Anatomy of a K-drama

Anatomy of a K-drama page image

K-drama is so good, so popular, and so reliable in terms of quality that you can trust a k-drama to deliver in terms of writing, acting, cinematography and musical direction. Knowing it’s made in Korea eases the plunge into a 16-plus episode commitment like a satisfaction guarantee. Few Korean series airing internationally err in any great degree.

Is there a formula to this success? Why, yes there is!

In fact, the formula is almost carved in stone. There is a general structure to their one season long dramas that can be followed like the old “well-made play”. For a western audience, when first coming to K-drama we may find the placement of their climaxes and resolution out of our rhythm as we have been indoctrinated into the Meet-cute-girl-meets-boy; Boy-loses-girl; Girl-and-boy-resolve-for-a-happily-ever-after way of story-telling.

K-drama TV series aren’t that simplistic. The stories don’t just focus on the main characters but direct considerable emotional energy at side characters and the consequences to these characters of the main characters achieving their resolution. The love triangle is used again and again. Intergenerational relationships are given great importance and also ideas of worth based on contribution to society and personal virtue. There is an inordinate amount of weight (from a western perspective) on social standing and the subsequent dilemmas breaking social custom incurs.

More obvious than this is the way that certain acting motifs – or stage business, if you like- is used to communicate emotion. A kiss may be filmed from different angles and presented as a montage of repeating motions from beginning to end – not only kisses but critical actions that the viewer is made to understand are pivotal moments in the story.

There is also an honesty regarding the inspiration behind the stories. Do you see Hans Christian Andersen in The Legend of the Blue Sea – the Little Mermaid is featured in the library scene, does Alice in Wonderland come to mind in the Secret Garden? It’s referred to. Cinderella, a favourite retelling source is mentioned through many series e.g., My Secret Romance The historical epics refer to Confucius often and messages they convey are often revolving around ideas of maintaining personal virtue.

Spoiler alert – Crash Landing on You and The Red Sleeve

Importantly, when a story concludes they try to offer a happily-ever-after even if the main protagonist can’t be together in the sense that we would have them together e.g., Crash Landing on You gives us a Happily-For-Now as it drives home the point that there can’t be a Happily-Ever-After with a divided Korea; and in the historical epic The Red Sleeve which deals with real, historical figures the early death of Deok-Im is experienced but the audience is then given a glimpse into her afterlife where she is reunited with I-San.

In the next post I will breakdown the Elements of a K-drama.

K-drama is so much fun I don’t want to watch anything else -unless it feels like it. If you agree, then you might like reading :

Cover for ebook Losing Everything Finding Love
Contemporary Romance – travel- feel good – New Adult – coming of age – college student

Available for Kindle

In Australia

On Amazon

Seen Squid Game? Think you Know K-drama? Really?

Circle, triangle and Square from the invitation to join the Squid Game
Game symbols from Squid Game

Do you consider yourself a pop-culture aficionado? A maven of mod con bingeing? Then, you must have taken the K-drama plunge. You can’t consider yourself on the pulse, on trend, if you haven’t. But what if reading subtitles is really not your thing? What if getting a Viki subscription isn’t on the top of your to-do list? And what of those health warnings that just can’t be avoided –MORE ADDICTIVE THAN CRACK AND HARDER TO GET OVER? Oh, no! But wait! No Fear! Netflix, to the rescue with the cheater-notes, mini-season, dark and dystopian, packaged for western consumption – right down to their hastily dubbed voices offering-Squid Game.

Seen it? Probably, you have. Think you can talk K-drama now? Think Korean TV and culture is dark and unforgiving? A whole lot darker than K-pop sensation Gangnam Style, can the Korean mindset be discerned in this world-wide sensation? Does Squid Game encapsulate all those wonderful qualities K-drama has offered us over the last 20 years?

NO. And it’s atypical in many ways. It’s not just the short season, the seeming lack of a moral compass, the foray into an abyss of human shortcomings without a foil of humour or virtue to redeem it. It’s atypical for an array of different reasons.

Marketed to capture a Western and World-Wide market, Squid Game emulates dystopian blockbusters like Hunger Games and Maze Runner in their depiction of a society riddled with greed, mistrust, paranoia and control cultures. In fact, it emulates them too closely, for in the bulk of K-dramas, there is a form of redemption in the end that is lacking in this one. This one places the anti-hero on centre stage and celebrates anti-hero flaws and mediocrity.

