[KS] Korean Teledramas

Angela Jin jinangela at hotmail.com
Thu Nov 3 13:56:34 EST 2005

On the face, yes, they do look like they are based on formula.  Just as 
there are popular elements of any popular movie, TV show, or book that 
writers would employ, there are similar ones in Korean teledramas.  After 
all, they're entertainment.  However, unless Korean society and people have 
remained exactly the same since the beginning of teledramas, then it would 
be impossible for teledramas, produced by people whose livelihood is based 
on staying on top of the trends, to not have then changed with the times as 

I think the discussion also involves the traditional, bigger issues of the 
study of popular culture.  How can we and why should we study it?

----Original Message Follows----
From: Steven Capener <sotaebu at yahoo.com>
Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Subject: Re: [KS] Korean Teledramas
Date: Thu, 3 Nov 2005 06:45:52 -0800 (PST)

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 

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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