I’ve recently had to face facts… for the first time in my life I am falling hard, fast and completely for a fad… its not what you’re thinking…**
When I think of fangirls I’m afraid those crazy nutters on late night TV screaming “I love you oppa, marry me” are the first that come to my mind. You may have seen them in a meme on facebook or in a news tweet. They give you the shivers and you promise yourself that if you ever see the signs in yourself that you’ll take extreme measures…
What happens though when you become obsessed and you can’t let go? When you want to scream about this thing you love to everyone who will listen? Where you want to broadcast it by wearing a t-shirt like the one above?
My fandom are Korean dramas or k-dramas for short.
A unique form of television, the Hallyu wave has become an international sensation… all due to the k-dramas South Korea exports. I can’t keep from the truth! Three concrete facts prove to myself that I am indeed a fangirl (I try never to lie to myself – honesty is the best policy after all, especially with yourself).
I’d rather watch a k-drama that any American show (i.e. shows filmed in my native English language). In fact, I routinely stop halfway through a show in English to start-up an episode where I have to read subtitles.
I’ve downloaded all my favorite shows’ OST theme songs so I can rock out to them while I exercise. In fact, I’ve rocked out to them so often I have several of them memorized – in Korean! (Though I do admit any competent Korean speaker would laugh and while trying to catch their breathe, pant out that in no way am I speaking communicative Korean.)
Koreans are now my favorite actors. (Well, my second and third favorite actors as Toshiro Mifune, a dead Japanese actor has always been my #1 favorite actor [since I saw Seven Samurai anyway].) I’ve even gone so far as to like their facebook fan pages so I can keep up on news about their coming drama and movie roles.
So there you have it, I’m falling fast. And you will too if you keep reading.
Buckle up, k-dramas are severely addicting and will cause hours of television hangovers as you try to make a living after gorging all night on series long binges.
You still here?
I warned you. In working out my own puzzling fangirldom, let me introduce all you need to know to fall in love with k-dramas yourself.
Ready access through internet and streaming services – you watch when you want and however much you want.
No cable needed! Of course nowadays you don’t need anything but a streaming site for American television…
For K-dramas there are two main streaming sites that give you access to all sorts of Asian dramas (Korean, Chinese, Japanese): Dramafever and Viki. Both are free to use to a point. Dramafever is by far the easier one and I pay $10 a year for full access to any episode and all movies. You can use Dramafever free but you must watch the show in order from the beginning and not skip an episode (I did this when I first used the site/app!). Viki is pricier but some shows are exclusive to their service.
If this is too much commitment, you can also find popular Korean and Chinese dramas on Huluplus and Netflix. To give their subscribers more offerings these services buy other countries media and these shows are becoming popular on an international basis. I’ve used both services and they have nice selections for a beginner. That is where I found Korean dramas at first! (Later you will move to the Dramafever app!)
Finite episodes and longer running times make story development more satisfying for viewers.
American television is not as attractive as it used to be… it peeves me that everything is cleanly resolved by the end of 45 minutes, while at the end of a 13+ episode season very little progress has been made in the characters lives. It’s gotten so bad that we end up watching because we love an actor or enjoy a cast’s chemistry… we settle for a character study or one of a host of lawyer, doctor and police procedurals instead of seeking out drama and the story…
Koreans think differently. They want a well established beginning, middle and end. They only want a finite number of episodes until the show is over. They don’t want easy resolutions at the end of an episode. But they don’t like to wait for it either!!
They develop their drama programs so that every week they show two back to back episodes – Mon/Tues, Wed/Thurs, or Fri/Sat. Depending on the type of show there will be 16 to 60+ episodes (for long historical dramas). Most shows are 16 to 20 episodes. (If a show is extremely popular they will develop an extended ending of 3 or 4 more episodes, but that is it!) Most episodes run 64 minutes to America’s 45 minutes (some are webtoons that are 10-15 minutes long).
The dual episode format as well as the 20 minute longer running time allows for some give in the story. Like life there are minor setbacks and major cliffhangers where you don’t know if you will survive. A drama mimics this in the course of the story making for a more dynamic emotional roller coaster. As a viewer you are allowed to get caught up in this emotion fueled journey because YOU KNOW IT WILL END!
This tight formatting is SOOOO satisfying!! And it equals better stories for the viewer.
Like with movies, music is used to highlight how characters feel, dramatize powerful moments and characterize the show.
Do you remember the music in an American tv show? I know of some poppy theme music that runs during the opening credits but otherwise its all generic music to tell us when its a chase scene or the murderer is lurking behind the protagonist…
In the small world of South Korean entertainment the division between television and music is very small. Many k-pop artists and groups are hired to make theme songs (or OSTs in official music language). These call to mind the emotions and experiences to be found in its associated drama. Specific scenes rise to the surface of your memory as the music reminds you of your favorite moments.
