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Gays in Korean Dramas – watch it with your gf/bf/wives/husbands

I recommend that those who want to learn Korean through K Dramas and those who want to watch a good drama in general watch 인생은 아름다워 (Life is Beautiful) currently running on SBS (Sat/Sun Evening). I’ve only seen a couple of episodes but it’s a gentle family drama set in Jejudo written by 김수현씨 Kim Suhyeon, the original queen of Korean dramas, and she rarely disappoints. I don’t think any of her dramas have made onto the Hallyu boat, but she is the undisputed queen of penning dialogues and much loved amongst the Korean crowd.

I believe it’s the first time that a gay relationship is introduced in a main, primetime Korean drama. By that I don’t mean a man pretending to be gay like in 개인의 취향 (Personal Preference), another good drama currently running with Son Yejin and Lee Minho who are both good actors, but this drama would appeal to the younger crowd, as it borders on the unrealistic sugar-coated side with pretty sets and pretty actors, you know, for the Full House fans.

Those who are into Japanese dramas, might find 검사 프린세스 (Prosecutor Princess) to their taste. It’s a bit annoying at the beginning, with the manga setting, of exaggerated Legally Blond theme, but it does get better with an intriguing storyline and the main character does endear herself as the story develops. This msg board where people leave opinions have recently been flooded with angry viewers complaining that the drama paints the prosecutors with a good brush.

My mother tells me 신데렐라 언니(Cinderella Sister) with 문근영 and 서우 are good too. I believe her because 문근영 is a good actress.

Note to the naysayers and complainers, this post is not completely irrelevant to the macho geopolitical and boobs theme of this blog because I believe Korean dramas are already playing a role in improving the image of Korea and appealing to the (younger) Western audience as well (as the Asians).

Korean lesson of the Day:
막장드라마 (Makjang deurama) = Drama with preposterous storyline where anything goes. Describes about 80 percent of low-quality Korean dramas where themes such as revenge, birth secrets and affairs get played out with a liberal dose of amnesia, terminal illness, car accidents etc. Hopefully this is on the decline.

  • lollabrats

    “Note to the naysayers and complainers,”
    –yuna

    You’ve got the bridge, do what you want.
    ;)

    “막장드라마…= Drama with preposterous storyline…”
    -yuna

    I actually bought the complete and official American release DVD sets of “대장금(大長今)” and “천국의 계단”…uh…for analysis. Some of the better 막장드라마 have a great deal of sophistication in the plotting, though not necessarily in the execution or dialog. The single greatest drag on Korean dramatic arts continues to be a lack of competent directors. But the industry’s future looks bright.

    “문근영 is a good actress.”
    –yuna

    I have a great deal of admiration for this lady. She really was a protegy. However, with all due respect for her, it is my sincere belief that because she grew up in the ROK when she did, her ability to achieve her full potential as a performer has been severely stunted. If she had been born in America and followed her ambition to be an actress, she would have been much better off in terms of technical development, even if she may never have become the star she is in Korea. It is a shame. And such things really piss me off.

    “Those who are into Japanese dramas…”
    –yuna

    Among the “Asian” TV industries (from Japan, south to India, bending towards the middle east), the ROK makes the best quality live action dramas. But in terms of overall quality, in my opinion, Japanese anime still offers the best. This says much more about the quality of live action dramatic TV in Asia than it does about the strength of anime.

    “for the Full House fans”
    –yuna

    The first episode of “Full House” is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. That episode and 송혜교 were all that I liked. SHK is really talented and cute.

    “[김수현] is the undisputed queen of penning dialogues and much loved amongst the Korean crowd.
    –yuna

    She’s pretty good. But 노희경 is the best.

    ;)

  • lollabrats

    “The single greatest drag on Korean dramatic arts continues to be a lack of competent directors.”

    I did not mean to imply that there are no competent directors. There clearly are highly sophisticated Korean directors working in both film and TV. I meant that there needs to be more of them. It’s just a matter of time. Pardon.

    ;)

  • lollabrats

    “her ability to achieve her full potential as a performer has been severely stunted.”

    I did not mean to imply that this is a permanent state. I should change the verb tense here:

    “her ability to achieve her full potential as a performer is being severely stunted.”

  • lollabrats

    “I believe it’s the first time that a gay relationship is introduced in a main, primetime Korean drama. By that I don’t mean a man pretending to be gay ”
    –yuna

    In 노희경’s truly excellent melodrama, “그들이 사는 세상,” a minor but persistent subplot dealt with the issue of actually making dramas featuring homosexuals. The two main characters are directors of television drama and one of them was actually making a TV drama featuring homosexuals. I can’t say that I necessarily agree with the politics of what was discussed, but I found it interesting. It seems like the plot dealt with the issue in a more complex way than shows which features men pretending to be homosexuals.

    What’s funny is that you can see it coming…Korean society is going to become more accepting of homosexuals as the matter becomes persistent and treated liberally in popular dramas.

  • Sonagi

    The mom and grandma were playing similar roles back in the 90s. They look like they haven’t aged a bit, and thankfully, they’re not endowed with must-have V-lines. The chick on the right has a chin that could break up concrete.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    ‘Among the “Asian” TV industries (from Japan, south to India, bending towards the middle east), the ROK makes the best quality live action dramas.’

    i was in chinese restaurant for chinese people about 3 months ago and they had a chinese historical drama playing. i was surprised to see how cheap everything looked compared to korean historical dramas. i felt the same way when i saw some clips of japanese historical dramas. perhaps this is why k dramas are so popular all throughout asia.

    ‘dae jang gum’

    i too bought the entire thing but it’s not one of my favorites. however, the koreans do have a knack at pulling at your heart. when choi san gung was just about to fall to her death, you saw her entire life flash before the screen. it was touching. i felt sorry for her. actually brought a tear to my eye.

    thank you for this interesting post, 박근혜씨. :-)

  • Brett M.