Spoiler Alert

Other notable absences from this story – comic side stories or side characters providing balance for the main story. A sound moral to take home isn’t underlined. A faith in community interplaying with a sense of an individual’s responsibility towards society as a mechanism for redemption isn’t threading through tale – aka the idea of honour is missing.

Where there seems to be character development, the ending that facilitates a second season, robs the story of this essential element right before the credits roll. The main character is browbeaten with lessons throughout that should change him in a way that he can feel a pride in himself, and we along with him, when he exits. However, in his final decision be it for justice or revenge, he puts his own concerns before seeing his daughter. This is his greatest sin before partaking in the game and we are left with him falling back on all habits. Could he not have seen his daughter before returning for season 2?

And finally, romance and a clean happily ever after, uplifting the viewer are missing. And this is key. K-drama is uplifting, unabashedly moral and didactic, beautifully filmed with grand or boppy soundtracks and it reaffirms humanity – that we are good and should continue to strive to be good.

K-drama’s success has been attributed to Confucian principles running through the storylines – ideas of family, community and honour. Confucius must have been confused with this one. To be fair, it was made for the export market – it wasn’t as popular in Korea as it was for the international Netflix audience. Feel good, small town romance, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha was better received on home soil. The acting is wonderful (try turning off the dubbing) and the characters look real and not overly buffed, polished and sanitised like most K-dramas.

It seems Squid Game reflects the way Korea sees the West more than the way Korean see themselves.

Coming Soon: – Anatomy of a K-drama – what’s the formula?

K-drama is so much fun I don’t want to watch anything else -unless it feels like it. If you agree, then you might like reading :

Cover for ebook Losing Everything Finding Love
Contemporary Romance – travel- feel good – New Adult – coming of age – college student

Available for Kindle

In Australia

On Amazon

Top 21 ways to know you’ve Over-binged K-drama

Poster influenced by South Korean flag - Top 21 ways to know you’ve over-binged kdrama
Top 21 ways to know you’ve over-binged K-drama

1.You begin wearing your daytime clothes to bed – who needs pjs anyway?

2. You start telling people to remember to eat well with every goodbye

3. You believe the most romantic gesture encapsulating joy, promise and desire is when he takes hold of your hand

4. You plan your first post-COVID island paradise escape not to Bali but Jeju Island

5. You stop looking people older than you straight in the eyes as a form of respect

6. You’re convinced the western diet is no-good, greasy fare that you must replace with healthy ramen dishes – except when you break it for fried chicken or Subway

7. You announce that you’re going to hang up the phone before you do – on every call

8. Soju replaces the Stella Artois, Corona and Bud on the goto shelf in the fridge

9. When you see a butterfly flitter past and you scan around for shamen, goblins, ghosts, animal spirit-beings, deities, deceased ancestors and time/space/reality portals.

10. You catch yourself talking to your dead relatives and cooking for them

11. The Cha-cha is small town full of endearing characters and no longer something you learned at ballroom dance class

12. Opa! is no longer a call to dance but what you call your significant male other

13. Déjà vu is real, not a figment of your imagination – it’s integral to the realisation of fated relationships

14. You start having anxiety again about what your parents think – when you’re 50!

15. You start thinking of the agro road-rager behind you as someone possessed by a malignant fox spirit-being gone on rampage

16. The most suspenseful anticipation of watching Squid Game was, if, and when, Gong Yoo would make another cameo appearance

17. Your grammar takes on the idiosyncrasies of subtitles like the pairing of “suspenseful anticipation”

18. ‘Wench’ re-enters your everyday English vocabulary -with an integrity that you don’t even question

19. You can plot a graph with geographic inclines and declines monitoring the meandering age appearance of your fav stars over the course of their career

20. Instead of telling someone they have Buckley’s chance of you doing something, you say when North and South Korea reunite

21. You order an Americano and your barista looks at you blankly and says, “Please explain?” but you don’t know how

K-drama is so much fun I don’t want to watch anything else -unless it feels like it. If you agree, then you might like reading :

Cover for ebook Losing Everything Finding Love
Contemporary Romance – travel- feel good – New Adult – coming of age – college student

Available for Kindle

In Australia

On Amazon

Finding Love in Athens

Art by Alex Conan

A New Adult / Coming of Age Travel Romance

on Kindle

For Australian Readers click here

For the rest of the world click here

Constance is so nerdy, she could bore a randy satyr celibate with her talk of dug up stones and cracked pots. How did she manage to score a ride or two with a Greek Adonis on the fringes of the Athenian underworld? She’s supposed to be in Athens proving to the world she can do it on her own. She’s supposed to be completing her education, a graduate degree in archaeology – not eros.

