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K-Dramas, the Center of Hallyu

In the first half of this year, Korea recorded the first surplus in the trade of culture and arts copyright for the new Korean Wave, Hallyu content, like K-pop and K-dramas. In particular, K-drama is spreading like a craze all over the world through over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Netflix. Reed Hastings, a co-chief executive officer (CEO) of Netflix said that K-drama is loved worldwide, pointing out popular dramas Crash Landing on You and Kingdom. Nowadays, K-dramas are getting more popularity and greater influence even in America and India. Regarding this rise in popularity, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) is going to look at the growth of K-dramas, the reason for their popularity, and their prospects for the future.

What Is K-Drama?

The History of Hallyu

Hallyu, also known as the Korean Wave, refers to the phenomenal growth in Korean culture’s global popularity and consumption. Hallyu began in the late 1990s as the South Korean government began to foster the entertainment industry to overcome the massive financial crisis. At that time, the entertainment industry was rapidly growing after the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Thus, the government developed the industry by benchmarking successful global content cases in countries such as the United States (US) and Japan. By emphasizing low prices, Korean pop contents first carved out its market in Hongkong, Taiwan, and China. Then, they gradually made inroads into other Asian markets like Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Nowadays, Hallyu has become a global phenomenon, not limited to just Asian countries, and leads worldwide pop culture encompassing drama, music, and cinema.

The Presence of K-Dramas in Hallyu

K-dramas first drove Hallyu, and the popularity of K-drama gradually led the consumers to be interested in other Korean contents. For example, after South Korea and China formally established diplomatic relations in 1992, many K-dramas were exported to China and attracted Chinese viewers. Now, China has become one of the largest markets for various Korean contents. Like this case, K-drama played a significant role in spreading the popularity of Korean contents throughout the world. Also, it has consistently influenced overseas markets and proved its influence with high sales. Jewel in the Palace, also known as Dae Jang Geum that aired from 2003 to 2004, is one example. Having been exported to 91 countries, the show has earned more than 40 million dollars and contributed to promoting Korea’s positive national image. Therefore, it is not exaggerating to say that K-dramas claim the throne of Hallyu. Today K-dramas, along with K-pop and K-cinema, takes a central place in Hallyu and brings massive economic benefits. For instance, according to the Observer, Crash Landing on You ranked 6th on The 10 Most- Watched Shows & Movies on Netflix During Social Isolation list. The production company of Crash Landing on You recorded the firms’ best-ever performance with about 140 million dollars in sales in the second quarter of 2020 with substantial growth in overseas sales. Apart from Crash Landing on You, many other K-dramas are achieving great success worldwide and consistently expanding the market.

Jewel in the Palace (imbc.com)

Why the World Is Enthusiastic about K-Dramas?

Development of Digital Media: OTT

OTT refers to a service that provides various media contents like dramas and movies through the Internet, and Netflix and YouTube are common examples of OTT players. OTT is rapidly growing in the entertainment market, thanks to good accessibility. People can see contents regardless of their nationalities, and the government constantly invests in K-dramas. Recently, K-drama became a craze in Japan despite the sometimes unpleasant relationship between Korea and Japan. The reason this situation could happen is the spread of OTT services. TV dramas can be easily interrupted by various situations; however, people can enjoy K-dramas on OTT platforms regardless of location. Also, Netflix had 182.9 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2020 and decided to secure Korean contents to catch the global market in the future. After the foundation of Disney Plus, a new OTT platform, Netflix is trying to have Korean contents much more because Disney no longer provides the Marvel series and Disney animated movies to Netflix. Netflix expanded investment to 333.1 billion won for Korean contents, and the investment scale increased in four years compared to 15 billion in 2016.