    My take on Korean TV, is there are 5-6 guys, and they are on every channel, generally acting like morons. Gay TV in Korea, just look at most Korean young men. They look more gay, than most of the guys in West Hollywood. All those lovely soft features, that sheep dog hair, and so very white skin. And that new rage with scarves. They all qualify for a show on Bravo ..

  • Baek du boy

    #6..adding to the quality of Korean drama’s is the often liberal use of the anchored boom camera (not just in dramas either!), that slowly rises over a perfect looking neighbourhood with some sentimental music playing, all to set the scene.

  • ZZOOzzoo

    Great post, yuna. I’ve been watching ‘Life is Beautiful’ too and I’m pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly Kim Su-Hyeon managed to weave touchy topics like homosexuality and abortion into the otherwise very calm and “safe” plotline. And all the main actors/actresses are just phenomenal.

    Unlike other Korean dramas or films w/ preposterous portrayal of homosexuality (e.g. King and the Clown, Personal Preference), I think Life is Beautiful will really make a difference in public perception considering Kim’s popularity among the elderly.

  • lollabrats

    “when choi san gung was just about to fall to her death, you saw her entire life flash before the screen. it was touching. i felt sorry for her. actually brought a tear to my eye. ”
    –pawikirogii

    I am guessing that Asians really did appreciate the way the show handled 최고상궁’s death scene. As for myself, I still don’t know what to make of it.

    For me, it seemed more like unnecessary emotional manipulation. But for the Asian viewer, it seems to have satisfied the need to give proper mitigating context to her evil. And she is a complex character, who just happens to plan and execute murderous acts for selfish gain. But in the very next scene following this emotional death scene, the show uses a literary device to admonish us for feeling sympathy and to remind us that she was evil. I actually ended up laughing out loud.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    lollabrats, i know i was being manipulated but i just think the koreans do a good job at how they go about that. they did finally make me feel sorry for her, afterall. poor thing just hanging there knowing the end had come. seeing flashbacks to when she was just a little gitl. the koreans can be clever w these kinds of things.

    i hope you have a good day.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    I’m really not a fan of Korean TV dramas (what’s with all the shouting and tantrums?), but I did watch an episode of 인생은 아름다워 with my wife and really enjoyed it. While watching, I remarked that the writer and director went out of their way to produce something of quality, something that stands out amongst the usual fare.

  • lollabrats

    “i know i was being manipulated but i just think the koreans do a good job at how they go about that.”
    –pawikirogii

    I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t aware. After all, that much must be clear even to young children. I just meant that for cultural reasons, Asians must have found the scene to be satisfying on some emotional level. It looks like it has become a kind of formalized literary device in Korean TV drama. I’ve seen it used in various shows for varying effects. For instance, even the hated 원 균, at the end of the drama, “불멸의 이순신,” gets a similar treatment. Understandably, it does not work as well as in 대장금.

    What’s interesting about devices like this is that it is like a fad. It is one of the occasionally used features that mark this current era of Korean dramas. When the Koreans become more sophisticated, it may disappear. And if that happens, someone may bring it back to great effect many years later when the fad becomes forgotten. Some thing like that. :p

    “the koreans can be clever w these kinds of things. ”
    –pawikirogii

    I agree.

  • lollabrats

    “While watching, I remarked that the writer and director went out of their way to produce something of quality, something that stands out amongst the usual fare.”
    – SomeguyinKorea

    It was a shock to me to discover that there are indeed Korean TV dramas written with excellence and sophistication. Maybe the entire show may not work, but the best shows have an abundance of incredible tightly and smartly written scenes. But they are still few. And that is the reason why sentiments such as the one expressed by Brett M. above exist.

    It has become apparent to me that the single most important indicator of whether a Korean drama is likely to be sophisticated, complex, and dramatically mature is to find out who wrote it. There is a handful of mostly female screenwriters who really offer satisfying material for people who appreciate good drama and good acting. The best writers are not consistent. And they tend to write slice of life stories which bore most people. However, when they are on, their shows can offer something so excellent Korean drama haters would do a double take if they encountered one.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    lollabrats, if you are interested, won’t you take a look at a new post at my blog? it comes w a small clip of something i see from time to time in k-dramas. i call it the ‘stare-down’. i think it’s quite effective in conveying human emotion w/o a single word being said. it’s a minute or so (that’s because i looped it three times). of course, if you’re not interested, i understand. have a good day.

    ‘And that is the reason why sentiments such as the one expressed by Brett M. above exist.’ lollabrats

    i think it’s a little more than that w this guy.

    ps cmm, did you already see the header picture of pope hirohito in the wizard of oz?

  • lollabrats

    “i call it the ’stare-down’. i think it’s quite effective in conveying human emotion w/o a single word being said”
    –pawikirogii

    There is nothing inherently wrong with the scene. It is indeed as effective as you think it is at showing what kind of relationship these two have.

    But at the same time, in my admittedly snobby opinion, I think that what you highlighted for me is exactly the type of convention that harms the television dramatic arts in Korea and in the rest of Asia. In your clip, a man in purple and a man in green have a chat with warm smiles. And we know that these two men are not on amicable terms. When the conversation ends, the man in purple turns about and moves toward the camera. The man in green stands still as he was and merely keeps his chilly but friendly smile aimed at the back of the man in purple, walking away. The man in purple takes about 5 steps toward the camera and then stops. He then with a neutral face turns his head to his left–though not enough to be able to look back at the man in green–and we understand by this image to mean that he feels disdain for the man in green. And then he turns his head back toward the camera and continues to walk, but toward his left. It is as if he had stood there just to decide whether he should walk toward his left. Apparently he does.

    What is odd about the scene is that the length of time he spent standing in position with his back to the man in green, with whom he had just completed an unfriendly friendly conversation, is about 8 seconds. Now imagine yourself finishing a conversation with anyone, friend or foe. And then imagine yourself ending the conversation, turning around, and walking 5 steps away from that person, who hasn’t moved and is standing still to see you off–walking 5 steps and then stopping. And then just standing there. For 8 seconds. 8 seconds. Wouldn’t that be odd? Both of you just standing 5-6 steps away from each other, neither of you talking, neither of you moving? For 8 seconds? Just standing there? And one of you not even looking at the other?

