The Korean Wave
Have you ever heard of the Korean Wave? It is also called Korean Fever, KDrama Fever, or the Hallyu Wave.
The Hallyu Wave "term coined a few years ago by Beijing journalists startled by the growing popularity of South Koreans and South Korean goods in China. Now, the craze for all things Korean has spread across Asia, driving regional sales of everything from cars to Kimchi."
In recent years, the Hallyu wave has spread around the globe from Japan to the US to Britain to Iran of the Middle East. "According to Michael D. Shin, professor of Modern Korean Literature and History at Cornell University, Hallyu is overwhelmingly driven by Korean TV dramas. The export earnings of Korean TV dramas far surpass those of Korean music and film."
Drama Fever is evident by the incredible popularity Korean celebrities have experienced away from home. From Bae Yong Joon (Winter Sonata, Untold Scandal) in Japan to the Korean Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in California, USA to Iran's embrace of a "A Jewel in the Palace," starring talented Lee Young Ae and the handsome Ji Jin-hee.
Every year, Korean Dramas have grown stronger in popularity. Korean Dramas have been subtitled by fans for years, but they now have dedicated Internet channels, one of which is called Drama Fever that not only shows Korean Dramas on their website but through Hulu, a major entertainment hub in the U.S. created by various entities (i.e. AOL, MSN, Facebook, and Yahoo!, etc.).
Why are Korean Dramas popular?
Korean Dramas can be categorized in two ways: Modern or Historical. The first category involves conflicts such involving singletons, married couples, money, in-laws, and love triangles (a staple). Many heroines fall in love with the lead male, who may have not treated her very nice in the beginning instead of the one who always cares for her. These dramas have a modern setting and last anywhere from 16 episodes to over 100 (most often not exceeding 200). In contrast, most Japanese Dramas last for about 11 episodes. If they are popular, they might get a second season, a special, or movie.
The other category of Korean Drama is the historical dramas (Sa Geuk). They are dramatizations of Korean history. Korean historical dramas are usually lengthy and involve complex story lines with elaborate costumes, sets and special effects. You can expect to see many feats of athleticism and action, such as sword play, martial arts, horse riding, and fighting.
Korean dramas, whether the historical or modern, have been recognized for excellent production quality, characters with depth, and intelligent writing. Avid watchers of dramas will notice familiar themes, types of characters, settings, and Korean cultural references (i.e. expressions, behavior, food, drink, etc.).
Unlike the modern dramas, historical dramas are designed to reach a broad audience and thus, they will showcase a combination of human interest plot lines sprinkled with themes of family, romance, friendship, martial arts, political strategy, wars, etc. With a broad appeal, the shows attract fans of all ages and genders.
But, still, Why are Korean Dramas popular?
Some believe it is the quality of acting, the script, no ... the production. Others believe that women have fallen in love with the celluloid Korean man. Back in 2006, Anthony Faiola, of The Washington Post, painted a picture that Asian women were hot for Korean men, or at least, the Korean man they saw in dramas. Faiola claims that "the number of foreign tourists traveling to South Korea leapt from 2.8 million in 2003 to 3.7 million in 2004. The bulk of the growth, South Korean tourism officials say, stemmed from Korean Wave-loving Asian women."
As an avid Internet traveler and participant in the World Wide Web, I have seen since 2003 - the explosion of Asian male celebrity fandom. Kdramas are popular with teens as well as mature women in their 20s, 30s and beyond. Since many stars in Kdramas debut eventually on the silver screen and some participate in musical activities, women around the world have had an increasing interest in films and Korean Pop Music. This is not to say there are no male fans of Kdramas, but I suspect more males watch the historical dramas and films versus the modern dramas. However, we are still waiting on some statistics to back that assumption up.
Also, I don't want be dismissive of the talented and beautiful Korean women represented in Korean Entertainment. They have as much to offer everyone as the men. Some of my favorite Korean actresses happen to be Kim Sun Ah, Lee Ji Ah, Kim Ha Neul, Bae Doo Na, Ha Ji Won, Yoon Eun Hye, Park Shin Ae, Moon Geun Young, and Koo Hye Sun.
Where there are celebrities, there are fans. With the Internet, fans are more vocal these days and word-of-mouth travels fast. Since dramas, films, and music are accessible, they are gaining fans around the world as viewers and consumers (i.e. YesAsia.com, HanBooks.com, etc).
However, the popularity of Korean Dramas I think is not a result of one thing but a combination of the influences that we have discussed along with the fact that Korean culture is accessible and it is new. The stories and themes present in Korean films, dramas, and pop aren't all that new. What is different is the culture that encapsulates them. We are all getting to know the Korean perspective, Korean ideals, Korean customs and traditions. This is exceptionally appealing.
Side Note: I can't count how many times I have witnessed one of the characters of a drama make some form of Kimchi! Kimchi is Korean! I admit, I wish I was there to taste it. :)
The Final Answer
Our desire to know one another better and to understand the familiarity that binds us is what I think truly drives the Korean Wave. Well, not to mention, how entertaining these programs, films, and music can be.
I honestly don't think my words do as much justice as those of three quotes by Italian Director Federico Fellini's.
“There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.”
“A different language is a different vision of life.”
“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography”
To experience a Korean Drama, I recommend going over to Drama Fever. Also, to help you get started, I recommend the following assortment of dramas:
- Full House starring Rain (Bi) and Song Kye Hyo
- Lovers in Paris starring Kim Jung Eun, Park Shin Young, and Lee Dong Gun
- Beethoven Virus starring Kim Myung Min, Lee Ji Ah, and Jang Guen Suk
- My Lovely Samsoon starring Kim Sun Ah, Hyun Bin, and Jung Ryeo Won
- You're Beautiful starring Park Shin Hye, Jang Geun Seuk, Lee Hong Ki, and Jung Yong Hwa
- Jewel in the Palace starring Lee Young Ae and Ji Jin hee