Being a daydreamer is part of a fangirl’s DNA. We’re conditioned to get lost in our fictional worlds even after the episode ends, we finish the book or we finish watching the movie. Those characters belong in our brains now and have taken a seat, ready to be put in whatever situations we want them to. Many tend to put those thoughts into fanfic, others into fanart, others write meta posts about them and some simply prefer to randomly daydream about what would happen if their favorite characters met differently or what would they do in different situations. A fangirl’s brain is rich, complicated and imaginative, so of course the thought “what would happen if I was a character in this fictional work?” has gone through many minds.
There is a stigma against self-insert fanfic, even within the fan community. It is usually considered self-indulgent, bad and generally gross. But the truth is so much of the fiction we consume is based on self-insert stories we probably wouldn’t watch anything if that was where we drew the line. The difference is it’s usually men writing that fiction. Many of them get published, some of them are written as movies in which the main lead happens to be the writer and somehow we consider them masterpieces and pay for them rather than enjoy them for free in the comfort of our home, as we do with fanfic.
Dramaworld however, is a self-insert fanfic by all means and although it is not written or directed by a woman, at least it never disregards the main character’s fantasizing as crazy or makes it sound gross. To Claire, the show’s heroine, self-indulging in fiction (in this case, k-drama) is a way to escape from a boring, uneventful life. And though her dad tells her to get off her phone and live in “real life” she then gets literally swept into her fantasy in order to save the world. So she is kind of being rewarded for being who she is.
Claire Duncan (Liv Hewson, who by the way not just by hair color but by mannerisms and voice could honestly be Jane Levy’s little sister) is a 20 year-old college student absolutely obsessed with Korean dramas (or k-dramas). She spends most of her time talking about it or waiting for the next episode of her favorite show to go online. She is particularly obsessed with a show called “Taste of Love” in which Joon Park (Sean Dulake) is a handsome chef whose heart has been broken by his dad’s suicide and Seo-yeon (Noo-Ri Bae) is the adorable dishwasher turned sub-chef who is hoping to gain his love. But something wrong is happening in “Taste of Love”: unlike every other k-drama, they’re now into episode 13 and the two characters haven’t kissed. That is dangerous, since the show is coming to an end. One night, while cleaning up her dad’s sandwich shop and watching the show in her broken smartphone she sees the worst is about to happen: Joon Park is about to kiss Ga-in (Sa Hee), his longtime childhood friend and restaurant manager, while poor Seo-yeon watches it happen from the kitchen. But kisses in k-drama are way different than in American TV. If Joon kisses Ga-in, that means she is going to be his true love. So while screaming at the screen for him not to do it (seriously, who hasn’t yelled at the screen when our favorite characters are doing something dumb?) she accidentally trips and falls and magically enters Dramaworld. Right in time to stop the kiss with her face (see poster!) So now Claire has to deal with the fact that Dramaworld is an actual alternate universe that she has entered and exists. Not just that, but that in Dramaworld she is a facilitator, that is, the person that helps both the leading man and the leading lady fall in love. Always in the back, always invisible, always doing their best to get the show to a happy ending, a facilitator can never become a character in the story recognizable beyond a recurring extra with two lines. After the show ends, she’ll be able to leave and the characters’ memories will be erased just in time for them start another drama and fall in love all over again, differently. She learns all of this from Seth (Justin Chon), another k-drama superfan living in Dramaworld and facilitator that immediately takes her on board and shows her the ropes and laws of the genre (note: law #3 should be a law for all of fiction, not just k-drama. Take note, writers).
I am not extremely knowledgeable of k-drama. I have in fact only watched a few episodes of it through the course of my entire life. But Dramaworld manages to be a good introduction to the world of k-drama while being a part of it and a parody of its tropes. You do not need to know about those tropes to notice what they’re parodying, because they’re actually not much different from your classic western soap-opera tropes. Much like Lost In Austen (which by the way, I absolutely hated), it is a is a fish-out-of-water story, with a white girl (and yes, some characters do question what the hell is a white girl doing there trying to meddle all the time) thrown into a complete different world. It is full of cameos that connoisseurs of the genre will love, full of over the top dramatic acting (that is done on purpose), hilarious twists intertwined with some real character moments, and it turns the table on the audience by making us become Claire as we yell at our screens when she does something stupid and frustrates us or we know something she doesn’t.
Each of its 10 episodes is only between 12 and 16 minutes long, and you’ll be able to binge watch the whole thing in just a few hours. And that is exactly what you will do because once it gets you going, you cannot help but let Netflix play the next one. There is also really good chemistry between all the leads– who minus Claire and her dad are all Korean– and you will be rooting for several people to kiss, although I cannot tell you who, because that’d be ruining it.
So get your broken smartphone ready and be swept into Dramaworld yourself. It’s ridiculously self-aware good fun and who knows, maybe you’ll trip and end up there so you can get it a season two. You’ll want one after it ends, I assure you.