The specific elements that make Korean dramas so addictive
Among Korean dramas, dramas giving a specific focus on love stories are considered most popular in Asia. We could consider however that love stories are actually part of every single Korean drama, as if they could not exist without. Indeed, there is no better feeling than love to generate emotional reaction from the reaction as it is the most universal.
In those love stories, Yun Seokho identified the particular reasons for their success across Asia.
1. Dwelling in romanticism and fantasies, with the assumption of an everlasting love
First, there is a tendency to dwell in some sort of romantic fantasy, contrasting with a raw reality.
Koreans even invented the expression of “skinship”, which does not seem to exist in Westerners’ use of the English language. And perhaps there is no need of such a term which implies any type of physical interaction. Indeed, in daily life, Westerners seem more used to interacting physically. As a Korean, director Yun was very much taken aback when a Brazilian lady came to hug him. For Koreans, that is definitely something unusual. A few decades back, when he was dating, he recalls that it often took three months to even be able to hold hands with a date. Touching is not the norm and this is why touching scenes tend to be elongated in Korean drama.
Outside material expressions are also prevalent to create fantasies about the expression of love. The emotional communication through fantasies is noticeable in Winter Sonata with the two snowmen used to replicate an innocent kiss. Similarly, in Yun’s more recent drama, Love Rain, the umbrella is an excuse to build up physical interactions. For the UK audience that might sound embarrassing or cheesy, but, in South Korea, this is considered pure and innocent.
With reality programs becoming more popular, having the same types of fantaisies as the ones in Winter Sonata isn’t really possible anymore. A Japanese critic explained at the time of Winter Sonata, that middle aged housewives were able to re explore themselves as young women. In that sense, the Korean drama gives space to rediscover ourselves.
2. Strong portrays of attractive male characters
Another trait of Korean drama is how male characters are depicted as perfect beings, which obviously works very well with the female audience. After Winter Sonata, there was a time when Western commentators were even mentioning how Hollywood stars had been put aside compared with near-gods that some Korean actors had become. That is especially the case with Bae Yong-joon (aka Yon-sama) who had become a god in Japan among middle-aged women. His character, thoughtful, mysterious, buried in his thoughts like a James Dean, who becomes very successful as soon as he recovers his memory is an ideal for any woman.
Also, as emphasized by an audience member at Yun’s SOAS conference, the main male protagonist is often strong and good, while the second male character is either weaker or meaner, and a form of rivalry usually takes place, with one of them having to give up. In both cases, evil or weak, the main characters’ qualities are emphasized by the contrast with the 2nd male protagonist.
In combination with the fantasy-depiction of love and the perfection of the male protagonist, Korean dramas have also put a great work in technical aesthetics and background music. The music is therefore often taken as a vector to remember the emotions that were expressed at specific moments of the drama. Recently, The Heirs was especially successful for its OST, which is still performing very well on music charts.
Credits: Yun Seokho
Image Credits: KBS / SBS / MBC