I Am Things: Crash Course in Romance

That’s the whole point of being twenty. You could be anything.
I’m much older than you.
I am things.

Roz Doyle, Frasier

One of the most popular themes in film and television is the Road Not Taken: the exploration of what could have happened if a person had taken another path in their life, made other choices. Dramas like 18 Again take this midlife crisis and deal with it in an extremely literal way, as do several timeslip dramas that explore the same dynamic.

What makes the currently-airing drama Crash Course in Romance comparatively interesting is that it’s not working with regrets so much as the middle-aged realisation that the decisions we make in our youth cause us to leave certain things behind. That the difference between youth and middle age is the difference between the potential to be things and actually being things.

It was way back in 1997 that Roz Doyle, Frasier’s acerbic, quick-witted producer found out she was pregnant to a 20-year-old. Mid-30s and still single, she weighed her options and decided that a baby was something she wanted to have and that this was her opportunity (however unanticipated). But when the father offered to drop out of University, get a job and marry her, she turned him down. In doing so, she delivered a line that in many ways sums up the middle-aged experience that Crash Course in Romance is exploring.

A twenty-year-old is clay. A forty-year-old is kiln-fired. In middle age, you’re no longer the potential of things. You are things.

In becoming things, we leave other things behind. Choices preclude other choices, options close off. And in Korea, this truism of life is nowhere better explored than in the education system. Choose to study – especially in this hyper competitive Sky Castle-esque crucible – and you take a long straight road with no opportunities for diversions. If you want to excel at something, but particularly at studying, then there are no side roads, no scenic routes or day trips.

Studying becomes all you can do.

The same is true of elite sport, or really of anything where you strive to be one of the best. Once you have a goal in sight, everything else has to fall away. Unless of course it refuses to.

Crash Course in Romance introduces us to two mid-30s characters. Star maths tutor, Choi Chi-yeol (Jung Kyung-ho), who devotes every minute of his life to becoming the best private academy teacher in Korea, and former handball champion, Nam Haeng-seon (Jeon Do-yeon), who gave up her dream of being a national athlete to take care of her niece.

On paper, the two are the kind of opposites-attract romance that Korean dramas are famous for – a man who gave up his life for success and the woman who gave up success for a life – but dig a little deeper and you find these two characters have something in common. Both took on adult responsibilities at a young age that stopped them from enjoying their youth. And both are contemplating the things they never did because of it.

Surrounding these characters are a host of other children and adults either facing this choice or dealing with its consequences. With the pressure on adolescents to exceed in academics at the expense of everything else, Crash Course in Romance is both examining the children being told they have to choose their path now in the pressure cooker of Korean social expectations and, through their parents, where that path could lead,

What separates Crash Course from standard path not taken stories, is that neither lead regrets the choices they’ve made in life. Chi-yeol would still choose to teach, Haeng-seon loves being a mother to her niece. Neither wish to reclaim what they lost; they’re simply realising the things they had to leave behind, the opportunities not taken.

It’s early days for Crash Course, but so far it’s a delightful old-school Korean drama with a zippy script, excellent performances and a welcome classic tone. Four episodes in, it’s a bit too soon to pre-empt the way the drama will unfold. But through its romance between our two main leads, the show is at least starting to provide us with another, more hopeful message and one that path not taken stories rarely do: that it’s never too late to expand your life to include other things. Whether that’s friendship, family or love: whatever may have been shed as you got moulded can be added on later.

It may be a bit lumpy, it may not be pretty and it may not be quite what you expected. But it can be done.


4 thoughts on “I Am Things: Crash Course in Romance

  1. @LT – perceptive and contemplative as ever. No point to dwell on what if – let’s move onto what now.

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