The winning recipe for K-Dramas

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Author: Nathalia Millán Rincón 

Who made the money during the pandemic? Streaming and delivery services. Many of us venture into new genres due to the chronic boredom of being stuck at home, and even though the lockdown has officially been declared over, Korean dramas have remained as one of our favorite television series. In today’s blog, I am going to explain the reasons why you love them and can’t stop watching them, and we will apply what we have learned through a small activity. So grab a pencil or open the notes on your cell phone, we’re already starting!

First, Korean dramas are nothing new, but as the Korean wave (Hallyu) expands, more and more people find great interest in this category. The Korean content industry is the 7th largest in the world (Rae, 2022), and although it is identified as “drama” due to its name, you can actually find a wide variety of genres, from historical, action, suspense, and science fiction, to romance and comedy dramas. Still, these genres are also present in other productions (i.e. American), so what makes them so popular and addictive?

According to Ryan General’s article, the response from fans is summed up by a good-looking cast, fashion, and soundtrack (2017), while Asian American studies professor Ji-Yeon Yuh adds that Korean dramas in particular “offer a version of a society that holds onto traditions and traditional values while moving forward as an economically advanced and developed society” (2017). Therefore, dramas are culturally attractive, from which you get the complete package: you learn the language, customs, gestures, society, music, gastronomy, trends, and so on.

Illustration 1. Taken from Netflix. [Picture]

Of course, the factors mentioned above are not the only ones to consider to get hooked on a series, after all, the most important thing is the plot. It is a fact that there is a recipe that brings success and that the industry knows very well, but the producers are so creative that they manage to keep each drama they create fresh. For this reason, here is the list of the plot and/or scenarios that you will find the most when watching a Korean drama (Rae, 2021):

  • Shower scene. Given that more than 80% of the audience of Korean dramas are women (KOCCA, n.d.), it is not surprising that a scene of this type is presented to us, seeking to make the series even more attractive to the female gaze.
  • Gorgeous, well-dressed, and rich mean girl. For every beautiful protagonist there is, you will find her counterpart who will be just as or even prettier than her, but who will not have a very pleasant attitude. In most cases, this girl will be the antagonist of the series, who will be there to bring a character development to our protagonist and show us that money and looks are not everything.
  • Poor girl. It’s easier to relate to a character when you share experiences, and one of them is working hard for a living. This plot commonly goes hand in hand with the trope of an heir to a large company or current CEO who falls in love with our protagonist, which gives it a somewhat fanciful touch considering how well-defined social classes are. However, this is precisely why it is there, to feed the viewers’ illusion that it could happen in real life. 
  • Evil corporation (Chaebol). Sometimes the villain is not a person, but a very powerful organization. These power dynamics are common in Korean dramas as they add flavor to the story, and what better representation of greed than a conglomerate that can change people’s lives? In relation to the previous point, it is common for the family not to approve of the relationship between the protagonists.
  • Childhood friends sometimes turned lovers. Childhood memories are generally full of happy moments, which is why when the protagonist goes through difficult times, that childhood friend appears years later even if they lost contact, to brighten their life as if it were a plan of destiny.
  • Childhood trauma story. A sensitive topic, but one that many people struggle with. The causes can vary from drama to drama, but by giving it visibility it hopes to remove stigmas and inspire the viewers to be, not only more empathetic, but also to believe that safeness, love, and understanding are possible to find.
  • Amnesia. A cliché widely present in Korean dramas whose main objective is to imply that when two people are destined to be together, they will end up being together despite losing each other’s memories, falling in love again.
  • Makjang (막장) drama. Better explained as “trash drama”, this is an excessive premise where the plot focuses on scenarios that lack sense, there are plenty of screams and many secrets. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s there to entertain. It’s the Korean drama being dramatic at its finest.
Illustration 2. Made by Millán, N. (2023). [Collage]

It’s finally time to test those dramas that we have watched, do you think you have a type of Korean dramas that you love to watch? Or do you think you are team whose “My list” is varied? Let’s try with Business Proposal!

⚠️Warning: Might contain spoilers, read with caution⚠️

  • Shower scene. Despite having scenes in which both Kang Tae-moo and Cha Sung-hoon are shirtless, there is no shower scene.
  • Gorgeous, well-dressed, and rich mean girl. Technically, there is no villain in Business Proposal, however, it must be emphasized that there is a beautiful girl, with a good fashion sense and a higher social status than her: Lee Min-woo’s girlfriend, Go Yoo-ra, who because of her attitude with Shin Ha-ri, ends up being one of the most hated characters.
  • Poor girl. From the beginning of the drama we are told that Shin Ha-ri is a woman with great working ethics, but the reasons are explained in that she has many debts to pay, showing us how she worked in whatever she could when she was younger in order to pay off the student debt and help her parents with the business, accepting Jin Young-seo’s offer to go on the blind date for the money.
  • Evil corporation (Chaebol). I wouldn’t say that Go Food is a bad company, nor that Chairman Kang is the typical representation of the family not accepting someone because of their origins, in fact we later on find out that he is team Geum-Hui (the one from the drama), but we can’t forget that she was indeed given an ultimatum: either transfer or leave.
  • Childhood friends sometimes turned lovers. Although Lee Min-woo is introduced to us as Shin Ha-ri’s longtime crush, they met in college, so he is not a childhood friend.
  • Childhood trauma story. Indeed, Kang Tae-moo has trauma due to events that happened to him when he was a child and that haunts him to this day, which is why he is afraid of the rain.
  • Amnesia. Memory loss is not part of Business Proposal’s plot.
  • Makjang (막장) drama. Several scenes in the drama make you laugh at how illogical and unlikely they are. Even the very drama that Chairman Kang watches, “Be strong, Geum-hui!”, is Makjang drama, and considering that it reflects the events of Business Proposal, we will take it as part of the humor.
Illustration 3. Taken from imdb.com (2022). [Picture]

In short, the pandemic really introduced many to a whole new world of TV series, and since then K-dramas have only gotten more popular. The reason why people like them so much is explained by the fact that they offer not only something visually appealing, but also invite us to South Korea. Although of course, we can not miss the fact that many of us are there for the tears, the laughter, surprises, clichés, and a good time.

Written by: Nathalia Millán Rincón

Reviewed by: Luisa Quintero

References

General, R. (January 27, 2017). Expert Explains Why Korean Dramas Are So Addictive. NEXTSHARK. https://nextshark.com/why-korean-dramas-are-so-addicting/

KOCCA. (n.d.). KOCCA Report on the Consumption of Korean dramas in the U.S. DAEHAN DRAMA: https://www.daehandrama.com/1285/

Rae, K. N. (2022). Korean Wave, The Power of Korea’s Cultural Content Industry. Invest Korea. https://www.investkorea.org/ik-en/cntnts/i-326/web.do

The Winning Recipe for K-Dramas. (2021). Rae, K. C. (Comp.), 10265: Korean Entertainment (한국 엔터테인먼트). Soonchunhyang University.

Yuh, J.-Y. (January 26, 2017). ‘Universal Stories’ Help Korean Dramas Find International Success. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/universal-stories-help-korean-dramas-find-international-success-n698511.

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SBS. (2022). Business Proposal (TV series) [Picture]. IMDb.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14819828/

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