Monday, July 11, 2011

Insomnia and K-Dramas: Pt. 1 - An Introduction

Due to the fact that it is crazy-hot in my room, I am unable to fall asleep. Instead of cursing the summer weather and lamenting my lack of air-conditioning like I normally would, I decided to channel my energies into a new blog post that I've been meaning to write for a while on K-DRAMAS.
Winter Sonata - Megahit from early 2000s

K-dramas, short for Korean dramas, are a staple here at Manga Meditation. You may have noticed a previous foray into K-dramas with Blackbird's review of Delightful Girl Chun-Hyang, but believe me, that is only the tippity top of the very large, extensive and all-encompassing iceberg that is the K-drama world. We shall endeavor to delve further, starting with Part 1: An Introduction.

NOTE: There's no way that I'm going to be able to fully cover everything in this post, so I'm going to just hit on the big points and fill in the gaps later. Also, K-dramas are not the only icebergs in the sea - Japanese dramas, Chinese dramas, and Taiwanese dramas are also sizable chunks of ice in their own right, though that will DEFINITELY have to wait for a separate post.

So what exactly is a K-drama?
This is a somewhat difficult question to answer. I guess the closest Western equivalent for the K-drama would be a condensed version of a telenovela or a soap opera. While I enjoy K-dramas MUCH more than I do telenovelas or soaps (no offense to those who like them), the level of drama in these three are comparable. You have love, hate, jealousy - the whole gamut of human emotion that makes these things so darn fun to watch. In a K-drama, though, instead of dragging out the storyline for hundreds and hundreds of episodes, the shows typically last about 16 episodes and only occasionally do they extend past one season.

Anyway, it's impossible to describe everything about K-dramas because there's so much and they're all so different, but the following is a list of things that every good K-drama needs to include:

1) Really Hot People
This is a no-brainer. Like any entertainment venture, you gotta have pretty people for your audience to look at. Here's a quick gallery:

Song Hye Gyo
Lee Min Ho
Bi - Rain
Kim Tae Hee

Whether this beauty is natural or not (a subject for another blog post methinks!), that doesn't change the fact that the people in dramas are capital H-O-T. And this is high praise coming from me, as I have notoriously high standards of pleasing aesthetics (just ask Starfish or Blackbird for confirmation).

2) A Ridiculous Reason for Character Proximity
So even if you have pretty people, it's no fun to just sit and watch them do nothing by themselves. Which is why you need to create a reason, ANY reason, for them to be around each other.

Whether your characters are unintentional roommates...

"Intriguing...tell me more."

...or college students who want to be action stars...

...or cross-dressing to work in a coffee shop...

or part of a super secret ancient fox clan...


...this ridiculous reason will be the framework around which the characters will interact.

" I gotcha."
By the way, all of the above have actually been used in dramas that I've watched. :P
[Pictured: Seol Gong Chan from the drama, My Girl]

3) A Love Triangle
Love is often a central plot line in K-dramas and where most of the fun is found in watching. While two people getting together without any hitches is hunky-dory for real life, in the drama world, you have to make the characters waver between a bevy of potential suitors. The love triangle is ripe with funny moments, tender scenes, and crying fits galore and serves to add a more interesting spin to things. Love squares are also not uncommon, as well as other love-polygons. I was going to find my own picture for this one, but I think Blackbird summed it up best below (taken from her review of Delightful Girl Chun-Hyang).

4) Awesome Characters
Okay, this one may sound too obvious to list...but, seriously! K-dramas are not watched for their storylines - it's the characters the really draw you in. For me, it's the screen chemistry that is found in these dramas. Full of heart, funny antics, tender moments, and amusing quirks, the characters in K-dramas are truly interesting and make these things SO fun to watch. Even when characters are the cookie-cutter sort, they never fully fall into the stereotype because there is always something that distinguishes them.

Mind you, this list is just a bare skeleton for the components of a K-drama. For the full experience, you should just go and watch one!

So what should I watch?
Well, that depends on what you like! K-dramas cover all sorts of genres, from comedies, to family dramas, to romances, to thrillers. There really is something for everyone - you just have to go out and find it! My personal preferences tend towards the romantic comedy genre though it's easy to get hooked on any genre.

Here is a list (not comprehensive by any means) of some Korean-drama genres:

Sageuk - The history drama. These dramas are usually visually decadent, with heavy emphasis on beautiful costumery and period design. These dramas usually take place during the Choson dynasty, and deal with prominent historical events or people. The most famous of the saguk dramas are Dae Jang Geum, Hwang Jinyi, and Jumong.

