Archive for June, 2016

I just sent this out in the format of a really, really long e-mail to a few of my friends who have just had their curiosities about K-Dramas piqued after watching Dramaworld. So I figured I might as well post this to the blog that I haven’t posted in in four years.

So, without further ado, Clara’s K-Drama Primer.


Let me introduce you to the ridiculous world of K-Dramas.

First of all, K-Dramas do not shy away from the cliche and are very, very formulaic. But very, very addicting. Generally, dramas are only one season long, so when you get to the end of the drama, it’s the end. The story’s closed. (Although, many dramas are written as they are filmed, so the ending isn’t necessarily sealed tight with continuity and stuff…) There are also daily dramas, which are broadcast every day and are akin to soaps/telenovelas.
There are also different genres within the K-Drama genre, so I’ll go genre by genre and tell you about some of my faves:
The historical drama, or a sageuk, is a period piece. These are set in Korean history and generally revolve around a famous Korean historical figure. They’re longer (can be up to like 200 eps) and you get the costumes (People wear hanboks, which are Korean traditional costumes. Traditional hairstyles for women include these ginormous braids wrapped around heads, sometimes embellished with like jewelry, depending on the status of the lady) and the historical language (with thirds explaining what some key phrases mean). These dramas often grapple with issues of social hierarchy and politics, and also often include archery fights and such.
Now, you can’t talk about K-Drama without talking about the one drama that really started the whole “Korean wave” of K-entertainment being popular around the world:
* Jewel in the Palace / Daejanggeum {대장금} (2003)
This drama was an international sensation; it was exported to 91 countries and launched the star, Lee Youngae, to stardom. I actually am watching it right now and haven’t finished it yet (It’s 170 eps long).
The show centers on Janggeum, who was a real historical figure. (Very) long story short, Janggeum was the first female royal physician in the Joseon Dynasty. The series basically takes you through her entire life, starting with her birth (and prophecy about her!), and then her time as a young palace kitchen maid, and eventually her path towards becoming a royal physician. Also, fun fact, one of the queens that you meet in this series is from the same Yoon clan that I am.
You can watch it (all of the links I share will be with English subtitles) here: https://www.viki.com/tv/614c-jewel-in-the-palace
Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) | A lot more lighthearted and for a younger crowd (The stars in it are popular with teens. One of them is a boyband member), about a girl disguising herself as a boy to study at the top school
Queen Seondeok (2009) | I found it a bit dry at points, but Queen Seondeok is one of my fave historical figures. She was a reigning queen of Silla (For some of Korea’s history, it was divided in three kingdoms, one of them including Silla.) and Wikipedia tells me she was the second female sovereign in East Asian history. She was really intelligent, and encouraged the pursuit of knowledge and had built the first astronomical observatory of Asia or something. As for the drama itself, it was still enjoyable, and Goh Hyunjung as the villain is phenomenal.
Well, the romcom K-drama is actually a huge genre and there are numerous subgenres within. But let’s start with another seminal drama that actually I would really recommend as a great entry point to K-drama:
So the name Samsoon is an old-fashioned name and literally means third daughter (It’s kinda like being named Ethel or Myrtle or something like that). Played by Kim Sunah, Samsoon is like in her 30s or almost 30 or something (Yes, because that is considered old) and is basically hopeless. She’s a pastry chef and encounters the archetypal wealthy asshole, Jinheon, played by the heartthrob Hyunbin. There’s a second male lead and a villainous rival for love with a history with Jinheon, of course. It’s often described as a Korean Bridget Jones. It is delightful. (Also the second lead is played by the half-Korean Daniel Henney who is also very very handsome. He’s from Michigan!)
* SECRET GARDEN {시크릿 가든} (2010)
As you probably noticed in Dramaworld, there are often fantasy elements in dramas. This drama was huge when it was airing (I remember going home, and each member of my family was holed up in their own room, watching this drama. Just different episodes of it because we were all at different places.). Another one with Hyunbin as the male lead! This is a bodyswapping drama. It is ludicrous but very very enjoyable.
Now this isn’t the most popular of high school dramas; that would probably go to the one you started watching, Schuyler, Boys Over Flowers, or Heirs was also very popular. But I didn’t watch any of those because, as I said, I personally don’t find the lead guys attractive, so there you go. This drama, Princess Hours, was actually the first drama I watched independently in like high school, maybe? Before then, I would watch with my parents sometimes. But with the burgeoning power of the internet, I came across this one. I’ve always liked Yoon Eunhye since she was a member of the idol girl group Baby V.O.X, so I’ve watched a bunch of her dramas. In this drama, Korea is still a monarchy, and Yoon Eunhye thought she was an average, everyday girl (who of course is endearingly klutzy, awkward, etc. etc.). But she finds out that she is actually betrothed to the Crown Prince of Korea, who is, of course, arrogant and powerful. There’s a younger Prince who is also in love with her and the noble female lead who had been in love with the main Prince for years.
Watch here: https://www.dramafever.com/drama/3/Goong/