    What this is is the type of highly stylized and formalized convention typical of Asian television, which tend to lend a drama a “stagey” feel. Other conventions that give these television dramas a stagey feel include the common use of soliloquy and the convention in which someone who is obviously quite visible is supposed to be “hiding” and invisible to another person she is stalking. Now you can’t escape from resorting to conventions and devices. But there is no reason why you have to use the ones that give your dramas a false stagey feel.

    These stagey conventions do great harm and retard the development of Korean dramas by denying valuable lessons for directors and actors alike. Directors harm themselves when resorting to these conventions and devices by keeping them from learning how to tell “normal” behavior from formalized dramatic behavior. Korean directors want to be able to tell stories as well as American directors. But they also want to produce these highly stylized stagey looking dramas. But they really can’t have it both ways. Korean directors and producers are simply not preparing the Korean industry to make “The Sopranos” or “NYPD Blue” any time soon. And they are directly at fault. They are shooting themselves in the foot.

    Worse yet, directors who resort to these stagey conventions tend not to know how high-level dramatic interaction is supposed to look like nor how to elicit them. After all, when a director uses a bunch of these conventions, it’s the actors who have to give the performances in a stagey manner. Now I do admit that there are good kinds and bad kinds of stagey conventions. But most Korean television directors seem only to know the bad kind.

    Actors get the worst of it. There are clearly superior Korean actors. But you can’t really expect the field of Korean acting to improve rapidly when most television job opportunities force them to act in a highly stylized manner denying them the opportunity to develop good “modern” western acting skills exactly at the moment when they should be allowed to experiment with them.

    On the other hand, actors too have adopted various conventions, which I think are harmful to skill development. And many acting conventions in Korea pollute natural talents like 문근영, teaching them skills that only stunt their technical growth–not enhance it.

    In my opinion, I think the crux of the problem is that there are too many Korean directors who are more familiar with the camera and the art of editing than they are with the art of acting. Korean television needs a much better balance between the camerawork experts and the acting experts. Or alternately, the camerawork experts need to radically increase their awareness of proper dramatic techniques. Anyways these are just snobby opinions. Pardon.
    :)

  • lollabrats

    “Korean directors and producers are simply not preparing the Korean industry to make “The Sopranos” or “NYPD Blue” any time soon.”

    I should probably expand on this a little. The best Korean television stories are slice of life stories about humble families. But Korea has a lot of expertise in other fields. But it doesn’t seem like experts in other fields want to participate in the literary and dramatic process in Korea. There is no one who wants to write a serious and fair drama about his experience working at Samsung or fighting Seoul against an eminent domain eviction. There is no one who wants to write a serious drama about the daily lives of engineers building a highway in India or to tell about the pressures of being a cop during one of Korea’s leftwing riots. There’s a lot of interesting things going on in Korea, but when they try to depict these stories, they inevitably pervert them into live-action cartoon version of reality.

    Seriously, I think I would love to read a script by a disgruntled Samsung employee like–Brendon Carr or that former prosecutor who wrote the tell-all book. I’m sure both have a lot of interesting observations they have made. And I don’t think they’re alone. I would love to see a serious and realistic depiction of Korean corruption between politics and chaebols–not a cartoonized version of it. I would love to see a serious politically neutral and honest depiction of leftwing activism in Korea–not some absurd partisan hackery. Korea is full of stories. It’s in the process of emerging as a powerful state. It’s just that no one seems to have a clue how to depict it properly for television. The revolution may be televised, but apparently a good dramatization won’t be.

  • yuna

    Thanks for the great comments.

    Have never seen 대장금 myself, or 천국의 계단, or Winter Sonata.

    Have recently become a fan of Japanese dramas, mainly to learn Japanese ^^. I think the manga-based dramas have that characteristic. They are great because they essentially have the storyboard drawn out beautifully so that real life shots can follow those.

    However, maybe it appeals to the younger audience only. I was trying to get my mum to watch one and though she appreciated the fashion(maybe she was trying to placate me) she didn’t manage to watch one single episode saying it was too 만화-like.

  • yuna

    Brett M. @ #7 I blame the skinny jeans on guys. What’s with that. A good looking and tall Swedish colleague once put on pair of a skinny jeans. I’m sorry, but he just didn’t have the bum and the thighs, they were too ample, shall we say.

    김수현 ‘s family dramas are good – they portray that once common but now dwindling Korean living arrangement where three or even four generations all live together.
    I agree with all of you who’ve seen it how the gay issue is melted into the whole – it takes the pressure and the pain from having one couple as the main. It will become more central once he comes out I imagine.

  • lollabrats

    I really do recommend 노희경’s truly excellent melodrama, “그들이 사는 세상.” This is pretty much as good as it gets currently in the ROK. It’s not that long–just 16 1-hour episodes. It has weaknesses, but it has great strengths. It’s written by one of Korea’s best screenwriters. It’s helmed by one of Korea’s best directors. It is enacted by a tremendously talented cast–though I’m not a big fan of its male lead, 현빈. It is slice of life genre so that might turn off many of you. But for anyone who loves terrific dramatic moments this is a good introduction to actually good Kdramas.
    ;)

  • yuna

    그사세 = Not seen it but I remember one moment when it was on as I was flicking channels where Song Hyekyo tried to pull one over Hyunbin, saying she was pregnant. It looked like a more realistic version of Full House, where unmarried people actually had sex.

    I avoided it because I am not a fan of dramas about making dramas, or filmmakers making films (except maybe Ben Stiller’s Tropic of Thunder) I think there were a few of those – Korean drama writers wanting to write a story about themselves and have them played by great looking people.

