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One of my favourite interests and pastimes is watching Korean TV dramas and movies......as most Asians probably know, Korean TV dramas, movies and pop culture have become phenomenally successful and popular in many Asian countries such as China;Taiwan; HK; Vietnam;Japan; Malaysia;Singapore; and many other countries.....the current 'Korean Wave' seemed impossible a mere 5 years back when South Korean stars and entertainment were hardly known outside Korea and were difficult to obtain. Now, South Korean TV dramas and movies have clearly replaced the once supreme dominant influence of Japanese TV dramas and movies....the 'Korean Wave' i believe is even stronger than the Japanese Wave which has recently declined in popularity: I come to this conclusion because of two main reasons: (1) Unlike the Japanese Wave which was hugely popular throughout the late 80's and entire 90's period, the passion for Korean TV dramas and movies now has spread not only amongst the younger generation (the Japanese TV Drama craze was mainly a younger generation thing) but has won over the hearts of many middle-aged and older audiences also. (2) The Korean Wave is bigger than the Japanese wave also because unlike the Japanese Wave whereby the presence was not felt as much in some countries such as China, Malaysia, and Vietnam, the Korean Wave has taken even these countries by storm showing that it has a wider appeal.
Now, i would like to anaylse some possible reasons for the Korean Wave which is showing no signs of cooling down since it first emerged back in 2001:
Firstly, many people have already attempted to find out why Korean pop culture and entertainment has become so popular in Asia in recent years given how small South Korea is compared to neighbouring China and Japan and how its culture, political, and economic power has been overshadowed by China and Japan. At first glance, especially to Westerners who are even more ignorant about things concerning Korea and most probably wouldn't even know that a Korean Wave is booming across Asia now, it may seem strange how this comparatively ignored country has recently been able to so successfully export its cultural products overseas and increased awareness and liking for all things Koreans. For Chinese culture and entertainment to be popular is probably not very surprising given China's prominence now, the high status of Chinese civilisation for thousands of centuries and the huge overseas Chinese population. For Japanese culture and entertainment to be popular is also probably not that surprising given Japan's economic power as the world's second largest economy and one of the most developed nations in the world and thus the fact that Japan is a nation that many Asians aspire their own nations to become like in terms of wealth naturally means that many would like all things Japanese too.
Current explanations of why Korean entertainment and cultural products eg. TV drama+films are so popular usually revolve around the fact that they reflect traditional Confucian values and uphold filial piety, traditional female virtues and close-knit families as virtuous which has captured the hearts of many fellow Asians with similar cultural backgrounds. It is said that Chinese and Japanese TV dramas have lost those traditional values and thus many are turning to Korean dramas. I agree with this analysis. However, i think there is a bigger and much more important factor for the Korean TV drama craze which has not been mentioned by any analysis i have read so far. This is a blatantly obvious one and i suspect that media analysts have not mentioned it cos as with much of the media, they are still inherently chauvinistic and analyse things from a male-dominant perspective.
Below are the main factors which i think are blatantly obvious as to why Korean dramas have become immensely popular in Asia in recent years:
(1) Firstly, hasnt' anyone realised how extremely good looking and hot the Korean actors are in the TV dramas? Almost all the Korean actors are extremely good looking with SUPERB AND SEXY bodies. This is definitely one pull factor for the popularity given that the fan base is mainly composed of women (though there is also a growing male fan base too, a significant one too although many may be embarassed to admit that they love Korean TV dramas given how Korean TV dramas are associated with pure love and fantasy-like romance) This is compared to the Chinese and Japanese Entertainment industry where the guys are almost all either average looking, abit ugly and even below average that you think how they became popular in the first place....this is especially the case with Japanese actors who are simply most of the time average looking or even i dare say below average....all Chinese and Japanese actors simply do not care enough about their bodies as much as Koreans and thus on average do not have hot bodies.....i hope i do not insult anyone but seriously, if you think about it, many Chinese and Japanese actors simply do not measure up...HK dramas for instance mostly have really average looking actors and are only recently improving by putting on more good looking and younger guys whilst Japanese actors are simply the least appealing and average looking out of the three nations....I think the reason why Chinese and Japanese media have more average looking or not so good looking male actors is due to the media being influenced by chauvinistic and male-dominated values which places emphasis on the sexualisation of women's bodies(thus beautiful and young actresses in Chinese;Japanese showbiz) whilst purposely demanding less of men such that by putting on average looking guys, it will unconciously influence women to view average or ugly guys as desirable which in turn would benefit males in real life. This may sound conspiratorial and loony but you'll be surprised how much the media can influence us and also how unneutral the media is.....currently the media is still controlled by men which means their interest (women) will be emphasised. In Korea, the media is controlled by men as well but curiously the male directors and script writers have somehow managed to produce dramas from a women's perspective and addressing women's needs which obviously means a focus on the male character and his physical appearance.
