How K-drama 'Crash Landing on You' was brought to life with help from a North Korean defector

'I believe if we have that common goal of unification and try to understand each other, we’ll yield good results even if that takes generations,' says writer Kwak Moon-wan

Crash Landing on You. Photo by lim hyo seon
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Crash Landing on You was one of Netflix's biggest hit shows of 2020.

The Korean drama tells the story of a South Korean heiress and a North Korean soldier who fall in love after she accidentally paraglides over the border and crashes into the neighbouring country. When the show aired, it was the third-highest rated programme in South Korean TV history, and that was before making its worldwide debut on Netflix, winning over fans around the globe.

While a love story, albeit a beautifully told one, is nothing new, it's the accurate and well-researched depiction of everyday life in North Korea – something rarely portrayed on screen – that has caught people's attention.

The experiences of Kwak Moon-wan, an assistant writer on the show, helped bring the story to life. Kwak defected from North Korea to South Korea in 2004, and has not looked back since. His rare insights and experiences from the closely guarded country helped him land a job on the show and, in turn, ensure its meticulous attention to detail.

"I lived half my life in North Korea [before] starting a second life in the South. In a way, I'm experiencing the world after the unification of the Korean Peninsula," he tells The National. "From that identity, I took it as my mission or a competitive edge to address some of the problems related to the peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula."

And  it's that competitive edge that has helped Kwak gain recognition as a writer in the industry, as well as share his view of North Korea with the world.

Moving forward, he plans to focus on writing and help more shows bridge that gap when it comes to portraying the two countries, with the hopes that, perhaps, one day, the two may reunite.

Kwak Moon-wan was an assistant writer on 'Crash Landing on You' and used his knowledge of North Korea to capture everyday life on screen.

"In the end, we need to go together", he says.

"My opinion is that it is North and South Korea themselves that should be the ones who decide. I believe if we have that common goal of unification and trying to understand each other, we'll yield good results – even if that takes generations."

It's Kwak's view that shows such as Crash Landing on You can help to highlight the everyday commonalities that both countries share.

"Characters like Chi-soo, Wol-suk and Young-ae make kimchi together and share it with others. These kinds of customs all Koreans have [and] could be key in opening up understanding and empathy –drama is a great tool to do that."

So after landing such a popular drama series, what's next? His follow-up project is a spy drama that takes place between the two sides. Unlike romantic comedy Crash Landing on You, a genre Kwak admits he finds difficult,the next feature tells the story of a "bromance".

"Korean dramas are very candid. They don't sugarcoat things. Lines are blunt and direct. I often say the beauty of Korean drama is the combination of candidness and dreams. I think that's why the world audience falls for them," he says.

"I wonder if [the next series] will get as much attention as Crash Landing on You, but I have hope."