It was around three years back i was exposed to the concept of region-free DVD playback, a virtually necessary condition for readers of DVD Beaver. For that reason, a complete world of Asian film that was heretofore unknown for me or out of my reach opened up. I had already absorbed decades of Kurosawa and, recently, a smattering of classic Hong Kong gangster and fantasy films by way of our local Hong Kong Film Festival. Of Korean films, I knew nothing. But across the next few months, with my new and surprisingly cheap multi-region DVD player, I had been immersed in beautiful DVD editions of Oldboy, Peppermint Candy, Memories of Murder, Sisily 2Km, Taegukgi, In the Mirror, Oasis and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – with lots more following close on their heels. This was a whole new world of leading edge cinema if you ask me.
A few months into this adventure, a buddy lent us a copy of your first disc from the Korean television series, 韓劇dvd. He claimed that this drama had just finished a six month’s run as the most popular Korean television series ever, and that the new English subtitles by YA-Entertainment were quite readable. “Maybe you’ll enjoy it, maybe not.” He knew my tastes pretty well by then, but the idea of a television series, let alone one designed for Korean mainstream TV, was hardly something that lit the obligatory fire under me. After two episodes, I was hooked.
I understood my fascination with Korean cinema, but television! It was unknown. How could this be, I puzzled? I wasn’t all of that hooked on American TV. West Wing, Sopranos, Buffy – sure. Maybe I needed pan-tastes, nevertheless i still thought of myself as discriminating. So, what was the attraction – one may possibly say, compulsion that persists to this particular day? Over the last several years I have watched, faithfully, eight complete series, in historical and contemporary settings – each one averaging 20 hours – and I’m halfway into Jumong, which is over 80 hour long episodes! What is my problem!
Though there are obvious similarities to Western primetime dramas, cable as well as daytime soaps, Korean primetime television dramas – that they can commonly call “miniseries” because the West already enjoyed a handy, or else altogether accurate term – certainly are a unique art. They can be structured like our miniseries in they have a pre-ordained beginning, middle and end. While a lot longer than our miniseries – the episodes are a whole hour long, not counting commercials, that happen to be usually front loaded before the episode begins – they actually do not carry on for five, six or seven seasons, like Alias or Star Trek: Voyager, or perhaps for generations, much like the Times of Our Everyday Life. The closest thing we need to Korean dramas is perhaps any season in the Wire. Primetime television in Korea is really simply dramas and news. So Korea’s three very competitive networks (MBC, KBS and SBS) have gotten great at it over time, especially considering that the early 1990s as soon as the government eased its censorship about content, which in turn got their creative juices going.
Korean dramas were jump-started in 1991 by the hugely successful Eyes of Dawn, set in between the Japanese invasion of WWII and the Korean War in the early 1950s. In 1995 the highly acclaimed series, The Sandglass, caused it to be clear to a audience outside the country that Korea was certainly onto something. The Sandglass deftly and intelligently melded the field of organized crime along with the ever-present love story up against the backdrop of the was then recent Korean political history, specially the events of 1980 referred to as the Gwang-ju Democratization Movement as well as the government’s crushing military response (think: Tienamin Square.) Nevertheless it wasn’t until 2002, with Yoon Suk-Ho’s Winter Sonata, that whatever we now call the “Korean Wave” really took off. Winter Sonata in a short time swept over Asia like atsunami, soon landing in Hawaii and therefore the Mainland, where Korean dramas already possessed a modest, but loyal following.
Right about then, Tom Larsen, who had previously worked for YesAsia.com, started their own company in San Bruno, California: YA-Entertainment (to never be mistaken for YesAsia) to distribute the ideal Korean dramas with proper English subtitles in Canada And America. To this end, YAE (as Tom wants to call his company) secured the required licenses to perform exactly that with all the major Korean networks. I spent a couple of hours with Tom a week ago referring to our mutual interest. Larsen had first gone to Korea for two years as a volunteer, then came to the States to finish college where he naturally, but gradually, worked his way into a Korean Language degree at Brigham Young. He came upon his fascination with Korean dramas accidentally when one his professors used a then current weekly series to help you his students study Korean. An unexpected complication was he with his fantastic schoolmates became totally hooked on the drama itself. Larsen has since made several trips to Korea for prolonged stays. I’ll return to how YAE works shortly, but first I would like to try at least to answer the question: Why Korean Dramas?
Section of the answer, I think, depends on the unique strengths of such shows: Purity, Sincerity, Passion. Maybe the hallmark of Korean dramas (and, to some degree, in many of their feature films) is really a relative purity of character. Each character’s psychology and motivation is obvious, clean, archetypical. This may not be to state they are certainly not complex. Rather a character is not made complicated arbitrarily. Psychological understanding of the type, as expressed by her or his behavior, is – I judge – often more correctly manifest compared to what we percieve on American television series: Character complexity is more convincing once the core self is just not focused on fulfilling the needs of this or that producer, sponsor or target age range or subculture.
