In the young grown-up Korean drama Record of Youth, when an aspiring actor named Sa Hye-jun inquired of his girlfriend Ahn Jeong-ha, a make-up artist, consent to kiss her, the minds of many fans were blown. The male protagonist, portrayed by Park Bo-gum, had asked for consent from the female lead, played by Park So-dam, featured in the multiple Oscar-winning film Parasite.
“Permission? In a K-drama?? I have tears of joy for K-dramas evolving so much,” remarked a fan on the YouTube video of the scene.
The high-school-ish yet harmful tale of the little girl falling for the bad boy with a heart of gold, like in the famous Boys Over Flowers, has given way to K-dramas like Run, that exhibited the romance between an ex-athlete and his interpreter, and Hot Stove League where there is no relationship between the lead protagonists.
K-content has gone huge across the globe in recent years, containing in India, and Koreans believe it has a lot to do with the ability of the country to offer mixture, track trends in the global market and revisit stereotypes.
Visual effects artist Hayoung Jo said she binge-watches K-dramas once or twice a year to “catch up with the trends and watch the most highlighted shows”.
Jo, who shifted from Siheung-si city, Gyeonggi-do region in South Korea to Toronto around seven years ago, likes these dramas because of the “cultural background”.
“I feel more attached to the Korean culture than western culture and that makes me easily resonate with the characters in the drama scenes,” she added.
According to Jo, K-dramas are undergoing some “good changes”.
“For example, there was a prevailing idea that women should get married before their 30s to raise their kids, but now the female characters in K-dramas are mostly over 30 and more career-oriented compared to the woman in the ’90s-’00s, which is reflecting the idea of gender equality in Korean society,” the VFX artist, who has helped on the famous Disney Plus series The Mandalorian, said.
K-drama lovers accept that specific tropes have been done to death in the shows and one sub-genre that needs to go away is the ‘Cinderella’ story. Many hit series comprising Secret Garden, featuring Ha Ji-won and Hyun Bin, and Coffee Prince, captioning Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun-Hye, have used the fairytale as the outline in the past.
“I am glad that K-dramas are trying new things other than Cinderella stories; they are too lame,” Jo added.
Min Kim, a Toronto-based VFX artist who is native to Busan, explained the usual 12-or 16-episode layout makes for a crisp plot.
“We can watch two episodes weekly as they drop. It is relaxing to watch a K-drama after work with my family makes the storyline quite intense,” the VFX artist, who has helped on the survival action series Greenland and Amazon’s hit superhero series The Boys, said.
Ga-Yeon Kim, who comes from Seoul’s Gangnam district, said she was tired of the powerful female character stereotype in K-dramas where the woman may seem “headstrong and outspoken” but the show would use these personality traits to ultimately fuel a romance.
“I felt that K-dramas have rewarded females who are easily swayed and have punished or labelled the character as a bad person if they were confident in what is right for them. I think K-dramas should celebrate, humanise, and diversify the types of women by championing their success even if it exceeds the success of male characters without villainising them,” the Toronto-based elementary public school teacher told PTI.
She, still, had a change of heart after her mother informed her that there are “improvements” in the new dramas, such as It’s Ok To Not Be Okay and Kill Me Heal Me, dramas that handled mental health issues and childhood trauma.
“I find this to be great news because there are so many issues in Korea and around the world that need to be addressed such as mental health, equal rights, poverty, etc.”
With all things Korean running global, Ga-Yeon Kim thinks the explanation behind the content attaining momentum is the competence of the Korean industry in researching and reproducing what people have liked in the past.
She continued, “Korea is also great at innovating and adding on to these dramas, movies, and music. For instance, I hear that K-dramas and K-pop are adhering to current relatable problems faced by the younger audience, such as anxiety, depression, work-home balance, etc.”
Jo said K-pop, through bands like BTS and Blackpink, and dramas had synergy effects on the rising interest in Korean content around the world.
“If a K-drama gains popularity, people may also pay attention to K-pop and vice versa. As many people overseas noticed K-culture and its value, they are digging hidden gems too which never caught interest from people before,” she added.
Inquired what could be the contributing factors to the surging global attention in the country, BTS member Jung Kook told PTI last year, “We believe youth Korean culture is very beautiful and attractive, which is portrayed through diverse contents such as movies, dramas, music, etc. As artists representing South Korea, we also want to share this with the rest of the world.”
Beomgyu, a member of the Korean boy group TXT, said South Korea narrates “relatable stories” which makes them resonate around the world.
“Wherever you may be or wherever you’re from, I think our shared experiences of living through these times together serve as the basis for stories that many people can relate to. I’d like to say that that’s the biggest reason why many people are resonating with our stories and culture now,” he told PTI in June 2021.