  • lollabrats

    “Have recently become a fan of Japanese dramas, mainly to learn Japanese ^^. I think the manga-based dramas have that characteristic. ”
    –yuna

    By manga-based, do you mean something bishonen or shojo like “Boys Over Flowers?” What were you trying to do to your mom?

    :p

    You know I’m sure we have different tastes, but I think Japanese anime has produced dramas superior to Japan’s live-action format. In their own way, I think the Japanese industry is shooting themselves in the foot just as terribly as the Koreans are. Japan clearly has the talent to do much better television.

    If I may make an unsolicited recommendation, why don’t you compare the strength of whatever Japanese live-action drama you see with the anime title, “Seirei no Moribito,” by Production I.G. It is a 26-episode long show of about 25 minutes each. It is about a warrior spearwoman who is paid by a queen to be the bodyguard of a young prince who is “pregnant” with a “guardian spirit” and whose father wants to kill him because of a misunderstanding involving this supernatural event.

    It is not really an action genre series, although the fight sequences are incredibly well depicted. The heart of the story is about the quotidian life and not about the intrigue. It’s about an impressive young woman raising an impressive young boy as they try to make a normal life for themselves despite the threat of assassination. The animation and the voice acting is especially superb. The background music is catchy and the supernatural element is interesting. The least appealing parts of the show are the foley work and the OP and ED Jpop songs. And I am pretty certain that your mother would enjoy it, too.
    ;)

  • yuna

    There is no one who wants to write a serious and fair drama about his experience working at Samsung or fighting Seoul against an eminent domain eviction.

    lolla, for example, 시티 홀 (City Hall) had a good line – 보도블럭을 다시
    할까 다리놓을까요 – “Shall we redo the pavements or get a new bridge?”

    It was a drama about a City Hall, and the local politics. When I heard that line, I finally realized why in Seoul all the road pavements always seem to be permanently undergoing construction unearthed and covered in that grizzly carpet even if it’s just been done recently. It’s because they need to use up the budget. I didn’t watch it till the end.

    Then there was 모래시계 though I haven’t seen it. It’s good to criticiae the past powers, but it would be better to be able to criticize present issues.

    The makers of drama are constrained by the same unknown hand from the above constraining them as the reporters of the news are. This is why MBC is permanently going on strikes. Makers of Highkick through the Roof was asked to pull the Hyeri’s phrase “빵꾸똥꾸” out which resulted in this funny news incident.

  • lollabrats

    “Korean drama writers wanting to write a story about themselves and have them played by great looking people.”
    –yuna

    Everyone has these prejudices. I do too. You can include novelists writing about novelists (or English professors) too. But as I said in an earlier post, when it comes to Kdramas, you have to go by who is writing it. And 노희경 is one of the best Korea has to offer at this time. I didn’t like her last couple of shows. So I was happy to find I liked her latest.
    ;)

  • http://sonoficeberg.wordpress.com/ Iceberg

    The chick on the right appears to have some nice tatas.

  • lollabrats

    “시티 홀 (City Hall) had a good line – 보도블럭을 다시
    할까 다리놓을까요 – ‘Shall we redo the pavements or get a new bridge?’”
    –yuna

    Yes, that is a good line.
    :)

    But “시티 홀” isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

    “모래시계” was 1995? It’s a little too old for me. :p

    “Have never seen 대장금 myself, or 천국의 계단, or Winter Sonata. ”
    –yuna

    I wouldn’t recommend “Winter Sonata.” Nor would I recommend “Stairway” normally. But if you can stomach a great deal of tedious melodrama and horrid acting by the gorgeous Choi Ji Woo, you’d find that Kwon Sang Woo in “Stairway” is really fun. For an actor with such a bland looking face and soft voice, he really knows how to charm. In this way, KSW appeals to Koreans I think in the same way ShahRukh Khan appeals to Indians. “Dae Jang Geum” is a plot heavy drama, but it is the best executed of the three. I found much of the acting to be awful, but the plotting was cleverly devised, though implausible. I can say that I did enjoy Dae Jang Geum and I loved the early part of Stairway when KSW discovers, hunts, and torments CJW.

  • yuna

    No haven’t seen 모래시계 either. I just know what it’s about.

    I have tried to show “Kimi wa Petto” and “A Million stars falling from the Sky” to my mum. When I watched “A Million Stars” which I liked, I understood why the Japanese went gaga over the storyline of Winter Sonata. Sister Brother love/incest hold a special place in their hearts, I think, from other dramas and films (not meaning to be gross). I have once heard this is because it goes as far back as the founding legend of the country where the sister and the brother Kamisamas joined and gave birth to the country.

  • Sonagi

    For me, it seemed more like unnecessary emotional manipulation.

    I recall the same life-flashback-at-the-moment-of-death-to-elicit-sympathy technique in one of the Chang Hui-bin series.

    Do TV dramas still do close-ups of a clenched fist to show the character is angry?

  • yuna

    Do TV dramas still do close-ups of a clenched fist to show the character is angry

    Funny. Hopefully they don’t gnash their teeth.

    Give this one a go, Sonagi. I have a feeling you’ll like it not least because you speak the language. The English subtitles are a bit crap but this is a link where you can watch it for free, though they keep taking the clips down (only the episodes 4 and 5 on). And I think it’s on in 30 minutes on air.

  • Sonagi

    I’m afraid I can no longer watch Korean dramas due to the clonish cast of women and increasingly men who appear to visit the same plastic surgeons. I want to look at real Korean faces with big-ass mandibles that scream, ‘I’m Korean! There ain’t a 산나물 I couldn’t rip to shreds with these powerful jaws.” Those v-lines in the photo look like they could hardly swallow 죽.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com setnaffa

    Just acclimatization a la Barney Miller…

    They make perverts seem comical instead of disturbing or detestable…

    The frog is heating slowly enough to be cooked…

  • yuna

    Nam Sangmi and Yu Min(Japanese) neither who are in the photo, but are main characters have not had any surgery, I’m pretty sure of it.

