While we all know kdrama has its cliches , there are some things that puzzle us, amaze us, delight or put us off as viewers. Korean drama is a very widespread entertainment by now, reaching fans all over the world. When something from one specific culture is available to so many others, there are bound to be things that get lost in translation, culture, values and mindsets.
A while ago, some users in an online community I am part of, including myself, decided to make a thread in the forums about all of these issues. The things in kdrama which we find curious or interesting for some reason. And such threads and discussions can be found in many places online. Asian entertainment fans come from different countries, we are different people and it is always interesting to discuss kdramas, their culture and our own.
Furthermore, it's difficult to know how much of these things we find peculiar are actual parts of Korean culture and everyday life and how much is fiction or things that are simply done or exaggerated for entertainment purposes.
Please tell me secretaries in Korea aren't really forced to run in stilettos.
I will be talking about a few things each time and do as many articles on them as the material and my energy provide me with. Some can also be found in movies, but I will be focusing on drama, where they are more prominent. Do keep in mind that, while some of you may have explanations or insight on these things, many viewers don't. If you would like to comment and enlighten me and others on something, you are welcome to do so.
One of the things that had been puzzling me for a while was something characters seem to do when nervous, in some occasions. You might have spotted this too and wondered the same. Have you ever seen a character lick their finger and touch their nose with it? It was just one of those little things which made me feel as if I was missing out. As my good friend explained, it's apparently a popular belief that it relieves muscles, when some part of you gets numb.
A quite sad issue which was mentioned was how some characters are described as "ugly" in a drama, while they are actually very handsome men and pretty women. However, selling false role-models and under-appreciating beauty is a common issue in this world, not only found in kdrama.
A very big area of curiosity for many are cellphones. Some thoughts came up about those, including the fact that even poor characters seem to own very high tech and expensive ones. Many of us wondered if that is something achievable for people of such an income in Korea or if it is indeed just another product placement issue. You know, how even a poor woman in a drama has designer clothes, shoes, purses etc. Those feel highly unrealistic for people who need to take up many jobs to cope. In addition, many characters who are seemingly unrelated seem to have the same phones. It's like the entire cast of characters just "happened" to get the same one, sometimes even in the same color. Now, while product placement does get funds for a series, it can feel very awkward for a viewer when done so sloppily.
A woman who lives in a house with cracks... And her latest Android smartphone
An issue that was mentioned by one user was the way characters in kdrama turn off their phones, which is not how most of us are used to going about it. Have you noticed that most characters take the back cover and battery out, when they don't want to answer the call? Is that a "kdrama thing" or is it a legitimate and safe way to turn off phones in Korea? It hardly seems handy. I mean, there are menu options, the option to just put the phone to silent and there is always the option of deactivating it through its functions. Does it not damage the phone and possibly mess up the settings to do it that way? Also, it does not exactly seem convenient to take apart your phone and reassemble it in a while.
"I will yank you out and get rid of that pesky fear of commitment!"
One of my personal favorites would have to be how small Seoul feels through dramas. Mainly because many characters who live and work in different areas seem to always bump into each other in a series. Be it in cafes, busses or in other such locations, they just happen to be walking the same streets for no reason. It's quite a funny thing to see, but also goes to show how drama writing in Korea has many problems and overall cheap amateurish tricks which often go by unnoticed. Obviously, characters need to meet for the plot to advance, but one can only write in so many "chance encounters" before it becomes obvious for what it is. An easy, uncreative and unrealistic way to bring said characters into the same scene.
Closing with one of the positive things, it's always nice to see good and human relationships in kdrama. Grandfathers and grandmothers are often good sources of family affection and cute scolding, but it's also nice to see lovers or friends be so comfortable with each other. And let's not forget all the lovely small details which show that closeness. Coming from a culture which is very big on intimacy, affection and generally expressing of emotions and thoughts, it's always nice to see these tidbits of warmth and humanity in characters, be it family members, lovers or friends. Unfortunately, a lot of series skip those for more "controlled" situations, but when they do pop up, they are very endearing and make a show special.
"Coffee Prince" was the first time I saw such warmth and intimacy in an Asian work
The list frankly goes on and on and I will try to talk about as many of these as possible here, hopefully sparking some comments on them as well, but I tried picking something from many categories that have come up, for the first post.
Different people experience cultures in different ways. Some might know persons from another culture, actively read about and research another culture or become subjected to it through art and entertainment. Many of us have contact with Korean culture in more than one ways; we read news, we have Korean acquaintances, but others only have pop culture to go by. A lot of us might be in the dark about all these issues and that creates these very interesting conversations and questions.
Hopefully, these articles might answer some of these questions and serve to show how diverse Korean entertainment fandom is, how people perceive of certain aspects of Korean dramas and how much those may differ between cultures, or perhaps be unexpectedly similar.