In a post last year , I had commented on how South Korean TV serials ( Kdramas ) have taken the world by storm. For the last decade or so , their popularity has increased by leaps and bounds , not just in Asia but all over the world . Halryu ( or the Korean wave) has brought in billions of dollars for the Korean economy and simultaneously burnished the image of South Korea abroad. Nowadays , Japanese tourists take charter flights to Korea to visit the locations they have seen in their favorite serials and Chinese women fly to Seoul to get plastic surgery so that they can look like their favorite Korean actresses. In Los Angeles , there are some Americans ( with no connection to Korea whatsoever) who have taught themselves Korean just by watching KDramas. Even my wife and I have picked up a smattering of Korean words from such programs . What is it about these KDramas that makes them such favorites from Buenos Aires to Beijing , from Manila to Manalapan ?
To put things in perspective , not every KDrama is a hit or is even worth watching . I know that every drama has its diehard fans but , in my opinion , KDramas have their share of clunkers. My wife and I get stuck into only one in every four or five that we begin ; the others we give up on after three episodes or so. It takes us that long to decide on whether a particular series is worth persisting . By now , we have watched probably fifteen or twenty series and I have come up with this list of what makes these dramas so appealing .
10. KDramas are bright and colorful . The colors are vivid and eye-catching , the picture crisper and clearer than anything else I’ve seen . This is particularly true of serials shot after 2010 because of the use of very effective HD cameras.
9. Kdramas emphasize family values and are a good teaching medium . They are very suitable for family watching as there is nothing sordid or gritty.
8. In the end , things turn out well . No matter how many tribulations the heroine goes through , in the end she emerges triumphant . Love prevails , something we all long to see. Sometimes , however , the heroine winds up hitched to the ” wrong ” man . I’m not sure why this is .. Is it an attempt by the director to shake things up , make the story unpredictable ?
7. The settings are opulent and attractive and meant to wow. Audiences everywhere like to experience riches , at least vicariously, and KDramas are happy to indulge them . Indoor settings are luxurious and outdoor shots , whether in the city or the countryside , focus on the best views. Offices are spacious and hi-tech , private homes palatial . Even when some characters are depicted as struggling to make ends meet , their homes are well-kept and spotless.
6. The actors and actresses are attractive and the acting surprisingly good, very good . By now we have come to recognise some of them and delight in trying to remember where we had last seen them . For us , the heroine and hero must be attractive and good actors ; otherwise we switch and try to find something else.
5. The clothes worn by the actors , no matter whether if it is a period drama or a modern romcom, are stylish and beautifully designed . Friends who have been to Korea tell me that Koreans have a great sense of style and that the average Korean man or woman is almost always well-groomed . I can believe it. Usually I am oblivious to styles and colors, but when I watch these serials , I often find myself noting , almost sub consciously, how attractive a particular shade is or how nice a dress looks on an actress . That said , I must mention that I find the suit coats worn by the actors to be way too short and too tight by our standards.
4. The storyline is well thought out and it progresses steadily and , almost always , the action is in character. Serials last anywhere from 16 to 50 hour-long episodes and , inevitably , there is a certain amount of fluff as the writers try to stretch out the series but it is less than in soaps elsewhere which go on and on.
3. KDramas are very sentimental and stress family togetherness. Many of them deal with the strains of joint families and there are conflicts between mothers-in- law and daughters-in-law, between fathers and sons , mothers and daughters , and between siblings but in the end they all get resolved. Throughout the episodes are scattered scenes where characters express their feelings for each other. Often , there are scenes showing people dining together and interacting . An added bonus is that the camera lingers lovingly on the food and makes one want to rush out and have a bowl of noodle soup ,or some grilled meat with all the side dishes or ban chan .
2. KDramas have mastered the art of the cliff hanger. Every episode leaves you hanging and eager for more . When one watches older , already completed KDramas on streaming mode on Netflix or Hulu Plus , one is often inveigled into watching four and five episodes a day . However current KDramas are usually aired only twice a week and one is in a fever of impatience until they become available . Episodes are aired n Korea on weekends and re-broadcast here a day or two later after the sub-titles have been attached . Currently , my wife and I are watching Hundred Year Inheritance and I Summon You, Gold and I know we look forward eagerly to new episodes on Mondays and Tuesdays.
1. The central character is almost always the heroine , not the hero as happens in most TV dramas elsewhere. When you couple this with the emphasis on sentiment , on family values , on clothes and fashion, it is not surprising that these dramas appeal so strongly to women viewers who make up most of the audience for KDramas.
P.S. KDramas have their flaws and it is well to be prepared for them . In many serials , the hero starts out a jerk, behaving abominably towards the heroine ; only later , as he falls in love does he begin to improve . Thankfully , this is getting less frequent. Characters are painted with a very broad brush and the mother-in-law is often pure evil. Sometimes , at the end when all is forgiven , you wish it weren’t so and that she would get her just desserts. (LOL). “Humor ” too is often far from subtle and , overall, one must make allowances for the differences in culture. In the end , these are all minor faults far overshadowed by the attractions and that is why these dramas are so popular.
Korean movies are a mixed bag , very different from KDramas. The settings are more realistic and grimy , the violence graphic and the general mood dark. Some are very good , many of the romcoms silly, and few are happy or uplifting .