Dae Jang Geum - Lookit the pretty costumes!

Makjang - The drama-iest of dramas. These are not for the weak of heart - these are tales full of themes like revenge, fatal illnesses, murder, etc. Sometimes malevolent, always totally melodramatic, these dramas are emotional rollercoasters. Makjang isn't really so much a genre in itself as a description - it can refer to any drama that has an outrageous storyline or plot device. See the full definition here at dramabeans for more information!

Family - These are the dramas that best demonstrate the heart and values of Koreans. Usually featuring huge ensemble casts, these dramas follow the trials and tribulations of a particular family, leading the viewer through death, birth, love, and life. While most K-dramas limit themselves to 16 episodes, family dramas are the exception, as they can run for hundreds of episodes. Popular family dramas include Be Strong Geum Soon! and More Beautiful than a Flower.

Romantic Comedy - My personal favorite, and one of more popular genres. There are LOADS of them, with many of them being quite decent if not great. As with anything, there are only a few that are truly stellar, but really, all of them are absolute fun to watch. I'll save the recommendations for the section below.

Like I said, there are many more, so you should start watching and discover these genres for yourself!

What would you recommend?
I haven't really watched very many dramas recently, so all of my recommendations are a little dated, but they are still as fun as ever, I promise you that. These are the standouts in my many years of drama-watching and you should definitely check them out.

Coffee Prince - Centered around coffee, this drama follows the adventures of a refreshingly plucky heroine, Go Eun Chan, as she starts working at a coffee shop under the guise of a boy! Love and hilarity ensues.

Cream and two sugars, please!

Why I'm recommending it: This drama is one of my all-time favorites and it has the most realistic depiction of human relationships that I have seen. An added plus, the music to this drama is super cute and catchy.

My Girl - Living day to day while evading family debts and impatient loan sharks, Ju Yoo Rin is crafty, resourceful...and the long-lost cousin of a rich family that owns a chain of luxury hotels?! Not really, but she is asked to play the fake cousin by the hotel owner's grandson, Seol Gong Chan, in order to help his ailing grandfather's health. Though Yoo Rin and Gong Chan get off on the wrong foot (aka they hate each other), they can't seem to get away from one another...

Why I'm recommending it: One of the funniest dramas I've seen due to the amazing on-screen chemistry between the two main actors. "Girly Boy" aka Lee Jun Ki plays a prominent role, showing off his beautiful face, and this drama has one of the best drunk scenes ever.

My Name is Kim Sam Soon - Commonly referred to the Korean Bridget Jones, this drama is about a woman with a ridiculous name, Kim Sam Soon. She's a professional pastry chef and through a series of confusing events, she has become the principal pastry chef at a new restaurant, owned by one arrogant Hyun Jin Hun. Though their mutual distaste is almost tangible, they agree to pretend to be lovers to prevent Jin Hun's mother from setting him up. It's the perfect plan because Sam Soon hates Jin Hun...or does she?

Want some cake?

Why I'm recommending it: Kim Sam Soon is a heroine with heart and she has you rooting for her all the way. Full of laughs, as well as tasty shots of delicious cakes and baked goods, this one is a winner.

In Conclusion:

There are a LOT of K-dramas out there, and the only way to find out what they are like is to watch them. Hopefully this post has given you a general idea of what they are like and where to start looking. To finish this horrendously long post, here are some links that you should check out to help you start your own drama-watching journey!

Drama Fever - A godsend for all us voracious drama watchers, this is a site where you can watch basically any drama you want...FOR FREE. You can get them subtitled or unsubtitled, and everything is streamed instantly to your computer in high quality. This is a great place to watch all the popular and recent dramas, so head on over and check it out!

Dramabeans - A wonderfully informative blog run by two drama watchers with rapier wits and scathing tongues. Go here to find drama reviews and recaps, as well as very helpful notes about South Korean culture and references that often come up in dramas.

My Soju - An alternative to Drama Fever, this site has even more selection. If you can't find something on Drama Fever, chances are it will be on My Soju. Subtitles are available for all the dramas, but it is less reliable than Drama Fever and video quality can be hit or miss. Korean movies can also be found on here, as well as Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese dramas.

Thanks for reading, and look in the future for Part 2 of the K-drama discussion!


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