What is Makjang? Let’s define the #Makjang Genre! Korean Drama 101 (Class 12)

What is Makjang? Let’s define the #Makjang Genre!


Hello! This is Prof. Akia Talking here to talk about term “Makjang”show.

The word “Makjang” is a rather interesting word. I am a Korean and I had not heard of the term “Makjang” drama up until about 5 or 6 years ago. Even then, I had no idea what the exact definition of that meant. Even now, there is no clear definition for the word since Koreans are terrible with definition as no one really uses words accurately. Currently, people just seem to call dramas they dislike “Makjang” dramas.

However, my thesis here is that “Makjang” dramas are something more specific. I view them as a weird off shoot of the “Korean family” drama genre. More accurately a satire of the  “Korean family” drama genre!

The word “Makjang”
When was the term “Makjang” dramas first used?

I am not sure but some say that it was during the airing of “The First Wives Club / The Good Old Wives' Club” (2007). My source is Wikipedia so it is not a confirmed source. This show starred Kim Hye-Sun , Oh Hyun-Kyung , Son Hyun-Joo, Kim Hae-Sook, Oh Dae-Gyu. I have not seen it so I cannot say more than it was a family drama.

So, what is the definition of a “Makjang”   show?

According to dramabeans.com,  “Makjang”  is “a sylistic, tonal, or narrative element in dramas that chooses to play up outrageous storylines to keep viewers hooked despite how ridiculous the stories become (adultery, revenge, rape, birth secrets, fatal illnesses, and flirting with incest possibilities are some makjang favorites). Shows can be part of a makjang class of dramas (Wife’s Temptation is a makjang series), or they can have makjang tendencies (Mary Stayed Out All Night went makjang toward the end). Generally considered a negative thing (“Gah, how makjang can you get?”), unless a drama intentionally embraces the style (such as Baker King Kim Tak-gu or Flames of Desire).”

Wow long definition!

 I am not clear where they got it from. It does seem like a translation of certain definitions I have seen on some Korean wiki sites.  However, to be frank, the definition is so broad that it could be applied to most Korean dramas. 

So, does “Makjang” dramas equal Korean dramas?

That is rather debatable even according to how Koreans use the term. It could be also claimed that what Americans call “Soap Opera” is the same as “Makjang”.  According to the urbandictionary.com, soap opera is “Any pathetic, fantasy, unreal drama shown on basic cable daytime hour television. Full of unreal situations where everyone has had sex with everyone else, everyone is related to everyone else, and someone is always having someone else’s child. So unreal that no one ever goes to the bathroom or food shopping and there is always fresh ice on trays with alcohol in every room.

Merriam-webster.com says that it is “a serial drama performed originally on a daytime radio or television program and chiefly characterized by tangled interpersonal situations and melodramatic or sentimental treatment”.

You can see that there is a lot of overlap between the definition of “Makjang” and “Soap opera”. However, I think that this is more of an issue with how “Soap opera” was translated as a word since it is more than likely that the original definition of “Makjang” was a loose translation of the word “Soap opera” anyway. This does not make the two the same thing.

Before going further, let’s examine the Korean word of “Makjang”. I mean not as a genre term but just as a Korean word.

“Makjang”comes from the word indicating the end of a mining tunnel. It means a dark dirty and dangerous place where no one of any substance should be. When used as a verb, it means acting without any class, civility or the strappings of politeness. In other words, you could say it is being shameless!

Have you seen the Showtime’s show “Shameless” (2011-) starring Emmy Rossum? That family is a “Makjang” family.

This train of thought led me to the “Jerry Springer Show” (1991-2012). In the context of America, “Makjang” could be equated to the word “White Trash”.  And I specifically mean “White” Trash rather than “equal opportunity” trash.  There is something very similar in terms of the reaction one gets from viewing both the “Jerry Springer Show” (1991-2012) and a “Makjang” Korean drama.

If you are too young to know or did not care about the “Jerry Springer Show” (1991-2012), it originally started out as a serious talk show covering various topics about the American life. It was only after a revamp that we got the show it ended up being. In other words, a  "freak show" where mostly white trash came on TV to get their 15 minutes of fame!

What was additionally interesting is that “Jerry Springer” used to do these end of show monologue that had thoughtful tones that totally did not match the "freak show" that it followed. This is where you really get what “Jerry Springer Show” (1991-2012) was really about. It was a satire of the American life done with actual people! It was turning what was viewed as serious up on its head.

This sense of satirizing something that everyone else views seriously is what I also have with “Makjang” shows. By introducing the ridiculous and absurd events into the show and then capping the show with a “happy” ending, the Korean “Makjang” shows can be seen as satirizing Korean dramas as a whole.

However, more accurately, they can be seen as satirizing Korean “family” dramas specifically. If you line up the Korean dramas that are described as being  “Makjang”,  it is essentially a catalogue of Korean “family” dramas. Considering that at least half of the Korean shows used to be “family” dramas half a decade ago, this is not too surprising. We used to say that “weekdays are for trendy dramas and leave the family dramas on the weekends!”

However, the fact that I cannot think of a Korean drama that was not a family drama going full “Makjang” indicates a lot. Just having one or two outrageous scenes do not count.

Family dramas
The Korean “family” drama genre is a genre with a lot of tradition but, at the same time, it is actually very shallow in depth. There are very few subjects being dealt in the genre and even these few subjects are only explored in a superficial manner. This is rather frustrating as a writer since how many times can you write the same shallow stuff over and over again.

This leads to a writer’s natural reaction to the mix of imposed importance and constraint. I am talking about satire! According to oxforddictionaries.com, the definition of satire is “[t]he use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”

Exaggeration and ridicule are words that go well with “Makjang” shows. While it is debatable that the purpose of “Makjang” shows are to “expose and criticize”, it ends up exposing and criticizing the Korean “family” drama genre. In addition, there is the humor!

“Makjang” shows are not humorous! You may say this.

However, just think…. You may not me outright laughing but you are very amused. You are not watching because you are intellectually stimulated or there is a lot of action or there is a lot of sadness or romance. Then what is left?

Also, “Makjang” shows use a lot of the mechanics or comedies. In a well-made “Makjang” show, every single character and their subplots are designed to explode and create havoc thought the show so that you are never without chaos. We call it “laying out land mines!” This is the same way jokes are used in comedies.

In conclusion
I am here to lay out the definite definition of a “Makjang” Korean show. According to Me, a “Makjang” Korean show is “an off shoot of the Korean family genre that satirizes the rigidness of Korean family dynamic and the Korean social customs using over dramatic means among family and potential family members while still maintaining the appearance of the non-comedic Korean family drama genre.”

Thank you for reading the editorial! Please list what you consider a makjang show in the comments! 

Other Articles you may enjoy
    Class 9: Why is the Korean Drama industry poor? [link]
    Class 6: Why watch Long running
    Korean family dramas? [link] 

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    1. "Temptation Wife" comes to mind. I was HOOKED & watched all of the episodes. Now I know it was "makjang".

    2. Good article! Now I got a better sense of the word. I just watched My Happy Home/Home Sweet Home and I couldn't stop watching. It took itself so seriously, but it was extremely makjang! I am surprised how much I liked it. And so was The Greatest Marriage. It had lots of humor, then back to screaming and crying, but the situations were (I hope) entirely exaggerated and there was a tacked on, nonsensical happy ending.