High Quality of K-Drama

While K-dramas in the old days relied on romantic clichés, the latest K-drama shows are high quality in story and direction which means they catch on better in North America, Europe, and the rest of Asia. Stranger, which ranked on The Best TV Shows of 2017 by The New York Times became an issue for the realistic storyline and good directing. Unlike other American dramas having different plots for every episode, Stranger unfolds only one story throughout the whole 16 episodes. Also, to make it more like a film, the director used hand-held shooting and a one-take technique when shooting a long scene, which is normally used in documentaries and the news. These techniques make the scene seem as if the moment of the real stage is taken, and it helps viewers to observe a very sensitive emotional line by shooting actors closer. For another example, though many zombie dramas have already been made, Kingdom was a real hit worldwide. Kingdom delivered its story through a nobleman in the Joseon Dynasty trying to solve lots of problems that happened between other nobles and the people. Also, Kingdom is distinct from other traditional zombie movies in terms of its settings as Kingdom shows the contrast between beautiful palaces and dynamic fighting zombies, while traditional movies are generally set during the collapse of civilization.

Kingdom (cine21.com)

How K-Dramas Will Change?

The Prospect of K-Dramas

According to a survey in a Hallyu White Paper (2019) led by the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE), the prospect of Korean culture contents was positive. The response that consumer’s expenditure of Korean contents will increase a year later showed 43.2% of all. Also, the reason that K-dramas have a bright future is because of the development of YouTube web dramas. One of the YouTube web drama channels, Love Playlist, has over 980,000 subscribers from Indonesia and Japan, and Love Playlist’s original web drama Eighteen, recorded 100 million views for the first time for web dramas. The production cost of web dramas is one-sixth of TV dramas, and all people from all around the world can watch them for free on YouTube. Thus, K-dramas seem to have spread more all over the world for a new form of web drama.

Love Playlist season3 Poster in Japan (Playlist Japan Youtube)

The Direction of How K-Dramas Should Change

1. Understanding of Sensitive Global Issues

K-dramas tend to be inconsiderate of critical global issues such as racism and gender equality. For example, the recent K-drama Backstreet Rookie, aired from this June to August, was criticized for producing a racist scene. In Backstreet Rookie, Han Dal-sik, one of the main characters, was represented as a huge fan of African culture, always wearing reggae style clothes with dreadlocks. The problem was that Dal-sik was characterized to be unhygienic, and there was even one scene that shows a fly flying around him to emphasize his dirtiness. This is extremely racist and disrespectful to African culture, but the production line did not apologize. As K-drama seeks to expand its overseas market and tries to attract international viewers, producers must consider such sensitive global issues. If they continue to produce K-dramas that feature discriminative ideas, it might implant negative prejudices about Korea among foreigners. Plus, Korean contents, not only K-dramas, might even be boycotted. Therefore, the producers must be aware of these potential issues and consider sensitive issues when producing a drama series.

Dal-sik from Backstreet Rookie (sbs.co.kr)

2. Reuse of Previous Contents

Reusing drama series that were very popular in the past can help increase K-dramas’ popularity in the overseas market. For example, the American comedy series, Friends, is still loved by many people, although the series ended in 2004. One of the secrets for its popularity is that it was re-exposed continuously to new markets through OTT platforms. Also, when they re-exposed the show, the producers edited some scenes that could now be considered controversial. Like this case, if K-drama producers re-expose past content on OTT services by editing and adding proper subtitles, it might attract many international viewers. For example, the High Kick! series was viral in Korea, but it was poorly introduced to foreigners. Although it was uploaded on YouTube, the subtitles in other languages are low quality and hard to understand. If the show is reformed with good subtitles and re-exposed through OTT platforms, it might attract many new international viewers. This method is both economical and practical, for it requires a little budget and reuses content that was already verified with competitiveness by Korean viewers.

Various K-dramas like Crash Landing on You, Stranger, and Kingdom are capturing the world’s attention. Among the many different contents on OTT services, K-dramas are chosen and loved by the public with their high quality. As OTT faces a surge in usage and new sign-ups due to social distancing and quarantine affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the K-drama industry must try its best to increase and maintain its reputation. For K-dramas to keep promoting Korean culture and boosting the economy as a center of Hallyu, the industry should continuously reflect and develop.

서혜준, 허유정  sdw11882@g.skku.edu, yjheo@g.skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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