Screenwriting 101: How to get a Melodrama (mostly) right: Thoughts on “Remember: A Son’s War”

A/N: More “Awl” recaps in the works. Piano class has become increasingly difficult, and limiting my blog time!

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Greetings! It’s your Teacher Shamrockmom back again for another Screenwriting 101 class. Since your Teacher is in school herself taking a Beginning Piano class at the local college, she thought the time was right for a new session of Screenwriting 101. Today we will discuss getting the basic elements of a Melodrama (mostly) right.

Let’s face it: we all love a good melo/revenge drama. But there are so many ways they can get messed up.

Horrible rushed endings, character personality transplants, a weak start, secondary characters that are left in the dust, ginormous plotholes, lapses of logic….the list is nearly endless. Let’s look at a recent example of a Melodrama that gets a whole lot right, botches a few items along the way, and yet receives a satisfactory passing grade from your no-nonsense Teacher.

Our case study today is “Remember: A Son’s War”. There was plenty of hype to begin this show. Yoo Seung Ho’s return to DramaLand after his military service was greatly anticipated by his fans. Their appetite was whetted by the short series, “Imaginary Cat” and a movie, “The Magician”, for which your Teacher is currently trying to find subtitles. The show posters looked good, the leading lady Park Min Young is a perennial favorite and the story line about a son trying to clear his good father’s besmirched name seemed strong.

***All screencaps from Dramacool.to***

Element 1—Get a good looking and sympathetic hero who can cry beautifully, and makes the viewer cry right along with them.

Recent shows with actors that get this right: Yoon Kye Sang in “Last” and “Beyond the Clouds”, and Yoo Ah In for “Secret Love Affair”. Lee Joon in “Heard it Through the Grapevine” gets an honorable mention. “Angel Eyes” gets big bonus points for having both Kang Ha Neul and Lee Sang Yoon as does “My Love Eun Dong” for Junior and Joo Jin Mo. All four of those guys are both handsome and excellent during the crying scenes.

“Remember” gets a perfect score in this department. YSH is a hottie and a superb crier. He elicits sympathetic feelings from every age bracket of female viewership. I originally thought since he finished his military service, he was closer to 30–and just looked very young. I was shocked to find out he’s a year younger than my oldest son! Whoa! What a fantastic actor he is for someone so young. How good will he be in ten years? He’s got loads of time ahead of him, unencumbered by worries over military service. That’s a smart career move. Ask Park Seo Joon, who also has that military service gig in the rear view mirror! I can’t wait to see how YSH continues to mature on screen, and the projects he picks.

Show’s grade: A+

Element 2—Find your hero a proper leading lady that he has ‘chemistry’ with. This can be achieved with a bit of luck, skilled writing, and a good cast.  If you can consistently get it right, you will have steady employment in the screenwriting business forever!  BTW, age (or an age gap) has nothing to do with chemistry. It either happens –or it doesn’t.

Recent shows that have a failing grade : “Last”. Look no further if you want to see absolutely zero chemistry between the leads. Now the secondary couple…they were on fire!

Shows that have fantastic chemistry between the leads: Major bonus points given to My Love Eun Dong” for casting 3 perfectly matched couples.  “Angel Eyes” also gets bonus points for both the adult couple of Lee Sang Yoon and Gu Hye Shin and the teen couple of Kang Ha Neul and Nam Ji Hyun. I still think the youngsters could have carried the entire drama.

In “Remember”, the chemistry just isn’t quite there for your Teacher. However, Yoo Seung Ho and  Park Min Young don’t look too awkward together and the kiss scene added by the PD looked pretty darn good–but it was only one scene.

remember

Gosh, that YSH is a good kisser for a young dude!  I’m not quite sure what happened here. Maybe it was the way Show was written, and it wasn’t meant to have a strong romantic story line. If so, that’s okay. Still, I wonder what would have happened with a little more romance? It could have turned a good drama into a outstanding one.

Show’s grade: B-

Element 3—Have a strong start to the show, preferably at a ‘cracktastic’ level to quickly hook the viewer’s emotions and make them want the next episode right now! It’s especially important for movies and short dramas to have a good running start. There’s no time to fool around if you only have 2 hours to work with!

