[KS] Korean Teledramas

Steven Capener sotaebu at yahoo.com
Thu Nov 3 09:45:52 EST 2005

Dear all,
   Thanks to Mr. Ewing for pointing out the recurrence of themes in Korean teledramas. As a matter of fact, the "formula" of such dramas is easily as, if not more, limited than the soap operas that Mr. Mueller refers to. I have been watching them for 16 years and they have yet to significantly vary from several very obvious and easily identifiable themes. The social engineering aspects of these shows, read the constructed nature of society, are not hard to discern. What I mean by this is the mesaage that under a certain set of circumstances, we will usually see similar reactions or situations vis-a-vis characters in the drama. For example, the ad naseum tropes of jilted or disgruntled men drinking themselves into oblivion in a 'soju tent', or the "hwa byong' anger sickness of the mother or mother-in-law when her demands are not meet; the kind but poor cast-off daughter of the rich parent who accidentally meets her priveliged brother, the ever-popular love triangle, the accident that
 nearly takes the life of a key character at a crucial juncture in the plot and around whom the other main characters gather in a hospital room to ruminate sadly on their neglegence of said character. It goes on and on ad naseum. These may sound like trivial examples, but, the amazing thing is that over the years, they continue to reappear in thier 'original' forms. As to the original soundtracks, there may be something to this, but what I have always been struck by is how a western song can be newly popular due to its use in a drama and the overwhelming use of western music in these drams. 
   The current fad is to base a drama in a foreign(read exotic) location where the same domestic conflicts are played out aganst a backdrop of non-Korean settings and faces. 
   There are, of course, some exceptions such as Morae Shigae, which truly had the feel of a well-written film. However, the important thing is that, generally speaking, there are several dramas with similar, rehashed plots playing simultaneously on different channels during prime time viewing on any given evening(a point that needs to be made when comparing them to soap operas which play in the middle of the afternoon). 
   If I have grossly mistated the facts, I humbly await instruction on the matter.
Best reagrds,
Steven D. Capener 

Stefan Ewing <sa_ewing at hotmail.com> wrote:
Dear KS list members:

Certainly, one would think that a good course could now be constructed, 
based upon the raw material provided by so many decent teledramas. (I take 
it Charles Mueller is referring to _yo^nsokkuk_: serial dramas. One 
additional advantage they have over North American serials would be the fact 
that they eventually end, and all their storylines are resolved--quite 
unlike programs here in North America that can go on for decades without 
ever coming to an end!)

Historical dramas such as _Yain Sidae_ or _Yo^ngung Sidae_ (although not 
really serial dramas) would be good to work with. A workplace drama would 
provide material for learning about day-to-day Korean culture (workplace 
etiquette; _hoesiks_; and so on). A family drama that deals with 
engagement, marriage, and/or divorce, and relations between daugters-in-law 
and mothers-in-law (as they all seem to do) might be fruitful, too.

One thing that strikes me about Korean teledramas is the recurrence of 
certain basic themes or motifs: two sisters, for example, one of whom is 
poor, adopted, and mistreated but ultimately prevails over the other, rich, 
spoiled sister. Or the lovers destined by fate to be together but whose 
relationship cannot begin until the very end of the drama, because of all 
the obstacles thrown up by the writers (class issues, the objections of 
families, a third person, etc.).

In fact, there seem to be endless permuations on such themes, let alone any 
others that are used but which I can't think of right now. Is it even 
possible--I am merely asking and certainly not speculating--that such dramas 
have historical roots in, say, _p'ansori_ (anciently) or the influence of 
Japanese drama (in more modern times)? (For example, could the two-sisters 
motif be a throwback to, say, the story of Hu^ngbu and Nolbu?)

Yours sincerely,
Stefan Ewing


>From: Charles Mark Mueller 
>Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List 
>To: Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
>Subject: [KS] Korean Teledramas
>Date: Tue, 1 Nov 2005 13:27:31 -0800 (PST)
>I would agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that more attention be
>paid to Korean tele-dramas. I think it's unfortunate that people
>sometimes refer to this genre as "Korean soaps" as this term conjures
>up memories of the mindless pabulum served up on U.S. TV. Personally, I
>think Korean teledramas are often superior to the films coming out of
>Hollywood. They have deep and complex character development,
>sound-tracks (often created for the particular show) that stand on
>their own as good pieces of music, and excellent dialog that often
>entails complex inuendo and humor. The shows also lack obvert
>sexuality, and as a result, focus on telling good stories instead of
>providing sexual titillation for porn addicts.
>They also deal with class and social issues that are oddly taboo in the
>U.S. To this, one could add that the casting is strikingly progressive.
>On a couple shows now, I've seen handicapped characters playing parts
>in which the handicap never appeared as an issue. I'm favorably
>impressed with much of what I see on Korean TV.

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