the young and peppy heroines who used to lead the trendy dramas, these older women are now dominating the TV screens, giving viewers a peek at reality.
The typical heroines of the past - young and naive "princesses" living in the fantasy that one day Prince Charming will turn up and solve all of their problems - are definitely "out of trend".
The old maid characters arouse empathy from viewers for brilliantly portraying the agony and dilemma of today's 30-something females.
Like Bong-sim (Kim Won-hee
) in "Love Needs a Miracle" and Young-jae (Kim Gyu-ri
) in "Young-Jae's Golden Days
", these women are troubled by several disadvantages at workplaces coming from being "old" and single.
In their mid-30s, women can no longer use youth or beauty as their weapons in the male dominated society - even if they could, their mature self-respect won't allow them to do so - but by being single, they must often ignore the irrational treatment at work to make their own living.
To top it all off, family members constantly nag these women about marriage and friends begin to ask annoying questions; "What is your problem? Why can't you find a husband?"
These older, more mature women know that there is no Prince Charming waiting anywhere and fantasies are never meant to come true.
Still, what makes these old maids lovable and interesting main characters is the fact that they are still not quite aged enough to completely ignore the hollow feeling that hits them late at night. Secretly they still daydream of a heart-stopping romance with a "decent" guy who will take them away from the exhausting reality.
Korean women in general have become ambitious and independent, avoiding early marriages which would only burden them with pesky house chores.
But by the time they reach their mid-30s, social pressure becomes harder to bear - not to mention the unavoidable lonely feeling they have to put up with watching many of their friends become wives and mothers.
Thus, while their ego won't allow them to devote themselves to the "getting married project", conservative social concepts block them from enjoying complete freedom of the single life like Carrie and Samantha in "Sex and the City".
But in TV land, these old maids never sulk or mope over the gloomy circumstances. Rather, they are portrayed as mature and energetic women who know enough aboout life to overcome numerous hardships cleverly.
In this new type of drama, secret desires, private concerns and complicated emotions of women are portrayed much more concretely and realistically.
The heroines no longer hide their feelings, or make sacrifices for men. They are open in their desires and emotions and often take the lead in their relationships with men. They never depend on the opposite sex for affection or marriage. To them, romance is just another condition of life.
Take Young-jae for example. After getting relegated at work due to her age, Young-jae is offered by her old lover to work for his company. But instead of taking the lucky opportunity, the brave heroine turns the offer down and chooses to find a job of her own under much worse circumstances. Romance is the least of her problems, and she is too "proud" to ask her old lover for sympathy.
Despite the realistic portrayals, this new set of dramas haven't been successful in drawing much attention from viewers due to the similarities with "My Lovely Sam-soon" - "My Name is Kim Sam-soon
". Viewers criticize that the "new" characters are merely "Sam-soon duplicates".
"Young-jae is no different from the headstrong, frivolous but charming Sam-soon. Seeing the drama, I cannot help but think that I am watching a thinner version of Sam-soon instead of a new character", said one viewer on the internet website for "Young-Jae's Golden Days
Thus, although these new dramas cleverly show the new aspects of society, viewers will lose interest unless diverse versions of old maids are produced.
After all, not all old maids can be bound together in one category. Who says there is no woman in her 30s holding on to the same naivety and dreams of 10 years ago?
By Shin Hae-in