Recent short dramas/movies that get this right: “Veteran”, “Story of Kang Goo”, “Splash Splash Love”. Recent longer shows that get this right: “Heard it Through the Grapevine”, “Last”, “Beyond the Clouds”,”My Spring Day”. Shows that accomplished a “cracktastic” start level: “Angel Eyes” and “My Love Eun Dong”.

Similar to “Secret Love Affair”, the first episode left me puzzled and cold, then the second episode kicked in, and it was much better. I understood Jin Woo has this extra-special memory thing called hyperthymesia…but he seemed a little jerky about it when his neighborhood noona lost her wallet on the bus. TBH, In Ah was kinda jerky too, inconveniencing an entire busload of people because a bad guy pick-pocketed her. I thought maybe that guy was gonna be the villain of the show. It’s good to be wrong sometimes! Luckily I gave Show another episode. Your Teacher knows that sometimes it takes two episodes for a story to get rolling. Usually by two episodes, you will know whether to keep going with a show–or to dump it and cut your losses.

Show’s Grade: B-

Element 4—A tenacious and evil villain. Must be easy for viewers to hate. Big bonus points for complex issues that lend a fragment of humanity to the baddie, while keeping the hate alive and going.

Shows that did this with Bonus Points:  “Last”, “My Love Eun Dong”.

Another perfect score, and major Extra Credit points awarded for Namgoong Min’s portrayal of the breathtakingly handsome psychotic villain Nam Gyu Man. He pretty much stole the show right out from under Yoo Seung Ho as the episodes progressed. This seems to be an emerging trend in DramaLand, and one your teacher will be making note of. I can’t praise his acting enough. It’s a new standard for future villains to aspire. Your teacher hopes this opens up all kinds of opportunities for Namgoong Min to star in future dramas, but only as a good guy, ’cause that is what he wants.  I just hope he doesn’t lose any more CF deals because he’s such a convincing baddie! He can do funny stuff too…check out this SNL video, no translations needed as Nangoong Min dresses up as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen”, then throws a temper tantrum like his character Nam Gyu Man:

Show’s Grade: A+

Side Note: After seeing Yoo Ah In’s evil character Jo Tae Oh in “Veteran”, and Namgoong Min’s character of Nam Gyu Man, your Teacher is fully convinced that they are first cousins! The similarities between the characters are almost to the point of plagiarism. From the chaebol-level wealth, perfect slicked back hair, sharp suits, explosive temper, Dad-as-a-bad-example, treating secretaries worse than servants, violence toward women, heavy-duty partying and drug use….I gotta wonder. Only major difference: Jo Tae Oh has a better car (Mustang GT). NGM needs to up his car game from the blah white sedan to something much faster and cooler looking. I would love to ask the writer/director of “Veteran” Ryu Seung Wan how he feels about the character of Nam Gyu Man, and if he felt ripped off by how similar the two characters are…or does he consider imitation the sincerest form of flattery? (Please DramaGods, let my wish come true at KCON LA this summer!) When I reviewed “Veteran” I surmised that the character of Jo Tae Oh didn’t feel like it was developed enough, but since the movie was only 2 hours and not a 16 hour drama, there wasn’t enough time. Here in “Remember”, the motivation “I’m a rich entitled guy with a major temper problem” was exactly the same; but it was so much more intense to see it over 16 hours.

veteran1ngm

You’re copying me!

 

veteran1

No way! I got here first!

Element 5—Carefully consider how much doom you heap on the hero/leading lady. Bad things have to happen; it’s a Melo after all. But if you go overboard, viewers get emotionally fatigued and burn out. This can cause something your Teacher calls “Crash and Burn” syndrome; your viewers will often walk away from a show at this point.

A good example of going overboard on the melo: “My Spring Day”. “Angel Eyes” came very close.

