I started the year off by reading Jenifer Lewis’s memoir, The Mother of Black Hollywood. I first became aware of it in 2020, during lockdown. It must’ve been after the second extension, when the return to normal started getting further and further out of reach but still within our sights. Pandemic fatigue hadn’t set in. Finishing that book, acquiring a new skill or learning another language was all the rage, but I had no such ambition.
I had already been struggling with writing and debilitating guilt and anxiety about not being able to write, so I didn’t need any more of that pressure. Still, I downloaded the Ted Talks app and visited it daily to watch a short video or read a six-minute article on various ideas worth spreading. I watched a short animation about the epic of Gilgamesh there which came in handy when I watched Eternals the other day. (Worth it!)
After bingeing all the Hollywood shows, the content dry spell was so bad that I started getting the shakes. I caught up on almost all the late night talk shows – The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon; Jimmy Kimmel Live!; Late Show with Stephen Colbert; The Late Late Show with James Corden and of course Late Night with Seth Meyers. Jenifer Lewis was on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah talking about her new book. It sounded intriguing so I added it to my TBR list.
Then in withdrawal-induced desperation, I, like many others, became open to watching shows from non-English speaking countries that weren’t Narcos or Money Heist. Nudged along in part by Parasite’s (the South Korean film) success, and my sister’s encouragement, I started watching Crash Landing on You with Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin in the lead roles. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just think of this as your K-drama streaming guide. This is how I unwittingly started down a Hallyu rabbit hole. It went a little bit like this but not in this specific order.
I watched It’s okay to not be Okay with Kim Soo-hyun and Seo Yea-ji and I was like, “All right, I’m convinced. What’s next?” My sister recommended What’s wrong with Secretary Kim? in which Park Seo-joon and Park Min-young were the leads. I wanted to know what else Seo-joon oppa was in which led me to Itaewon Class and Fight for my Way. Park Bo-gum made an appearance at the end of Itaewon Class which led me to Record of Youth and Encounter.
Then I watched Her Private Life and When the weather is Fine because Park Min-young was in them. She was in Sungkyunkwan Scandal with Song Joong-ki who I then followed to Descendants of the Sun, Arthdal Chronicles and Vincenzo. I was mad into Song Joong-ki at this time so I crossed over from k-dramas to film just to watch everything he’d starred in – A Werewolf Boy, Battleship Island and Space Sweepers. He was in Vincenzo with Jeon Yeo-bin who I tracked down to Be Melodramatic/Melo is my nature and the film Night in Paradise.
Along with other international fans jumping on the Korean Wave, I became a regular on The Swoon and the Netflix Korea YouTube channels. We congregated there to watch the casts playing games and behind-the-scenes footage, but most importantly to gush over our favorites. Someone there said, “Forget Descendants of the Sun. You’ve gotta watch Vagabond.” Bae Suzy was in it with Lee Seung-gi and I followed her to Start Up and While you were Sleeping. She was on Start Up with Kim Seon-ho who was on Hometown Cha Cha Cha. While you were Sleeping gave me the unexpected gift of Lee Jong-suk so then I had to watch Romance is a Bonus Book. I’m not a fan of variety shows but I found myself watching New World because Seung-gi oppa was in it.
I circled back to Hyun Bin in Memories of the Alhambra with Park Shin-hye. Park Shin-hye was in The Heirs with Lee Min-ho so I watched him in The King Eternal Monarch and Legend of the Blue Sea. Son Ye-jin was in Something in the rain with Jung Hae-in who is way too adorable, so of course I watched him in D.P in late 2021. And this is only about half of what I’ve watched. I haven’t even mentioned Squid Game.
A lot of references are made to Korean history and culture; in particular the Japanese occupation, the Joseon era, the rise of industrialization alongside military dictatorship, and use of honorifics among others. This is how I found myself expanding into Korean Literature. I wanted to learn more without actually reading a history book so I turned to the next best thing – fiction.
One of the very first books I read was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It was a tough read; no lie. Thankfully, it’s coming to screens in 2022 with Min-ho oppa in the lead. In 2021, I read 12 South Korean Fiction novels – one for each month. It wasn’t a fixed goal I set; I just tend to go at things voraciously when I find them engaging.
K-pop hasn’t quite sunk its claws into me yet but I have a couple of OSTs I listen to from time to time. If they keep doing collabs like BTS did with Coldplay on My Universe, I’m down. The only thing I haven’t learnt is Hangul – the Korean alphabet. I know enough of the language to pick up when subtitles are inaccurate. I’m considering just going in for the long haul and learning the language. Subtitles are annoying and it’s the only fourth language I am certain I will put to good use.
Anyway, 687 hours of TV and a chronic case of eye strain later, I finally got around to reading Jenifer Lewis’s memoir. (I regret nothing!) She talks about her life growing up, working on Broadway and Hollywood, being diagnosed with bipolar and trying reign in her sex addiction – yes, it’s as wild as you can imagine. She holds nothing back. It’s a fast read, just the way I like them. Highly recommend.
What’s on your 2022 TBR list? Do share.
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