The first time the music of a k-dramas really hit me was in Secret Garden. I was totally enthralled at the way they used music to characterize how Kim Joo Won always came back to the sure knowledge he loved Gil Ra Im. And many of the other early shows only reinforced the love of the Korean music world that developed with that show…
Long after the episodes are over a k-drama lingers with you through their OSTs. If you love music, then k-dramas are for you, as they better utilize music during the course of an episode than any American show I’ve seen.
Young, nuanced talent contrasted to older, experienced actors fill the k-drama ranks. No matter their age their facial expressions brings a depth of emotion not to be matched.
There is a myth that Asians can’t act because the range of emotion that can appear on their face is limited. I admit I bought into that stereotype. In America it’s hard not to as Asians raised in the good ol USA tend to register emotionally as more static and cold. Let’s just say your first k-drama will dispel that myth.
Through my experiences, I’ve found Korean actors have a range of visual cues that astound me. American actors rely more on emotion and projecting the right emotion for the moment. And Koreans do this as well but they pair their emotions with very real and true facial expressions. This will quickly win you over as young or old the actors appear to live life more fully, as if because they can express themselves visually life treats them more fully as well.
And they use a full range of ages. You can count on budding actresses, rising stars as well as the experienced veterans in every show. I love this most of all. Life is not about the young or the old. There is no exclusivity. We all live and love and age. This adds such depth to the story.
It’s not just their talent that is so wowing, but also the way they change everything to embody a character. The way they can take an actor and through their hair and clothing create a living breathing character is simply expert. It’s enchanting when you can see the same older actor in three different shows and yet he never grows old on you. It’s all done through the way they streak grey in his hair, to the way he dressed like a poor man or the suit uniform he wears in every episode. They focus on the character and showing the character through visual as well as emotional cues.
And the flower boys! (See above gif!) Yes, it is quite easy to make a short lift of your favorite actors (and actresses… okay maybe a long list…) and hmmhmm, they are SOO worth fangirling over!!
Soul Stirring Stories
A concentration on showing the viewer how to overcome their negative traits to become happy makes me happy.
Oh how I love the showing they do in their stories! (I can rave about this for a LOOOONGG time!) We are rarely told about a character. Their personality to their situation to their family and friends it’s all shown to us. Well, duh you say – it’s television.
Yes, but the setup in American shows are swift and simple relying heavily on character stereotypes. In k-dramas there is a specificity to character that can only come through good showing verses swift telling. Sure the setup takes a little longer, it’s not done in one episode, in fact the premise takes both of the first episodes to be setup properly. It’s so worth the time and makes for powerful connections that suck you in…
Now k-dramas do have stereotypes, but not character stereotypes so much as genre ones and repeating elements. For example, there’s very little sex in a k-drama. This is one stereotype I love! I never have to worry a graphic scene of skin on skin will suddenly appear before my unfiltered eyes. I have no problem with a healthy sex life but it doesn’t add anything to a character for me to see it. And in fact, I respect characters who are in love who wait. To some Americans it will see like a sweeter, more pure, also aged way of telling a story. I say nay.
The meat of k-dramas though are family. Every k-drama I’ve seen has a path that leads directly to family at the heart of it. These characters aren’t stand ins for the token family that a character must have to be a protagonist. No, they have their own character arcs and play a direct part in the plot. Many times at the heart of a protagonist is this struggle with Korean culture. Deep respect is given to elders and I admire that. While this struggle doesn’t always come into play it adds so much to my own perspective to see a different culture in action.
A concentration on love and happiness. Instead of focusing on another persons moans and hip humping I can focus on a character’s selfishness, childishness or other biased and ‘particular to them’ vice. These are all things we as people struggle with and must overcome to be happy. We can see how some of “us” learn from life and move on to prioritize those things that will make one happy while others don’t, instead choosing those things they think they want.
I have to admit I laugh every time I see a character sleeping with a light on. This is one of those repeating elements that make up a k-dramas stereotypes. I happen to love when a couple kisses for the first time and we circle the couple like angels are singing from heaven. Don’t we all want our passions to be so highlighted? I look forward to episode 10 when for the most part the guy realizes, uh, I might very well love this girl. I adore that love is a focus for Koreans. While they don’t believe it smart to marry before age 30 (or thereabouts) I admire that they feel it not at all shameful that love is an ultimate necessity for happiness.
Really this all makes me happy.
We are all on this journey called life and yet we aren’t all in the same place. K-dramas explore this journey in a believable way with all sorts of fun and campy premises. Take a premise and pair it up with a couple, throw in some friends and rivals, add a direct and specific villain and a k-drama is born. Through showing the drama as it arises we explore a little bit of life.
HAVE I PERSUADED YOU? (I hope I have… I’ll post about genres and suggested shows soon!) Have you ever seen a k-drama? What’s your favorite one? Is it an old-time favorite or a current offering? Are you a k-drama newbie? Are you intrigued now?
**This was originally posted January 29, 2014. I recently rewrote extensive parts of the post and updated the images to gifs to add a sense of what I’m talking about! Enjoy.