If Remember’s writers had not made a decision to go over the top and give Jin Woo Alzheimer’s disease at age 23, I would have revised my grade upward. The show didn’t really need that element. It would have been just fine for Jin Woo to be a lawyer and clear his father’s name. Having the hyperthymesia and the extra-early onset of Alzheimer’s was unnecessary and created a overabundance of doom for our hero Jin Woo. The first 10 episodes where Jin Woo literally couldn’t catch a break, and was betrayed again and again contained more than enough melo. I know I was emotionally exhausted at Episode 10, and wondered if I could make it to the end of the show. I was heavily invested in “Remember” by then, and knew I was on board–for better or worse. Thankfully after episode 10, Jin Woo seemed to wise up, get tougher, and the tide began to turn back in his favor–before his Alzheimer’s set in. I commend show for turning it around in the middle of the story and keeping the narrative logical–but I have to downgrade for the early onset Alzheimer’s. Thus the show merits a minimal passing grade.

Show’s Grade: C

Element 5 Corollary: Inject some humor into the show! A good cry, followed by a good laugh gives your audience an emotional breather, lightens the heavy tone and gives the secondary characters a moment to shine. However, you need to be cautious. Humor that falls flat can put a wrecking ball to your show. Hint: Never play up domestic violence or child abuse for a laugh. Your Teacher still wants to rant over those issues from “Heard it Through the Grapevine”. That show was either hit or miss on the humor. When it worked, it really worked, and when it failed…ugh.

Humor is where shows like “My Love Eun Dong”, and “Angel Eyes” did well. There were plenty of lighthearted moments and comic relief from the melo. Secondary characters are often relegated to comic relief, but MLED gets big bonus points for having Joo Jin Mo provide plenty of laughs, especially with the “A Frozen Flower” parody scenes.

I thought that “Remember” must have forgotten the humor…until this perfect gem cropped up in Episode 16, saving the grade:

To complete the experience, click here for a lovely rendition of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” to start:

ngman1

ngm1

Understatement of the year–2016 edition

Yep, the sublime calm graceful tones of Claude Debussy’s ” Clair de Lune” is now forever burned into my brain with an image of Nam Gyu Man meditating! Thanks, Show! #SarcNotSarc

Show’s humor grade: C

Element 6—Make sure the villain(s) get a major on-screen dose of Karma! Viewers want demand to see justice. Revenge is optional, but a nice touch and worth significant bonus points. If revenge is dropped due to love (see “Beyond the Clouds” for an excellent example) that can also be satisfying to the viewer, but it’s tricky and the villain must still pay a price. This is an area that needs a whole lot of work in DramaLand; most 2014/2015 shows got a failing grade in this department from your Teacher. Even Nam Gyu Man agrees with your Teacher Shamrockmom:

cine1Karmaremember

Preach it, Nam Gyu Man!

An example of a huge failure in this department: “My Love Eun Dong” a great show in other areas, but received an F- grade from your Teacher for complete lack of Karma distribution. If I could give it a lower grade, I would. Another huge Karma fail: “Heard it Through the Grapevine”, also the recipient of a F grade, brought up from an F- due to an obvious cut in episodes from 50 to 32 to 30. That show really missed out by not giving its baddies any punishment, except for His Royal Highness Daddy Han ending up alone. Too bad we will never know what kind of karma episodes 31-50 would have shown  and I don’t have time to even start thinking about that completion FF! “Secret Love Affair” merited a F+ grade, because there was only implied Karma–hinted at in the pending indictment against That Snake Lawyer Kim and the not-seen-on screen trial and sentencing of the Chairman and Madame Han. Gaaah! All three shows still raise your Teacher’s blood pressure to dangerous levels if she thinks about the lack of Karma!

I would have given “Remember” a much higher grade….until the writers had Nam Gyu Man commit suicide in jail. Your Teacher has always spoken out strongly against using suicide to ‘fridge’ the bad guy in a drama–it’s often a cheap way out for a villain, lazy storytelling, and is socially irresponsible. (The suicide-by-cop in “Last” was borderline, but also made complete sense.)  There could have been much better alternatives. I didn’t fail the show over it though. It fit with the narrative, especially after his Evil Daddy ‘threw him away’ after the jail visit. Your Teacher eagerly envisioned scenes watching NGM rotting away in prison; pitching fits or suffering in solitary confinement. NGM also could have embraced religion like Detective Gwak. With his perfect helmet hair and penchant for needing power and control (especially over the ladies) he certainly had potential to have a post-prison career as a sleazy televangelist! How about that for a spin-off series?! Better yet…your Teacher will award extra credit for a completion FF submitted by a student featuring an alternate ending for NGM with a good healthy dose of Karma! (M-ratings are perfectly acceptable!)