Kidnapping an American tourist never crossed Mihali’s mind but that’s what his neighbour was up to. With his cab! When he saw the sleeping beauty in the back seat, he had to save her. His neighbour had already filched her luggage, passport, credit cards and left her an inoperable phone.

Problem was, she didn’t want to be saved. Not by him, anyway.

Now he has to convince her that that he is not part of a kidnapping scheme, otherwise, how will he be able to hide her from the underworld and prevent her from reporting him to the police, the cab company, and the embassy?

Logic tells Constance to run, but Mihali’s so charming and helpful. Didn’t he help her with her phone? Didn’t he offer her accommodation and breakfast and a personally guided tour of Athens?

For Australian Readers click here

For the rest of the world click here

Imperial Passions – The Great Palace

Imperial Passions – The Great Palace by Eileen Stephenson

Google: Byzantine

                adjective

  • characterised by deviousness or underhanded procedure;
  • excessively complicated, and typically involving a great deal of administrative detail;
  • relating to … the Byzantine Empire, or the Eastern Orthodox Church

–  Oxford Languages

Sounds convoluted, esoteric and beyond the reach and understanding of the uninitiated reader? Not so, Eileen Stephenson’s anticipated sequel in her Imperial Passions series. Imperial Passions brings to the history buff 11th century Byzantium (now Istanbul) and the procession of emperors, empresses and their regimes that were witnessed by the matriarch of the Comnenoi dynasty, Anna Dalassena.

The series begins with The Porta Aurea where the main world building is accomplished and we meet Anna Dalassena as a teenaged girl with aspirations of marriage. The first book sets the tone and perspective of the series. Anna Dalassena is the narrator of historical events from a young woman’s perspective. She gives as much insight into the machinations of the court as a daughter of the dynatoi (Byzantium’s close equivalent to the aristocracy) would allow. It’s a construct that allows historical accuracy to reign over conjecture where historical sources are porous. It works really well with the first novel which concludes with Anna’s brother-in-law, Isaac Comnenus, seizing the crown.

When The Great Palace picks up the story Anna has been made Caesarissa by virtue of being the wife of the new Emperor’s brother, John. Again the story is told through the darkened lens of a woman’s perspective. Historical accuracy allows only wiggle room in the palace. Anna sees only the consequences of decisions and plots made and concocted behind closed doors. There is no room for conjecture – not even the aroma of court gossip.

Following Isaac’s sudden illness and subsequent abdication, John and Anna lose their positions and we watch the rise and fall of imperial rulers: Constantine Dukas; Michael Dukas and his mother Evdokia Makrembolitissa and co-consort, Romanus Diogenes; Nikephoros Botaneites; and finally Anna’s son, Alexius; without being party to the politics. What we are given is Anna’s careful curation of her family alliances through marriage arrangements that position her family at the pinnacle of power in Constantinople.

The Great Palace is an ambitious project – spanning the reign of four emperors and seeing the fall and resurrection of the Comnenoi clan – the book gives an accurate narration of the events of history through the eyes of a sympathetic observer. Anna Dalassena is a well-meaning matriarch, doling out advice like a sage mother and adept household administrator whose domestic savvy clears the path to power for her family.

 It is very much a sequel in that it reads like the middle of a story. Anna’s personality is set by the end of the first novel and although she suffers set-backs she is essentially the same throughout this one. By the end of The Great Palace we are told that she will assume the position of Augusta – the senior empress – and will administer the empire in her son’s stead when he is on campaign. Alexius will campaign often and will instigate the Crusades during his mother’s lifetime. This is where Anna’s story is headed and presumably the next book.

Eileen Stephenson’s clear prose style and adherence to historical accuracy makes this series a really good introduction to the medieval Byzantine Empire. For the reader experiencing this culture for the first time she makes a valiant effort to delineate numerous characters with the same Christian and family names by giving them plausible nicknames. Her maps are helpful, as are her list of characters and glossary. She harks back to the early Roman Empire by maintaining both Latin and Greek names and makes what would otherwise be an exotic-other reality a part of Europe. It’s an informative book, making this era available in an easy to follow narrative.

