Discovered in the Time of Coronavirus
I love traveling to other countries and learning about their culture and history, but since I don’t get to do much of that, I enjoy watching TV series and movies in other languages and countries. Last year I binge-watched a Turkish historical drama titled Resurrection: Ertugrul, which is based on the father of the man who founded the Ottoman Empire. Would you believe the first season had 76 episodes?! Resurrection has 448 episodes in 5 seasons on Netflix, with more planned. They do lots of horseback riding, sword battles, killing off main characters, and in beautiful settings. I don’t know when those people had time for personal lives. But it was interesting to learn how principled and loyal they were, despite the bloody battle scenes. It gave me a whole new perspective on the Turks.
This year, I’ve started watching Korean or K-dramas, and I’ve really enjoyed them. It’s refreshing to watch shows where the language and romance are clean, for the most part, unlike so many American movies and dramas where half of the dialogue is the f-word, and people jump in bed on the first encounter. In the K-dramas I’ve watched, “romantic tension typically ‘is built up so expertly that it is more emotionally resonant when the main couple finally holds hands halfway through the series than when a full-blown bedroom scene happens in an American series’.” (2) So true!! Also due to Korea's puritanical culture, "love scenes rarely progress past kissing” (2). I don’t care to watch other people having sex— it makes me feel like a peeping Tom, but I haven’t had to deal with that watching the K-dramas I’ve seen so far.
The first foreign film to ever win the Best Picture Oscar was Parasite, a Korean film, which took home the prize this year. I watched it recently, and I’m sure it ticked all the boxes for a well-crafted film, but the story was too dark for me to enjoy. I’m sure it raised eyebrows and broke boundaries in Korea with its liberal use of the f-word and a clothed sex scene. Looked like somebody’s been watching too many American films.
I love the witty humor of the K-dramas I’ve watched, and it’s often present in serious drama as well. The story lines have surprised me at times, which is a nice change of pace. The biggest downside for me is that most of these shows’ romantic characters (or otherwise) tend to stare at each other a lot, or have flashbacks with music in the background helping to build the relationship or drama. I get too impatient and use the “Advance 10 Seconds” button A LOT during those times.
English is sprinkled in quite a bit, since it’s the common language they speak when encountering any foreign characters. Many of the actors playing American roles aren’t too good at their craft, but it’s easy to give them a pass. It’s also interesting to see these foreign films’ take on Americans, who often play bad guy roles. We’re getting a taste of our own medicine there.
I imagine many will become predictable, and I'm already starting to see certain themes and patterns repeated a lot, and I'm sure there are plenty of bad K-dramas out there to avoid, but until then, they are helping get me through the pandemic blues.
As for the K-dramas I’ve watched so far, the following are my favorites:
So many of the Korean actors can play characters ranging from teenagers to 40 year olds, and make it believable. They look so much younger than their years. I struggle remembering their names because many are so familiar. Since I first wrote this article, I've also finished The Inheritors, a series with a modern take on the Cinderella theme, except the wicked stepsisters happen to be an entire high school of rich, mean kids and their parents who marry off their kids to strengthen their conglomerates rather than for love. Fun series. I've also enjoyed Start-Up, My Holo Love, and Crash Landing on You, which starts off rather silly with a bad CGI twister, but once I got into it, it became one of my favorites. I have to add Prison Playbook, that also started out slow and does use bad language (it's a prison setting), but the writing, humor, touching scenes, and characters blew me away after a few episodes.
I should be bilingual in the next six months if I keep this up. I already know very useful words and phrases like:
Making that chart drove my spell check nuts. The words are not spelled phonetically as we would pronounce them. Koreans also emphasize certain words in sentences that make it sound like they are coughing up a loogie, or they make "tsk" sounds when they disapprove of something. The end of sentences sometimes sounds like they are whining, too, but you get used to it.
Interesting facts about South Korea and its people (1):
South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world. Double eyelid surgery, which makes one’s eyes look more western, is often given to wealthy teens as a coming of age gift.
Babies are considered one year old at birth.
Samsung is a South Korean company, and they make the microchips for Apple’s iPhones.
Hyundai and KIA are huge Korean automobile manufacturers, building and selling millions of vehicles annually. Hyundai has a facility in Ulsan that can manufacture 1.6 million vehicles A YEAR!
South Korea has the world’s fastest wireless speeds on the globe.
South Korea’s national dish is kimchi, which is seasoned vegetables that have been fermented underground for months. There are around 170 varieties of kimchi. South Koreans say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when taking photos.
South Korea is home to the some of the world’s largest shopping malls, which stay open until 4:00 a.m. The Shinsegae Department Store in Centum City, Busan, is the world’s largest department store.
Seoul-based Yoido Full Gospel Church has a membership of over 800,000 people, which makes it the largest in the world. One third of South Koreans are Christians, and Christmas is an official holiday.
The Korean War, which America was involved in during the early 1950s, has never officially ended between North and South Korea.
The most common surnames in South Korea are Kim (20% of the population), Lee, and Park.
The average South Korean works 55 hours a week.
Korean is the 5th most difficult language to learn, and it has no genealogical relationship to any other language. In an action sentence, the subject goes first, followed by the object, and then the action verb. For example, “I cook food” would be spoken, “I food cook.” (3)
I’d never been interested in visiting South Korea before, but watching K-dramas has changed my mind. I'm sure I will reach a saturation point where the series will all begin to look and sound the same, I'll be able to guess the plots, or I'll roll my eyes when the hero keeps fighting with wounds that should've killed him twice over, but for now they are a nice change of pace, especially during the time of the Coronavirus.
Donna Van Cleve
1. 80 Interesting South Korea Facts. https://www.factretriever.com/south-korea-facts
2. Korean Drama. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_drama
3. The Ten Hardest Languages for English Speakers to Learn. https://unbabel.com/blog/japanese-finnish-or-chinese-the-10-hardest-languages-for-english-speakers-to-learn/
4. Wikipedia & Wikimedia for K-drama series details, photos, and actors’ names.