    What pisses me off about it are the annoying characters and tones, especially of the women. I tend not to watch any Korean soaps with women who have 쥐어짜는 목소리. I can only stand to listen to the ones where the women have normal 목소리, not making the sound from the throat. Mind you American nasal accent also annoys me when I hear it in real life (not to accuse anybody here who I’m sure all have lovely voices)

  • Sonagi

    Mind you American nasal accent also annoys me when I hear it in real life (not to accuse anybody here who I’m sure all have lovely voices)

    Even worse than an authentic American nasal accent is the voice of a Korean-born Korean aiming for same accent.

  • lollabrats

    “Do TV dramas still do close-ups of a clenched fist to show the character is angry?”
    –Sonagi

    Yes. There is nothing inherently wrong with this though. It’s completely fine. But these kinds of conventions are a director’s flourish; doing it too much decreases opportunities for the actor to show her inventiveness.

    “Mind you American nasal accent also annoys me when I hear it in real life”
    –yuna

    “Even worse than an authentic American nasal accent is the voice of a Korean-born Korean aiming for same accent.”
    –Sonagi

    Maybe girls have curious pet peeves? Fortunately for American guys, of Korean ethnicity or otherwise, accents have nothing to do with the nasal quality of one’s voice.
    ;)

    Incidentally, I think Nam Sang Mi has a beautiful nasal voice.

  • lollabrats

    I may be wrong, but I do not believe that Seoul National University has a dedicated theater arts program. Because of various accidents of history, the English speaking world managed to overcome many of its prejudices against the theater arts earlier than most cultures and came to highly value its dramatic tradition. The peoples’ admiration for the dramatic arts in the English speaking world, in turn, became an invaluable asset for the English speaking people in helping to project soft power throughout the world.

    And today, dedicated theater arts programs enrich the value of many of the English speaking world’s top universities. Students of the theater arts programs from non-conservatories like Cambridge, Harvard, Brown, Colombia, and NYU have major positive impact on this tradition. These students tend not only to excel at acting and directing, but they also have a great range of learning, which inform their artistic decisions.

    I wonder if SNU could make a great positive impact on the Korean dramatic tradition by investing in a dedicated program and hiring talented Koreans and experts from around the world. I don’t see why such a program would not be able to attract talent from Russia and America and Britain and other traditions. Russia is a nearby state experiencing a major brain drain of its copious amount of resources in highly skilled talent in every field.

    I know Korea has theater arts programs. But considering the increasing importance of Korea’s young dramatic culture in its overall strategic ambitions, I would think that the Koreans would want SNU-quality students to study and participate in the dramatic arts.

    Again, pardon me if I am wrong about SNU not having such a program.

  • abcdefg

    Dae Jang Geum is a beautiful drama. I’m just not crazy about the very last episode , or, the last twenty minutes or so. It’s got a lot of ambience and great cinematography; the show became a part of me, and I kind of lived the story with the characters.

    Other K dramas have done the same for me. Bahn Ohl Lim 1 and 2, and Be Good, Geum Soon (starring the beautiful, natural Han Hye Jin)….

    Yeah Boiieee. Nutritive stuff. Loved those dramas, and had like ten thousand episodes each. Heh.

  • lollabrats

    “The makers of drama are constrained by the same unknown hand from the above constraining them as the reporters of the news are.”
    –yuna

    When Orson Welles made a movie about a fictional character named, Charles Foster Kane, a very powerful and very real life person named William Randolph Hearst took offence and made his life difficult. Maybe that would happen to a Korean who tries to make a realistic but entertaining dramatization of his unhappy or happy experience at Samsung.

    But I think you may be taking for granted the reason why in the English speaking world, theater and cinema often explore all kinds of nooks and cranies of its society. Even in the English speaking world, the prejudices of common folks, powerful folks, and powerful institutions had to be overcome–but they could only be overcome by excellence and by people who knew what they were talking about. But the important point is that this excellence had to be built up in the first place. And the process as a whole required a liberal-leaning society. But that’s Korea today.

    Yuna, this very post you have made is about a talented Korean writer who is trying to feature the taboo subject of homosexual love in her drama, which she wants to make popular. But she is building on the efforts of other artists. Some who featured characters pretending to be gay. And one talented woman who wrote about the difficulties of making a television show about gay love.

    And if the work is good and its politics fair, then future generations will respect it and use it as proof to further liberalize its society. Today, the movie, “Citizen Kane,” is acknowledged for its great contributions to cinema. And no one really cares that some powerful man got his feelings hurt. The movie is good on its own merits and not as some shaming work taking cheap shos at a real life person. Heart’s part in this story is now an interesting aside, not the featured news. But the work must be good. And it must be fair.

  • lollabrats

    Also, there is no reason why you have to use the name Samsung. You could call it Korea, Inc.
    ;)

  • Sonagi

    Fortunately for American guys, of Korean ethnicity or otherwise, accents have nothing to do with the nasal quality of one’s voice.

    Certain American regional accents are by nature nasal although I suppose one could give a nasal quality to non-nasal accents. Some nasal by nature US accents that come to mind include lower New England, NYC, and inland northern cities like Pittsburg, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee, whose local accents have been grouped as part of the Great Northern Vowel Shift. A nasalized short a is a distinctive sound of these dialects. I lost mine after living overseas for several years.

  • lollabrats

    I think the single greatest factor holding back actors in Korea is the fact that there just is no great dramatic Korean work. Young Americans and young Canadians and young Australians have the benefit of learning from sublime texts written in Britain starting centuries ago. And as the territory of the language expanded and the tradition became more rich, the success of the tradition fed on itself and produced more of it.

    Koreans today do not have that benefit. They are building a modern dramatic tradition from scratch. In the beginning, they were just aping it. But today, there are clear positive signs that there are actors in Korea who are truly talented and skilled. The problem is that there are not enough talented directors or new scripts. Of course this problem exists everywhere–there are more high skilled performers in the state of California than there are good scripts, too. But it’s worse for the Koreans because they can’t practice on texts written during a centuries long tradition.