Imperial Passions: The Great Palace releases on Friday 17th December.

You can purchase it here: –

Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Imperial-Passions-Great-Palace-Byzantine-ebook/dp/B09M9MNMQB

Angus & Robertson:  https://www.angusrobertson.com.au/ebooks/imperial-passions—the-great-palace-eileen-stephenson/p/9780999690734


Apple Books:  https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1596838477

Kobo:  https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/imperial-passions-the-great-palace


Barnes & Noble:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/imperial-passions-the-great-palace-eileen-stephenson/1140549514

https://books2read.com/u/4EKG2Y

Finding Love Free This Weekend

Art by Alex Conan

A New Adult / Coming of Age Travel Romance

Free

this weekend on Kindle

11th and 12th December, 2021

For Australian Readers click here

For the rest of the world click here

Constance is so nerdy, she could bore a randy satyr celibate with her talk of dug up stones and cracked pots. How did she manage to score a ride or two with a Greek Adonis on the fringes of the Athenian underworld? She’s supposed to be in Athens proving to the world she can do it on her own. She’s supposed to be completing her education, a graduate degree in archaeology – not eros.

Kidnapping an American tourist never crossed Mihali’s mind but that’s what his neighbour was up to. With his cab! When he saw the sleeping beauty in the back seat, he had to save her. His neighbour had already filched her luggage, passport, credit cards and left her an inoperable phone.

Problem was, she didn’t want to be saved. Not by him, anyway.

Now he has to convince her that that he is not part of a kidnapping scheme, otherwise, how will he be able to hide her from the underworld and prevent her from reporting him to the police, the cab company, and the embassy?

Logic tells Constance to run, but Mihali’s so charming and helpful. Didn’t he help her with her phone? Didn’t he offer her accommodation and breakfast and a personally guided tour of Athens?

For Australian Readers click here

For the rest of the world click here

K-Drama Crush

Visiting my elderly Mum has been all about binge watching Korean Rom-Coms for a while now – ever since she brought herself up to date with every movie Hallmark ever made. Now when I go over there all she wants to do is make me sit down with her – for hours – reading subtitles on a screen. It’s been her greatest joy through lockdown. It’s all she’d talk about. She’s seen so much K-drama that she’s picking Korean.

No way, was I going to do that. There’s enough going on in my life without “relaxing” like that in front of a screen. But it was impossible not to take a bit in – the TV is always on and tuned into some Korean stage of history – Joseon, Goryeon or Contemporary. A parachuter hanging from a tree in the Korean demilitarized zone, a woman sneaking out a lobby behind an upright promo flag, a medieval doctor tending to a patient in the modern streets of Seoul – the drama was intriguing – but subtitles, really? For 16 episodes plus? Better not get hooked. Little by little, scene over scene, I did.

And which series got me in the end?

Huron Ki-joon (Kang Ji-hwan) and Gong Ah-jeong (Yoon Eun-hye) in Lie to Me

Lie to Me

I don’t know how many times mum watched the scene in the corporate lobby but it got me each time.  Civil servant, Gong Ah-jeong, (Yoon Eun-hye) trying to avoid the uber-alpha protagonist and hotel exec, Hyeon Ki-joon (Kang Ji-hwan) while they are both in the proceeds of exiting the same office foyer, runs between vertical banners all the way out. Exposed outside, she ingratiates herself into his group of business associates in front of whom he can’t lose face, and ends up bumming a ride with them. It got me hooked. I had to see more. I had to see it from the start and I had to see more of Yoon Eun-hye. So, Princess Hours and the Coffee Prince followed, and then I was hooked.

Spoiler Alert!!!!

Lie to Me is a refreshing rom-com in its writing. It uses all the expected K-Drama Rom-Com tropes which I will blog about shortly, however, the story is built around recognizable tensions of flawed real life characters. Gong Ah-jeong has been trumped in the marriage race by her close friend who has stolen her love interest and married him while she has closeted herself away trying to pass her final exams.

