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.
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 :
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