    They can and do rely on translations. But Koreans may need that sublime theater piece written by a Korean in Korean to really push the field to the next step i think. Sorry. More arrogant opinionating.
    :p

  • lollabrats

    “A nasalized short a is a distinctive sound of these dialects. I lost mine after living overseas for several years..”
    –Sonagi

    I’ll defer to the expert then. But man, I feel bad for Korean Americans with nasal voices being hated on just because they speak with the local sound.
    ;)

  • Sonagi

    I’m not referring to native-born Americans of any ethnicity although I don’t find nasalized accents pleasing to the ear. My earlier comment referred to some Koreans who seem to try too hard to emulate the nasal quality of some short vowels in American English. Not hateful, just annoying. I feel the same about the Beijing r-r-r dialect and foreigners who try to emulate it. Like nails on a chalkboard.

  • lollabrats

    “My earlier comment referred to some Koreans who seem to try too hard to emulate the nasal quality of some short vowels in American English. ”
    –Sonagi

    It seems to me that people who learn a new language pick up sound cues, no matter how peculiar–from native speakers they most socialize with. It’s hard not to. And the fact is that everyone changes their “accent” constantly. You yourself dropped your nasal voice. I just don’t think you should attribute any more significance to this kind of behavior than it really warrants. Not everyone who picks up a nasal voice does so out of insecurity or arrogance. That’s all I’m saying. However, I understand you are also just saying that you don’t like certain vocal sounds. I suppose that can’t be helped. Although many people hate the sound of Fran Drescher’s voice, I sympathize with her. On the other hand, I think Nam Sang Mi has a beautiful nasal voice.

    I have several friends from Hong Kong. The first time I heard that Sino-British accent, I did chuckle.

    ;)

  • yuna

    lolla, you are passionate. I guess 연극 wise, Shakespeare’s influence on the dramtic work in the English speaking world is certainly great. And Oscar Wilde and company. Or going even further back the Ancient Greek Dramas, which often reminded me of the Korean 막장드라마.

    Have you come across 강풀’s work? Some of his web-based cartoons have been made into good films. He is great. His work varies from 순정 to horror/suspense to political(26년 – a fiction about assassination of 전두환). 그대를 사랑합니다 is about love between seniors, and 바보 is about a village 바보 all people who are 사회에서 소외된 사람들. I find his work uniquely Korean yet heartwarming.

    On a tangential note, a couple of days ago I read this article(article link fixed, lolla) written by a lecturer in New Media which raises the issue you mentioned in one of your earlier comments – the lack of liberal arts education. It’s actually answering the question raised by LMB (I do pick on him don’t I?) which has been bothering me a lot – “Why can’t we make one? (he was referring to games consoles like Nintendo)”

    The article starts by saying the very question shows the cluelessness of the leaders who ask such questions, and the hierarchical structure of our society where a person in authority can demand the answer to them. Then it goes onto list the strong liberal arts college in the US with envy.
    Interesting.

  • yuna

    I have several friends from Hong Kong. The first time I heard that Sino-British accent, I did chuckle

    Nothing British about it. I lived in Hong Kong, the local Chinese population speak English quite well but it’s just Sino, same goes for Singlish.
    That’s what you get for learning too much English, and making your education English based, you go pidgin.

  • lollabrats

    “I read this article”
    –The link doesn’t work.

    “Nothing British about it.’
    –yuna

    I’m not 100% certain, but I am getting this feeling that we are indeed using “dialect,” “accent,” and “vocal sound” interchangeably.
    :/

    “That’s what you get for learning too much English, and making your education English based, you go pidgin.”
    –yuna

    Pidgin is wonderful. I love it. Incidentally, modern English developed out of the pattern of pidgin–>creole movement, I believe, after the Norman conquest.

  • Sonagi

    Not everyone who picks up a nasal voice does so out of insecurity or arrogance.

    I believe my comments have been misinterpreted. Trying to emulate a particular accent does not imply either characteristic.

    However, I understand you are also just saying that you don’t like certain vocal sounds.

    Yes, that is what I’m saying. Just like I prefer certain kinds of music over others or certain instruments over others.

  • lollabrats

    Middle English, i mean

  • Sonagi

    Nothing British about it. I lived in Hong Kong, the local Chinese population speak English quite well but it’s just Sino, same goes for Singlish.

    Sino with British characteristics. Young mainland Chinese speak English differently. The ones who worked in our school and friends I socialized with spoke English with North American characteristics, probably reflecting greater exposure to North American media and more frequent contact with North Americans living locally.

  • lollabrats

    “Some of his web-based cartoons have been made into good films. He is great.”
    –yuna

    I didn’t mean to imply that Korea does not have a rich literary tradition. I was speaking specifically about great plays.

    Korean cinema is much better off than Korean TV is. The Koreans have long bought the notion that a film need not conform to any one set of conventions. Korean TV, however, to its own detriment, is greatly underutilizing the talent available in Korea. They are also very much married to some horrible sets of conventions, which are being chipped away at the margins by some of their more talented artists.

    “Or going even further back the Ancient Greek Dramas, which often reminded me of the Korean 막장드라마.”
    –yuna

    I think this is deliberate. But I think what you’re sensing is this. I think these shows were trying to marry saccharine melodrama with some ingenious plotting. “Stairway” for example, is extremely difficult for most non-Asians to watch because of the tediousness of the melodramatic elements and because the star, CJW, is not a good actress. But since I happened to see the whole thing, I can at least tell you that the producers really wanted to make an ambitious, fairytale like story. And in its own way, it works out really well.

    “the lack of liberal arts education. ”
    –yuna

    I was actually specifically talking about SNU. If SNU founds its own dedicated drama school, it would be like an imprimatur for the art in Korea. And I think SNU-quality students should be taking part in the Korean dramatic tradition. It is quite clear to me that Korea does identify Kdramas as a strategic key export in their exercise in soft power projection.

