In one of my earlier posts, I’d written about KDramas ( Korean TV serials) and how much my wife and I like them . At the time , I knew they were popular , but not how popular . I didn’t know either that their popularity is not a new phenomenon but that it goes back several years. In the U.S , Kdramas first became well-known in areas with a heavy Korean- American presence but , by now , they’ve become favorites with other segments of the population. Netflix has a lot of them available on the streaming option and many ( non-Korean) subscribers have written to say how much they enjoy them and to demand even more of them . In a comment echoed by several others , one Netflix subscriber wrote in to say ” I love this drama! I was just about to cancel my subscription but this and a few other of the new Kdramas will definitely keep me subscribed. I’m so happy now. ” Another wrote to suggest ” I would LOVE to see not only more kdramas, but also Taiwanese and Japanese dramas. There is a great list of these that I’m sure people would be just as enthusiastic about …”. Good idea ( LOL).
Nor is the popularity of Kdramas restricted to parts U.S. My daughter, who lives in Japan, tells me that they are all the rage there. This is all the more astounding when one considers the past history of Korea and Japan, and their mutual antipathy. According to some observers , Kdramas have improved relations between the two countries as more Japanese people became interested in Korean culture . Exposure to Korean language, cuisine, and history has not only positively influenced the perception of Koreans among the Japanese people, but also relieved some of the antagonism many Koreans feel towards Japan. This has promoted Japanese tourism to South Korea. Conversely, the series Iris had several pivotal scenes shot in Akita, Japan, which led to an increase of Korean tourists in that part of Japan. Such is the popularity of KDramas in Japan and other parts of Asia including Thailand ,Vietnam , the Philippines, HongKong and China that it has resulted in the coining of the term Hallyu or Korean Wave . KDramas are also gaining popularity in other parts of the world such as Latin America and the Middle East.
In general , KDramas are of two types The first are Korean historical dramas (also known as sa geuk) that have very complex story lines with elaborate costumes, sets, and special effects.These are of less interest to me because I am not ( yet) familiar with Korean history. The other type resembles western soap operas with shorter, quickly resolved plots. They typically involve problems associated with relationships, money, conflicts between in-laws (usually between the mother and son/daughter in law) and usually last from 16 to 30 episodes , though they can sometimes be longer. It is these that I ( and most non-Korean audiences) enjoy.
Why are they so absorbing ? There are many reasons …
Kdramas are shot in select , beautiful locales and the production values are excellent . The quality of the picture ( crisp and bright ) puts other productions to shame.( I recently happened to see an Italian mystery and while the plot and the acting were very good and the locations beautiful , the entire show seemed dingy , the images indistinct). Drama set in Seoul or other urban centers show the nicest parts of the city ;the architecture is ultra-modern , the offices hi-tech , the apartment furnishings opulent . When they show other parts of the country , they focus on gorgeous, pristine landscapes . Even the supposed middle-class dwellings are superior to those we are familiar with . And everything is so clean !! And the dress sense of the characters …outstanding. Even I , a male immune to such things , couldn’t help noticing that the clothes worn by the different characters , young and old , are exceptionally harmonious and well designed.
Even as we realize that Korea cannot possibly be so uniformly wonderful, we still feel like going there to see for ourselves. Perhaps that is the intention of the producers, to promote tourism ? Whatever … the glimpses we get of Korea are a delight to the senses.
Kdramas ,focusing as they do on families, promote togetherness and family values and are heavy on sentiment and emotion. The love stories depict romance , and there are none of the strong sexual elements that we are accustomed to seeing in Hollywood , Bollywood and other productions. There is almost no kissing ,very few clinches .The length of these serials, long but usually not too long , allows the script writers to fully develop the characters. Consequently , the viewers find the relationships , the characters more believable , more appealing and we identify with them more strongly. None of the characters that populate these Kdramas are truly evil . They are people who take a wrong turn due to circumstances , decent people gone wrong and , at drama’s end, they repent and are rehabilitated , more often than not.The directors of these Kdramas have also mastered the art of cliff hangers . Each episode ends on such a note that it makes you want to watch the next one immediately. It also helps that the acting is almost always uniformly good and the actors and actresses attractive .
An unexpected bonus is the small touches of humor in these shows . Contrary to the image that one has of the inscrutable , dead serious Oriental the little tidbits lighten the mood of the drama and make it all the more enjoyable .
I wonder if the main reason that foreign audiences find Kdramas absorbing is the family structure that they depict. They show joint families in which the members genuinely love and care for each other , though there are the inevitable misunderstandings and conflicts that arise when many individuals live together. Particularly in the U.S where individualism is stressed and in Japan ( where space considerations make joint families unfeasible), is such togetherness something we yearn for? Perhaps we crave the security and the strength of an extended family even as we subconsciously know that it is not practical ? It’s a thought .
It also occurs to me that we are all incurable romantics. We , women and men ( except for the self-absorbed young ) want to see true love win over all obstacles. It is very satisfying when the hero and heroine clear up the misunderstandings and declare their love for each other . As one viewer put it, ” I experienced so many different emotions while watching this, I laughed, cried for happiness and sad moments and they are all hearttouching ...” Another said ” I shed a lot of MANTEARS while I was watching this and I am not ashamed …”
Kdramas are not without their flaws .The plots have many improbabilities and owe a lot to impossible coincidences. Characters bump into each other so often ( or narrowly miss each other with unfailing regularity) that it seems like they live in the same block and not in a city of eight million.Many misunderstandings could easily be avoided if someone had made a simple phone call or said what was on his or her mind. The English subtitles are occasionally whisked off before one can read them and are sometimes awkward. But these are all things that are easily excused because the Kdramas are so satisfying . The one drawback that I find difficult to stomach is that the heroes are very often arrogant and obnoxious at first and are only slowly transformed by the influence of the sweet , cute heroine . There were two highly rated shows ( Boys Over Flowers & Secret Garden ) where the hero was so impossible that we lost interest and stopped watching after a couple of episodes.
There are several others that we loved . In addition to City Hunter , which I previously wrote about, there are Protect the Boss , Shining Inheritance and Creating Destiny . The last-named is probably the one you’ll enjoy most because of its touches humor and the strong characterizations but all of them are good . If you don’t have Netflix streaming you can watch them for free on sites such as hulutv or crunchyrolltv if you can stand the ads . Happy viewing.