Feeling belittled, betrayed and the loss of her personal dignity before her close friends and community she pretends that she is getting married, too. She doesn’t have a fiancé, boyfriend or love interest, so she claims to be marrying an untouchable hotel exec, Hyeon Ki-joon. Through a series of interrelated events and with the help of his practical joker brother, the exec agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend for the sake of her friends only. With the further intervention of said, practical joking brother, who introduces her to a Chinese diplomat and his wife as Ki-joon’s fiancé, the secret starts to spread and the fake couple get to know each other better.

Soon he begins using his wealth to help her in her career as a tourism industry official. She in turn is tempted to use her position to confer upon his hotel chain the contract for a mammoth international business deal. What will she do for love and how they handle the scandal afterwards progresses the plot. In an interesting twist towards the end of the series we see the heroine grappling with the idea of losing her identity to their relationship and the demands of his world.

K-Drama rom-coms are so much fun – full of comic set-ups, clownish supporting characters, lots of drama, scheming older relatives, class differences and usually have an underlying message. They aren’t sexually explicit – refreshing – but they are very romantic, and like I’ve said, a lot of fun.

Losing Everything Finding Love – intro

Book Cover image for Losing Everything Finding Love featuring the a couple embracing in front of a retro merc taxi before the windmill and cityscape of Mykonos
Kindle ebook ON SALE NOW
Cover art by Alex Conan link to Australian Amazon ebook

Read enough of a genre of storytelling and eventually you’ll be tempted to write one, or so was the case with me. After binge reading my favourite romances from my salad days I began a catch up on what I’ve been missing. It was so much fun! I had to give writing one a go.

The thing with romance is that it’s a prescribed genre – readers have expectations and the genre complies. The genre is intended to be predictable- a happy ending is imperative. There are many tropes and guess what, they are all predictable.

Predictability is not a dirty word with this genre – it is the scaffold on which the story is built. The skill of the writer is taking the tropes and shaping a story to fit them that not only flows with an imperceptible compulsion but touches the reader – lifts them, reassures them and quite possibly takes them on a roller coaster ride that docks in a nirvana made by a respectful, sexy, amusing and positive relationship

It takes skill and imagination to get it right. A good read makes the work of the writer seem effortless- but it’s not.

So, I had a go.

Kindle ebook ON SALE NOW

Link to Australian ebook

Losing Everything, Finding Love is a light holiday romance and coming of age story set in Greece. It’s about an American college student who goes to Athens to complete her postgraduate qualifications in Archaeology. She barely lands before she gets tangled up in a human trafficking scheme.

Luckily for Constance she gets abducted from her kidnapper by a caffeine addicted taxi-driving Adonis – and all before he’s had his morning coffee.

Kidnapping an American tourist never crossed Mihali’s mind but that’s what his neighbour was up to. With his cab! When he saw the sleeping beauty in the back seat, he had to save her. His neighbour had already filched her luggage, passport, credit cards and left her an inoperable phone.

Problem was, she didn’t want to be saved. Not by him, anyway.

Now he has to convince her that that he is not part of a kidnapping scheme, otherwise, how will he be able to hide her from the underworld and prevent her from going to the police, the cab company, and the embassy?

Kindle ebook ON SALE NOW

Link to Australian ebook

2. Exhibitions you may miss due to lockdown

This is an extract of a review that I wrote for the Sydney Arts Guide. To read the entire review visit the Sydney Arts Guide. Four Exhibitions worth Visiting at UNSW Galleries. Original due to close tomorrow.

Jewellery Designer and contemporary artist, Kyoko Hashimoto

Bioregional Bodies

Designer Kyoko Hashimoto’s Bioregional Bodies challenges society’s use of plastic, concrete and coal by incorporating them in engaging jewellery design: wearable art – mostly. Wearable statements on what mainstream jewellery design values – you won’t see aggregate and coal brooches in Tiffanys. Hers are wearable statements about what society values – setting fossil fuels and concrete in fine metal as if they are so desired – as desired and indispensable to high living as diamonds – in another sense they are. Hashimoto incorporates rings and necklaces that are statements – not of wealth, power and haute couture, but on society – objets d’art. She pushes the idea of what is jewellery and what can it achieve.

Taking up the lion’s share of the ground floor is Capture, the first comprehensive survey of artist, Sam Smith. Smith questions image making conventions and presentation with his video installations that incorporate sculpture and performance while he uses these to explore relationships between geology, technology and environment.