Photo Credit: Bloom Entertainment
By the end of this week, millions of people, especially in Asia, will likely be experiencing a mixture of sadness, anxiety, and irritability—which I shall affectionately term the “post-DOTS syndrome”.
For the uninitiated, here’s why: the massively popular Korean TV drama Descendants of the Sun (DOTS) will air its last episode tonight (14 April). In a nutshell, DOTS is a love story between a dashing army captain (Song Joong Ki) and a beautiful doctor (Song Hye Kyo) that has captured the hearts of viewers all over the world. The 16-episode drama, which started in February, has eclipsed all viewership records in Korea and chalked up more than 2 billion views on Chinese video-streaming site iQiyi.com.
It’s so popular that 32 countries, including non-Asian broadcasters in the United States, England, France, and Russia, have bought it. Even politicians have endorsed it. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged citizens to watch it, praising the show for its themes of sacrifice, obedience, and duty, while South Korean President Park Geun-hye said the show could help “instill patriotism” among young Koreans.
The show has also inspired fan art, memes, and a fascinating range of merchandise: sneakers, canvas bags, stuffed toys and—you probably won’t believe this—hell notes with Song Joong Ki’s face on them. (Hell notes are a form of joss paper which look like bank notes and are normally burned as an offering to loved ones who have died.) Apparently, the city of Taebaek in Korea’s Gangwon Province, where the show was filmed, has plans to rebuild the film set of DOTS and turn it into a tourist attraction.
So what is it about this drama that puts it at the head of the pack? Many have credited its popularity to three reasons: a fantastic plot, a stellar cast, and well, China—the drama was aggressively marketed in China and Chinese audiences get to watch it on the same day as South Korea. But ask any fan why he or she loves the show, and you’ll probably hear this: because everyone wants to see how Alpha Team Captain “Big Boss” Yoo Si Jin woos Doctor Kang Mo Yeon. After all, it’s a love story, through and through.
Now, I’m pretty sure most of us will steer clear of trying to draw lessons from fictional love stories that portray unrealistic notions of romantic love. And that is probably the wise thing to do, lest we set ourselves up for disappointment in our own relationships. Having said that, I’m going to attempt the impossible and do exactly that. After all, if we’re going to suffer from post-DOTS syndrome for a while, we might as well mull over something more useful than just Song Joong Ki’s face.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. (For those who have yet to start on the series but intend to.)
1. Learn to give
For all his smooth ways and good looks, Yoo has one thing that works against him—his job. He has to drop everything and leave whenever he’s called up for an assignment (which is always a high-risk, life-threatening one) and, worse, he can’t tell Kang what he’s up to. At first, this creates much tension in their relationship, as Kang cannot accept why he has to keep leaving her halfway through the date without a valid explanation, and the fact that he might never return.
But over time, she realizes that it’s something she will have to get used to if she wants to be in a relationship with him. So she stops questioning him over his job, and learns to support him. Later on, Yoo gets a taste of what it’s like to be stood up when Kang has to rush back to hospital to operate on a patient in the middle of the night. Life is fair.
Let’s learn to give in our relationships. Put the needs of our partners above ourselves and don’t kick up a fuss when we suffer inconveniences. (Romans 12:10)
2. Affirm each other regularly
Nobody does this better than Yoo. Throughout the show, he praises his female counterpart constantly—not just for her looks, but also for her bravery and competence, especially after she has to deal with a devastating earthquake and an infectious disease outbreak. Kang does the same, telling Yoo that she likes him because he is never cowardly, always honorable, and, of course, handsome at all times.
As the show progresses, the couple also grow in their appreciation for each other and learn to affirm each other’s strengths and to apologize and thank each other.
Let’s learn to use our words to affirm, encourage and build up each other. (Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
3. Spur each other to be better people
Yoo is an honorable man who does not flinch under pressure, even if it comes from his superiors. In one iconic scene, in which the chairman of the Arab League, President Mubarat, is brought to the clinic on the verge of death, Yoo’s superior warns him not to get involved and tells him to pin the blame on the doctor if the President dies. But Yoo refuses, and tells the doctor to do what she has to do while his team holds the Arab guys off at gunpoint (if you’re wondering why, watch to find out).
Yoo doesn’t just lead by example, but also encourages Kang to do the same. In another episode in which a drug dealer is shot by a village kid, Yoo tells Kang to stay true to her calling as a doctor—which means saving the man even though he’s obviously up to no good. “If we have to kill someone, I will do my job,” he tells her.
Let’s learn to spur each other on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
4. Sacrifice for each other
Just like in any other good Korean love story, the male lead puts his all on the line for the female lead, time and again. In the episode involving the Arab President, Yoo puts his job on the line by refusing to pin the blame on Kang—and is eventually taken off the promotion list and has his pay docked for insubordination. In another episode, he risks his life to save Kang, who’s stuck in a car perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. On yet another occasion, he embarks on a solo mission to save her after she’s taken hostage by the drug dealer—yes, the same one she saved earlier.
There’s also a tense hospital scene involving a North Korean soldier, in which Kang takes risks for Yoo (for the sake of those already upset with the number of spoilers so far, I shall not go any further).
Let’s learn to do good (Hebrews 13:16) and to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). There’s no greater love than laying down our lives for another. (John 15:13)
5. Share the same beliefs and principles.
Most of the arguments Yoo and Kang get into involve differences in their values. When they part ways for the first time, it’s because they realize they have different views on how to protect life— Yoo kills to protect lives, while Kang, tries to save all lives.
When they are reunited in the fictional war-torn country of Uruk some months later, things don’t get resolved immediately. But circumstances force them to make moral decisions on when to save a life, and when to take one. Kang then realizes that she no longer holds the moral high ground when she expresses reluctance to save the drug dealer’s life, while it is Yoo who urges her to live up to her calling as a doctor.
Eventually, they realize that their values are essentially the same, and establish some common ground in working together—although it means they usually have to do things the hard way. But their commitment to working out their differences and doing the right thing pays off, and their relationship blossoms.
Let’s make it a priority to find someone who holds to the same beliefs and principles as we do (2 Corinthians 6:14). Once the fundamentals are in place, we can work on the smaller issues more easily.
So there you go. Five relationship hacks from DOTS to think about. A word of caution: These relationship hacks do not guarantee that your relationship will be like Yoo and Kang’s. But they’re worth considering, because they all revolve around one truth—a relationship is more likely to work if you focus less on yourself.
Editor’s Note: Are there any other relationship hacks you got from DOTS? Comment below!