And yes, Evil Daddy Nam was taken away to prison, but that was not shown on screen to any great extent. Lemme see some of the good citizens of Seoul lobbing some eggs and rotten fruit at Evil Daddy Nam!

Show’s grade: C+

Element 7—The Ending. Don’t mess this up, screenwriting students! Most of you have already listened to my rants lectures on endings, so I’l make this quick. A slightly sad but open ending that gives viewers some hope that the OTP is gonna be okay is fine. Weddings are optional, but not necessary. A subdued happy ending also works. Open endings and time jumps can be perilous. Do not go for a total fluffy and cutesy ending **cough-cough: SheWasPretty** or for the spirit crushing sad ending in a melo **cough-cough: MySpringDay**. Either of those options will bring viewers to their keyboards with virtual pitchforks at the ready. Never give your characters personality transplants to end the show, or give the main character(s) the shaft in favor of the villain or the second lead. **cough-cough: MyLoveEunDong  **cough-cough: CheeseInTheTrap**  **cough-cough: EmpressKi** Sorry,  I just need a quick drink of water to clear my throat!

And the biggest rule of all: Avoid WTF endings! Any ending that throws logic and reason out the window and/or makes your audience want to destroy electronic devices is a big no-no! You may never live down a WTF ending. Writers get reputations too, yunno! Viewers like your Teacher make note of which writer/PD teams seem to be synonymous with WTF endings….and we avoid future shows where they are involved like the plague until hard evidence is brought forth that they have changed their errant ways. A bad ending also provides fodder for corrective fan-fiction writers to pursue their addictive behaviors. You don’t want to be responsible for that!

A good example of a Melo with a decent ending: “Beyond the Clouds”. Even with a time jump, and no wedding, there was good resolution for both the main and the secondary characters. It wasn’t a completely happy and fluffy ending, but made sense and was logical.

I was more than satisfied with the ending to “Remember”. Although I did not care for Jin Woo having Alzheimer’s at the age of 23, the final scenes where she’s following him are touching. It gives a sense that she’s gonna stick by his side. The secondary characters got some good resolution too. No need to throw electronic devices, or even feel bummed out. Good job, show!

Grade: A-

And the Extra Credit element: Cinematography

Students, you know how much I can gush over the cinematography in a drama. Shows like Heard it Through the Grapevine and Secret Love Affair provide scene after scene of nuanced beauty and subtle details to enjoy, and belong in a different category altogether. Shows like “Awl” and “My Love Eun Dong” also showed viewers that they can have lovely scenes where the colors and light come together in a way to please the eye and the soul.   The producers of “Remember” had amazing scenes with beautiful lighting and reflections. I could have screencapped dozens from each episode; I’ll use these three from Episode 8 as examples:

cine1remember

cine2remember

cine3remember

Show’s Cinematography  Grade: A+

Your Teacher concludes the lesson today with the recommendation to watch “Remember: A Son’s War” if you have not already. This is also a show that could be recommended for the uninitiated Kdrama viewer; corruption and betrayal are universal problems. Now that you have the basic elements for a good melo/revenge drama, your assignment will be to evaluate upcoming shows and offer ideas on rewriting any parts that don’t measure up.

 

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2 thoughts on “Screenwriting 101: How to get a Melodrama (mostly) right: Thoughts on “Remember: A Son’s War”

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one more than you didn’t. I loved it. Story, acting, cinematography, addictive. A very well done melodrama. And yes, Yoo Seung Ho is a fantastic crier 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so late but this is a really great post on how to make a melo work, thank you shamrockmom! I mostly agree with your points; And I’m a fan of Remember: A Son’s War too XD

    Like

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