The annoying "they met in the past" trope

I just finished watching Misaeng. It’s one of the best dramas ever, I will love it forever, although the Jordan ending was a bit of a miss for me. However, even this fine drama couldn’t avoid the annoying habit most k-drama writers have, shoving a “they have met before” flashback for no reason. The whole point is Geu Re and Manager Oh grow to like, love and respect each other in their office environment, because of all the trials they faced, the hardships and the successes they shared. It was completely unnecessary to throw a past connection in the mix. Unless the writers thought they did a poor job demonstrating that growth (they didn’t, it’s a great script).

I never understood why they overuse this concept. Unless it’s part of the plot (for example, in Healer it was important that they actually knew each other as children, because their parents were half the story), but in most cases it’s just useless. Kill me, heal me had zero reason to include a childhood friendship (it had other flaws, too, but I digress).

I believe the writers are not confident that the can write convincing character arcs and they just throw a previous connection in there, trying to make the bond between the characters stronger. But, if they feel they need such gimmicks, maybe they didn’t do a good job developing said bond to start with?

One of the reasons I love DOTS so much (and I suspect a reason why some people hate it) it’s because it was a love story set completely in the present. They weren’t together in middle school, their fathers weren’t friends/ enemies/ frenemies, they didn’t share a tragic past, they were just two people who met and fell in love, the way it happens in real life.

I understand it’s a popular trope in makjang dramas (and soap operas, etc), and I understand why, but it seems to have taken over the whole dramaland.

What do you think?

Sometimes it’s thrown in the end, as an afterthought, which may or may not be tongue-in-the-cheek. When I find it, it makes me laugh, but affectionately. I’m like “eh, writer, you did this again!”
I don’t think it’s a declaration of defeat, the writer thinking that she didn’t develop the relationship well enough and has to strengthen it. I think it’s a way to say “they were fated to cross each other’s path and to become important to each other, while living through great tribulations”.
Does it mean that Koreans believe that some people are fated to meet and become close, either as lovers or as friends? K-drama writers want us to believe it, but it would take some Koreans to enlighten us about the prevalence of this idea in real life.


That’s my point, why do they need to be “fated”? A story should be able to stand on its own.

I don’t know if it’s a Korean thing (maybe someone could tell us), but it’s hard to believe it’s more prominent there than, say, Greece. Someone would have to know both cultures equally to make that comparison.

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I loved Misaeng, but I don’t even remember the part about them having met before. At any rate, a lot of Koreans do believe in the whole “fate/ It was meant to be” type of thing. I’m generalizing, of course. But the fact that even though I don’t really believe in that kind of “fate,” the whole “they met in the past” part didn’t bother me and that part was so insignificant to the point that I can’t even remember makes me think that the concept is generally accepted, especially in dramaland.


It was right after the finale credits. Like saying “the bonding you just watched for 20 episodes? Not important, they were just “fated”.” I guess I spot it easier because it annoys me.

I’m sorry, but I see a trend in general to play the culture card whenever someone calls out a trope in dramas. If something is common across the map it’s religion, and religious people tend to believe in fate. If anything, Greece’s Balkan-Oriental mix makes us even more prone to believe in fate. For me, it’s just a trope and not a specifically Korean thing. The fact that it doesn’t annoy many drama-watchers (few things do, apparently) doesn’t mean it gets instant defence status.

Many things are accepted in dramaland, and I would change half of them in a heartbeat. Maybe writers should try to have more faith in their writing abilities and grow out of the same, old, tired recipes they seem to follow to the t. Tropes are so common we forget that they are not an overly flattering characteristic for a scenario.

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It is supposed to mean: “Those people had a deep connection anyway, a karma, that’s why they bonded”
I may be overanalyzing it, but I get the impression that all this mentality may come from a whole philosophy of karma, reincarnation and the such. That people who have been important in each other’s lives (for good or for bad) will meet again, somehow, in the next one, even if in different roles, and will be important again. Especially if there is unsolved stuff between them. In that light, meeting multiple times during their lives can be seen as normal, as sign that there’s something going on. It’s not that they bonded BECAUSE they had met previously; it is that both the previous meeting and this meeting are all a part of their common karma, an indication that they have something to teach each other in this life, help each other evolve as souls.
This whole concept may not be important to a Western viewer, and I fully understand that the trope may be irritating.
For me, the “they meet in the past” part is, from the point of view of a screenplay, completely useless, as it doesn’t explain anything of what we’ve seen so far and it doesn’t help the relationship grow - it could just not be there, and the story would have been perfectly ok without it. But it doesn’t make me upset either. I just go past it and forget about it afterwards. As Dudie forgot the Misaeng epilogue scene. I remembered it just because I happened to watch the drama recently, but I fully expect to forget it after, say, a year, since there are many more important scenes to remember.

Of course there are many dramas in which the two characters have a story from their past, so it’s important and necessary. An example that jumps to mind is “The Man Living in Our House”. But we’re not talking about these. Usually a childhood friend will have more chances to become a romantic interest. Not always, though. If he’s too nice, he risks becoming a second lead which is the worst possible fate in k-drama.


Yes, I know all that, it’s pretty common knowledge. Still, it’s a trope.

You’re a bit too eager to “educate”, I think, and you don’t seem to realize that you attempt to explain to me exactly what I state annoys me, the need for fate, karma, whatever, to be an essential part of the relationship.

I never said it’s so important that it ruins my Sundays. Still, it’s a trope.

I don’t understand this need to defend dramas so much and keep them cemented in only one possible recipe, it’s high time they involved.

By the way, I fully expect someone to butt in and say “if you don’t like dramas, why do you watch them?”. inb4 for these people, you’re missing the point, read again more carefully

I don’t like it either. I think it was at first just to add some romanticism to the love story and then, it became a trend.

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You seem to understand, or at least explain about Korean culture, better than me! :slight_smile:

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Not only Koreans believe in “fate”, but also Vietnamese people do. However, those things like meeting in the past/childhood and then meet in the future never happen to me. In my country’s culture, if you are husband and wife this life, then previous life you and your husband/wife must have debt and destiny with each other or something like that.

Even in Buddha, there’s story about “destiny.” There’s a man who is heart-broken because his lover is getting married so he comes to the mountains to ask the Chief Buddhism monk the reason. The monk explains to him. In the previous life, his lover died in the street without having a piece of silk to cover the body, so the pedestrian passing by gave her a straw mat to cover the body. Then there’s another man in person buried a girl. So the monk explains that the girl already paid him a debt for giving her a straw mat so she left him, and the person she got married is actually the one who had buried her in the past life.

Sorry I’m not sure if my explanation is good.