  • 3gyupsal

    I quite enjoyed high kick. This “Life is Beautiful,” sounds pretty good. I don’t much care for the device in Korean dramas where the actors and actresses have a lot of scenes alone and they end up talking to themselves. I think better screenwriting could come into play, where they have to show and not tell.

  • http://hunjang.blogspot.com Antti

    Cannot add much to the discussion about Korean dramas as my exposure to them in last 10 years has been small, but I just want to say that this has been one of the better threads on this site in a long time. Yuna, keep up the good work.

  • NetizenKim

    Yuna, are you a “fag-hag”?

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Well… as Eddie Murphy once said… “Women love gay guys. Gay men will talk to you and want to be your friend and they won’t want to have sex with you… you can share fashion tips and just hang out with them and you don’t have to have sex with them… did I mention they are men who don’t want to have sex with you?”

    ;)

  • Sonagi

    Besides the advantages listed, gay men make great travel partners, and it’s fun to swap opinions about whether or not we find colleagues, mutual acquaintances, and famous people attractive.

  • yuna

    Yuna, are you a “fag-hag”?

    I appreciate their contribution to the fashion industry.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    I wonder if yuna has a British accent. But I bet her Korean accented English outweighs any British accent she may have.

  • Pingback: Korean Gender Reader: May 3 2010 « The Grand Narrative

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    i wonder if i might make a small disclaimer, lollabrats. i’d like to point out to you that i was born and raised here in the states and that
    my mother tongue is english. i don’t think i have any asian sensibilities though i am aware of them and do interpret korean behavior
    through that prism. that’s just a small note.

    moving on the the stare-down, i too noticed what you noticed but i didn’t notice it until i actually looped the thing (i wanted to show some
    people the funny hats korean men used to wear.) i too thought it was strange that the man in the foreground stopped and cocked his head half way back. it was strange because people wouldn’t really do that in real life. however, i didn’t notice it at first because my focus was on the man in the background and i think it would be safe to say that that that would be everybody else’s focus too. i think most of us have seen this kind
    of ‘stare-down’ in real life and that the focus would almost always be on the one who is stationary. that’s why i didn’t notice the man in the forground’s unusual behavior. i think if one were to watch it once, nobody would notice it. in any event, i thought the stare-down was an interesting visual device because we don’t usually see that used here too often. of course, if i could have directed the thing, i would have had the character in the foreground simply move away w a look of disgust or what have you, but alas, i’m just a viewer.

    if i now may change the subject just slightly, i’d like to point out that it wouldn’t be fair to expect korean televison shows to be on par w shows like ‘the sopranos’ since the us has had a much longer time w television-making compared to the koreans. when i watch a k drama, i never expect it to be as good as shows like ‘dexter’ or ‘battlestar galactica’ because the koreans simply have not had the same amount of time to develope such interesting shows. moreover, i also would point out that american television didn’t really start getting good until about 20 years ago, prior to that, american television was just aweful though at
    the time, we may not have realized it. let me give you a good example, there was a show called ‘moonlighting’ here in the 80s. it was a big hit and i had fond memories of the show. when they finally started putting it out on dvd, i rushed right out to get it. i was simply shocked at how poorly written and executed the whole thing was. i couldn’t get through 3 episodes. i kept wondering how such a cheap looking show could have been number one for so long. the answer to that is, we weren’t as sophisticated back then as we are now. ‘moonlighting’ as it is could never be a hit now because of high quality shows like ‘the sopranos’.
    the koreans, on the other hand, are not as sophisticated when compared to american audiences and i think we won’t be seeing the kind of high quality we see here for about another 20 years. i’m willing to give korean televison some slack and in that sense, the koreans make some decent television using visual devices that i find rather clever. let’s be patient. a korean sopranos will be coming but not for some time. i apologize if i rambled on a bit too long.

    i hope you have a good day.

  • Sonagi

    I wonder if yuna has a British accent. But I bet her Korean accented English outweighs any British accent she may have.

    I’ll bet you it doesn’t. I taught a fair number of Korean TCKs who spoke perfectly generic North American English despite the fact that they’d never set foot on the continent. They acquired English through years of attendance at international schools with a large American student body and staff in countries like Indonesia, China, Colombia, and Kuwait.

  • lollabrats

    “i too thought it was strange that the man in the foreground stopped and cocked his head half way back. it was strange because people wouldn’t really do that in real life”
    –pawikirogii

    “i would have had the character in the foreground simply move away w a look of disgust or what have you”
    –pawikirogii

    Just so we are clear, I want to point out that I do not think that there is anything inherently wrong with the choices the director made in your clip. And one of these choices includes the 8 second pause I mention above. The important point is that I think that it is indeed as effective as you think it is. I am agreeing with you that it is kind of cool.

    On the other hand, your own personal suggestion, I believe, is much less effective than you think. Your direction would have made the man in purple seem much less dignified and more ajussi-commoner-like than what the director has in mind. His looking to the side with a neutral face is actually a very informative act, giving us clues as to the inner emotions of the two characters as well as their power and personal relationship. Furthermore, his looking to the side is a necessary part of what is a formalized sequence of shots and compositions, ending with the man in purple “crossing downstage” of the man in green.

    I really think it was done well.

    What I believe is the problem is that it is one stagey device in an industry, which seems addicted to stagey devices. It’s cool to have one or two shows a season make these kinds of stylistic decisions. It is much less effeective when almost all of them do it. And what’s worse, relying on these kinds of conventions do actual harm to the development of both Korean actors and directors. This is not because these things are inherently bad–as I said, they are not–but because these things are used often poorly or needlessly.

  • lollabrats

    “i also would point out that american television didn’t really start getting good until about 20 years ago, prior to that, american television was just aweful though at the time, we may not have realized it.”
    –pawikirogii

    Oh, this is most demonstrably false. American dramatic television began producing amazingly high-quality dramatic and comedic programming by the early 1950s–programs, which are still beloved for their sophistication and quality all over the world today. “I Love Lucy” began airing on October 15, 1951. Korean children born after the Korean War definitely grew up enjoying all kinds of American dramatic and comedic programming. And some of them will stand the test of time. You shouldn’t let the existence of “Moonlighting” prejudice you against amazing quality dramas and comedies from America and Britain prior to 1990.