Coffee Prince (2007) | Another Yoon Eunhye drama. This is another masquerading-as-boy drama, but I would argue that this is the drama that really popularized that trope in dramas and also (somewhat) grappled with the resulting questions about sexuality and such.
Full House (2004) | Not related to the American family sitcom. I watched this a long time ago, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you what this was about? Except I do remember it has a very popular trope – the dating contract. Ah yes, the very common occurrence of pretending to be dating when you don’t actually like each other but secretly do like each other. This stars the singer-who-was-supposed-to-also-make-it-big-in-America (He battled with Colbert!) Rain / Bi and also another big star, Song Hyekyo.
Reply 1997 (2012) | Didn’t watch this, but this series has been huge. Basically, it’s a ‘retro’ series in that all the shows take place in the year in the title – There’s Reply 1997, 1994, and 1988. Reply 1997 was the first of the series. Also, there are characters who aren’t from Seoul and who thus speak with satoori, or dialect. This also skews younger in terms of intended audience, as many of the actors in this are also idol singers.
K-drama has moved away from this a little bit, but I wanna say maybe in like the early 2000’s, it was all about the melodrama. There is a lot of betrayal and a lot of weeping and lots and lots of tragedy tropes that you’ll see: amnesia, cancer, mothers-of-the-male-lead who hate the female lead…
NICE GUY / THE INNOCENT MAN {세상 어디에도 없는 착한남자} (2012)
This is actually one of my favorite dramas. The acting and chemistry between the leads in this is fantastic and I feel like it turns a lot of tropes on their heads, though yes, it does involve amnesia. This doesn’t really feel like a love story in a lot of ways, as both leads are kinda terrible people? Eungi (played by the lovely Moon Chaewon) is a wealthy heiress, and she is cold and calculating. Maru (played by the also lovely Song Joongki) had his heart broken and is now a dick, and basically, everybody uses everybody and this drama will do a number on your heart.
LOVERS IN PARIS {파리의 연인} (2004)
I remember watching a few eps of this with my mom (and her fellow Korean mom friends) when it was airing, but I actually haven’t watched this on my own all the way through yet. But from what I remember, I think this is rightfully placed in melodrama rather than romcom. This is part of a trilogy (Lovers in Paris, Lovers in Prague, and Lovers. The protagonist in Lovers in Prague has the exact same Korean name as me!). I do remember that everybody was outraged at the ending of this, though. So just be forewarned. The theme song is also iconic.
Shining Inheritance (2009) | Definitely had the whole poor, heart-of-gold girl encountering the rich-guy-who-has-everything-and-yet-knows-nothing-about-the-world thing. I watched this because the actor who played the lead guy, Lee Seungki, was my ideal type (He started his career as a singer and has also been a longtime member of a variety show called 1 Night 2 Days. Variety shows are a whole ‘nother beast though. I also say was because my interest in him has since waned…) You’ll also notice that Moon Chaewon from Nice Guy is here as the (evil) second female lead!
– Stairway to Heaven (2003) | Didn’t watch this either, but this is definitely a melodrama. There’s cancer, amnesia, and basically all of the tragedy tropes packed into this drama. All of the leads in this drama are big stars, as well.
Winter Sonata (2002) | Another leading drama of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. Haven’t watched it, so I can’t really speak to it, but it was immensely popular. The lead guy in it, Bae Yongjoon, got so popular with Japanese middle-aged women that he has a nickname ‘Yong-sama’ which means ‘Emperor Yong.’
I feel like action / crime / horror / scifi K-dramas generally tend to be based off of movies that had already made it big (Movies and comics/internet novels are popular sources for stories of dramas). There are lots of kkangpaes, or gangsters that inhabit this world, though tbh I don’t really watch that many of those kinds of dramas. But I enjoy these genres in general, so in case you do too:
* NINE TIME TRAVELS {나인: 아홉 반의 시간여행} (2013)
I believe this drama has been bought to be remade in the US. So watch it before it gets made into a terrible remake! As you can guess from the title, it’s about time travel. As often is the case in these dramas, there’s a terrible wrong that happens and our hero wants to fix it. In this case, the lead guy’s dad was killed and the lead doesn’t think it was an accident. But of course, time travel has its consequences…
* GOD’S GIFT: 14 DAYS {신의 선물: 14일} (2014)
Also bought to be remade in the US. The premise of this one is that the lead’s daughter is kidnapped and killed, but then she (as in the mom, played by Lee Boyoung) suddenly finds that she can go back in time 14 days before it happens. She gets help from kinda-scoundrel-y ex-cop Ki Dongchan. The monologue in the second episode, I believe, by Lee Boyoung is incredible. People are divided in opinion on the ending, but I for one liked it and thought this was overall, a really great drama.
* SIGNAL {시그널} (2016)
Based loosely off an excellent movie, Memories of Murder (Directed by famous director Bong Joonho who also directed Snowpiercer with Chris Evans. The real-life serial killings focused on in the movie is really only in like one episode of the drama). More time travel business in a way (it’s a popular mechanism, obviously) but in the form of a walkie-talkie that transmits across time. It’s a little bit of a crime-of-the-week format, but everything is tied together in an overarching narrative that is intense and heartbreaking.
Ghost-Seeing Detective Cheoyong (2014) | One of the few series that has had multiple seasons! But this is a cable show (as opposed to one from the main three broadcasting stations – SBS, MBC, KBS) so the rules are a little different. As you can guess from the title, the show is about a detective, Cheoyong (played by Oh Jiho) who sees ghosts, including the ghost of a cute high school girl (played by Jeon Hyosung, who is a member of my favorite girl group, Secret. Her groupmate, Han Sunhwa, is also in God’s Gift: 14 Days). Also crime-of-the-week but with an overarching story arc.
There are lots of dramas that I haven’t watched that are supposed to be really good, so this is limited to my knowledge of dramas. Which, looking back, this is a long primer, whoops. But hope you enjoy!!!

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