(2) Another reason is how well the women are treated in Korean TV dramas. In Chinese TV dramas, the women are treated generally well but not to the extent of Kor-Dramas and in Japanese dramas, i am sorry i will have to express my great indignation and protest at the portrayal of women in Japanese dramas. Firstly, Japanese women are often treated extremely badly in Japanese dramas and the worst thing is that they try to romanticise it so that female audiences are supposed to think bad treatment is simply....well not bad treatment but romantic treatment after all...this occurs NOT Only in Japanese TV dramas but in other Asian TV dramas also such as (read from a report analysis) Thai. One example i will pick out is the famous drama Beautiful Life by the top Japanese actor Kimura. In the drama, he treats the female character extremely poorly and is cold towards her and has an attitude problem....she however despite being treated poorly continues to love him and try to please him...this occurs in many Japanese dramas (the reason why i always get really angry and frustrated and have stopped watching J dramas after giving it many chances) I mean how can any woman with self-respect put up with the shit the guy is giving her???? The drama however attempts to portray Kimura's coldness as 'being cool' and the actresses character as being romantic and virtuous. This occurs in another drama called Cheap Love again by this really popular Japanese actor (forgot his Japanese name) whereby he is a gangster and falls for a respectable woman. They tried to make the female character look bad by showing how she dumps the guy after a one night stand and showing how hurt the guy is.....BUT THEN in an unforgivable scene, the gangster has to get a porn movie made and i cannot remember why but he requested his sidekick to rape the female character so that he could film it as a porn movie......and he only relented after she is screaming and crying trying to brush off his sidekick as her clothes are ripped off then after such a long time he stops his sidekick and she finds out everything and runs.....he chases after her and then piggybacks her home as it is raining and she is all dishevelled....she also forgives him.....the director and script person and producer seemed to want to portray the guy as so romantic piggy backing her and how it was all the woman's fault for the attempted rape for her dumping the guy after the one night stand.....i mean hello, was i the only one to feel deeply disgusted and disturbed at the scene? Which woman with common sense and dignity and can still love a guy who asks someone to rape her so that he can make a porn video out of it even if he regrets like after 2 whole minutes of her screaming and crying?? Even if he is a gangster it is unacceptable and i didn't finish the drama as i found it so degrading for women....this is common in Japanese dramas where they have average looking to below average actors , which would not be such a big deal BUT who also almost always have really shitty personalities and a beautiful young female character who continues to put up with his shit and love the male character despite his ugle looks and worst, his cold and unromantic personality.....this is disturbing as the above 2 mentioned and countless others are hugely popular and this may affect society in that Japanese women will start liking and feeling average or ugly guys with shitty personalities are actually good looking and 'being cool' and also try to please guys......Korean dramas are the complete opposite and i feel surpass even American dramas in coming from a women's perspective.....
Korean dramas are well knowns for their focus on pure innocent love (a female associated value though by no means trying to imply sex is not important to women) and also the guys are almost perfect in the dramas being invariably sweet, good looking, sensitive, have great bodies, and cry often thus showing their soft side which many women like. There are too many examples to point out but i have watched tons of Korean dramas the above descriptions fit into most.....for instance Korean dramas always have guys crying over love and being the one trying to win the woman's heart whilst the woman is more reluctant (though she also loves him and is never blatantly mean and cold hearted but just constrained by societal pressure and social barriers) The Korean male protagonist wil turn up in all places to try to win the woman's heart and is willing to sacrifice alot for love telling the girl that they can overcome all obstacles and is always sweet and charming and never demands sex. Korean dramas are also the only ones i have seen where guys cry almost every other episode and the portrayal is extremely heart wrenching and beautiful and never like a sissy but more a masculine guy with a soft heart and crying out of love for the girl.....this i am sure attracts many women who like guys who care deeply above love but who are unable to see guys expressing emotions and strongness regarding romance in Chinese and Japanese dramas......the dramas are really good forms of indirect influence on society such that it promotes less chauvinism on the part of men and teaches them how to respect and treat women as well as encouranges men not to concentrate so much on the sexual aspect of relationships but to also value the pure emotional part of it too. It further tells men that it is ok to cry over love and there is no need for unneeded self-censorship of feelings....many may criticise that K-dramas are fantasies and unrealistic but society does change and by only showing dramas which reflect how society is now, it would never change.....for instance no one would say that govt textbooks promoting non-discrimination or campaigns to end sexual violence are unrealistic even if we know both discrimination and sexual violence would be hard to completely eliminate thus the same applies to Korean dramas, at the very least they provide an ideal goal of what men should become more like instead of Japanese dramas which only seek to reinforce current inequalities whilst attempting to romanticise and normalise the gender inequalities...further it is doubtful how much Japanese dramas really reflect real life Japanese men given that since i am currently living in Tokyo, i feel the dramas do not really reflect real life Japanese men, especially in terms of looks and how they dress but that would have to be another post!
(3) Korean dramas often deal with serious issues which can emotionally touch people's hearts and cause moral dilemmas.....common serious issues are death where someone you love has a serious illness and may or does die and also when you find out the person you love is someone you are not supposed to love due to prevailing social morals such as the common theme of one sibling finding out that the person he/she loves is actually a long lost half-sibling eg father's child with mistress. These evoke powerful dilemmas and may be another reason for Korean drama attraction though they can be annoying due to their repetitiveness in many dramas.
Hope my analysis does not offend anyone and i hope more countries learn from Korean dramas...even if they can get quite repetitive in themes and be over melodramatic sometimes....