    However, I should point out here that I did above say that there are good kinds of stagey devices and bad. Perhaps what makes them good or bad is how well such devices are used. For various obvious reasons, a lot of early television makes use of stagey devices. But the skill in the method used makes all the difference. In comedy, you usually, but not always, made use of a long stage with sets on it with stands set opposite for a live audience to participate in the taping, with their applause and laughter. Comedies were sometimes literally stagey. And as for dramas, there used to even be actual teleplays–theater scripts designed to be performed live or taped for television airing. One of the last one of these also happens to be one of my all time favorite shows–the BBC’s adaptation of Robert Graves’s “I, Claudius,” with Sir Derek Jacobi as the great stuttering Roman emperor. Young people find the show strange and boring. But anyone who admires great stories, dialogue, stagecraft, and acting must fall in love with it, regardless of age.

  • lollabrats

    “i also would point out that american television didn’t really start getting good until about 20 years ago, prior to that, american television was just aweful though at the time, we may not have realized it.”
    –pawikirogii

    I should also point out that the English-language theater and cinematic tradition is richer and deeper than just 20 years. We already had the benefit of Shakespeare, Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Elia Kazan, etc. We didn’t get suddenly stupid when television came around. When you cite “Moonlighting,” I think what you mean is not that the dramatic tradition became more sophisticated in the last 20 years, I think that you mean that you did.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    no, what i’m saying is, american tv has become much more sophisticated in the last 20 years and along w it, your average american, myself included.

    have a good day, lollabrats.

  • lollabrats

    “it wouldn’t be fair to expect korean televison shows to be on par w shows like ‘the sopranos’ since the us has had a much longer time w television”
    –pawikirogii

    You misunderstand me. I wasn’t saying that the Koreans should be able to make “The Sopranos” today. What I was saying is that Korean producers and directors, for reasons I give above, keep making certain artistic decisions, which make it less likely that the industry will rapidly develop the skills necessary to one day be able to produce their own world-class dramatic programming. And they do this by harming the technical development of both directors and actors.

    When the Koreans built their worldclass shipbuilding industry, they did it without the benefit of centuries of experience. It happened relatively quickly. And they did it by learning from others. Now they’re on top. There is no reason why they have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the dramatic arts, either. The Koreans should just go to school in Hollywood if they must and figure out both what to do and not do. I just don’t think that they are really serious about this and I think that is a mistake. The Koreans today mistakenly believe that their music and TV play well outside of east Asia; they do not, no matter how often Rain makes the 100 Most Influential List. The Koreans can and should start getting serious about their dramatic arts. Doing so would, I believe, make Korean culture more attractive to non-Asians, which translates to more incomes, jobs, and better security for Koreans.
    ;)

  • lollabrats

    “no, what i’m saying is, american tv has become much more sophisticated in the last 20 years and along w it, your average american, myself included. ”
    –pawikirogii

    I think you must mean sophistication in terms of the visual and audio presentation. Certainly, it was technically impossible to make “24″ in 1950. But in terms of acting and writing, the best of American television was highly sophisticated nearly from the beginning.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    i would wonder if you would give us examples of (popular) american television shows that can stand the test of time. though you can give examples like ‘i love lucy’, the fact of the matter is, most american tv was rather poor compared to what we have now.

  • lollabrats

    “most american tv was rather poor compared to what we have now.”
    –pawikirogii

    This was true then. It is true now. It will be true tomorrow. Certainly the vast vast majority of programs are duds. Any show that can even sell a single full season has achieved something remarkable. And even then, a lot of these survivors are of poor quality, too. And even shows that become popular are not necessarily good. And good shows do not necessarily become popular.

    “i would wonder if you would give us examples of (popular) american television shows that can stand the test of time. ”
    –pawikirogii

    Well, since you seem to have implied that there have been good shows in the last 20 years, I’ll list a couple “(popular) American” works prior. Now, I did only say “some.” And these shows did not maintain their level of excellence throughout their runs, but their best episodes were remarkable for various reasons.

    “The Twilight Zone” (1959-64)–good writing
    “All in the Family” (1971-79)–good writing, acting
    “Hill Street Blues” (1981-87)–good writing, acting
    “Cheers” (1982-93)–good comedy
    “Roseanne” (1988-97)–good writing, acting

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    i like you, lollabrats. have agood night, sir. :-)

    ps good list but i question ‘all in the family’.

  • lollabrats

    @pawikirogii

    I do agree with you that American television is improving, too. I think the most important factor for television remains money. This is true in tv industries everywhere. I love the show, “MadMen,” but had HBO actually decided to produce it instead of AMC, I think the acting and directing and production would all have been better off. But it’s still well done.

    Korean cinema has improved drastically in the last two decades as financial backing became easier to secure in the industry. But television is advertisement. And maybe there are limits to what Korean tv can raise. I understand that. But I don’t think they need to accept that. I just would like to see what would happen if the ROK became reknown in the west for their tv dramas. I just think that that development would have all kinds of benefits for Korea.

    And I don’t think you should necessarily feel comfortable with the argument that tomorrow things may be different. You need only take a glance at Japan. They’ve been at it longer and they’ve got the money and soundstages. But they have their own way of doing things. They used to be a source of great cinema. They even have a richer tradition in the dramatic arts than Korea. But they’re not going to be making “The Sopranos” any time soon either.

    What’s lacking in Korea is not some magic thing. It is an actual set of skills certain intelligent people can learn. Koreans can do it. And they should try.

  • gangpehmoderniste

    Well, since you seem to have implied that there have been good shows in the last 20 years, I’ll list a couple “(popular) American” works prior

    Add to that list ALF