Korea is actually a damaged and split country, as are numerous others whose borders are drawn by powers aside from themselves, invaded and colonized many times within the centuries. Koreans are, therefore, acutely sensitive to questions of divided loyalties. Korean dramas often explore the conflict involving the modern along with the traditional – even just in the historical series. Conflicts of obligations are usually the prime motivation while focusing for the dramatic narrative, often expressed in generational terms within the family. There may be something very reassuring about these dramas. . . not within the 1950s happy ending sense, for indeed, you will find few happy endings in Korean dramas. In comparison to American tv shows: Korean TV dramas have simpler, yet compelling story lines, and natural, sympathetic acting of characters we are able to have faith in.
Probably the most arresting feature of the acting is definitely the passion that may be taken to performance. There’s a good price of heartfelt angst which, viewed out of context, can strike the unsuspecting Westerner as somewhat laughable. Nevertheless in context, such expressions of emotion are powerful and engaging, strikinmg towards the heart of the conflict. Korean actors and audiences, young or old, unlike our, are immersed with their country’s political context along with their history. The emotional connection actors make for the characters they portray has a degree of truth that is projected instantly, minus the conventional distance we appear to require from the west.
Like the 韓劇dvd in the 1940s, the characters in the Korean drama have a directness about their greed, their desires, their weaknesses, as well as their righteousness, and they are fully devoted to the outcomes. It’s difficult to say if the writing in Korean dramas has anything like the bite and grit of your 40s or 50s American film (given our dependence on a translation, however well-intended) – I rather doubt it. Instead, specifically in the historical series, the actors wear their emotional link to their character on their face as a sort of character mask. It’s among the conventions of Korean drama that people can see clearly what another character cannot, though these are “there” – form of just like a stage whisper.
We have for ages been a supporter from the less-is-more school of drama. Not really that I favor a blank stage in modern street clothes, but that too much detail can turn an otherwise involved participant in a passive observer. Also, the greater detail, the more chance that I will occur by using an error which will take me out from the reality the art director has so carefully constructed (like the 1979 penny that Chris Reeves finds in the pocket in Somewhere in Time.) Graphic presentations with sensational story lines have a short-term objective: to keep the viewer interested till the next commercial. There is absolutely no long-term objective.
A big plus is the story lines of Korean dramas are, with not many exceptions, only if they must be, after which the series goes to a conclusion. It does not persist with contrived excuses to re-invent its characters. Nor is the duration of a series dependant upon the “television season” because it is from the Usa K-dramas usually are not mini-series. Typically, they are between 17-24 hour-long episodes, though some have over 50 episodes (e.g. Emperor of your Sea, Dae Jang Geum, and Jumong).
Korean actors are relatively unknown to American audiences. They can be disarming, engaging and, despite their youth or pop status in Korea (as is usually the case), are typically more skilled than American actors of the similar age. For it will be the rule in Korea, rather than the exception, that high profile actors do both television and film. During these dramas, we Westerners have the advantages of understanding people different from ourselves, often remarkably attractive, which has an appeal in their own right.
Korean dramas have a resemblance to another dramatic form once familiar to us and currently in disrepute: the ” melodrama.” Wikipedia, describes “melodrama” as from the Greek word for song “melody”, put together with “drama”. Music can be used to increase the emotional response or suggest characters. You will find a tidy structure or formula to melodrama: a villain poses a threat, the hero escapes the threat (or rescues the heroine) and there is a happy ending. In melodrama there is constructed a realm of heightened emotion, stock characters along with a hero who rights the disturbance on the balance of excellent and evil in the universe with a clear moral division.
Aside from the “happy ending” part as well as an infinite supply of trials for both hero and heroine – usually, the second – this description isn’t to date from the mark. But most importantly, the notion of the melodrama underscores another essential difference between Korean and Western drama, and that is the role of music. Western television shows and, to a great extent, present day cinema uses music in a comparatively casual way. An American TV series could have a signature theme that might or might not – usually not – get worked to the score as being a show goes along. A lot of the music will there be to assist the mood or provide additional energy to the action sequences. Not with Korean dramas – in which the music is commonly used similar to musical theatre, even opera. Certain themes represent specific characters or relationships between the two. The music is deliberately and intensely passionate and might stand on its own. Just about every series has a minumum of one song (not sung by way of a character) that appears during especially sensitive moments. The lyric is reflective and poetic. Many television soundtrack albums are hugely successful in Asia. The songs for Winter Sonata, Seo Dong Yo, Palace and Jumong are all excellent examples.
The setting to get a typical Korean drama might be almost anyplace: home, office, or outdoors which may have the main benefit of familiar and less known locations. The producers of Dae Jang Geum created a small working village and palace to the filming, which includes since develop into a popular tourist attraction. A series could possibly be one or a combination of familiar genres: romances, comedies, political or crime thrillers or historical dramas. Whilst the settings are frequently familiar, the traditions and, often, the costumes and then make-up can be quite distinct from Western shows. Some customs might be fascinating, while others exasperating, even in contemporary settings – concerning example, in the winter months Sonata, exactly how the female lead character, Yujin, is ostracized by friends and family once she balks in her engagement, a predicament that Korean audiences really can relate to.
Korean TV dramas, like any other art form, have their own share of conventions: chance meetings, instant flashback replays, highly fantasized love stories, chance meetings, character masks, chance meetings, which can seem like unnecessary time-stoppers to Americans who are widely used to a speedy pace. I would suggest not suppressing the inevitable giggle from some faux-respect, but know that these matters include the territory. My feeling: Whenever you can appreciate Mozart, you should certainly appreciate the pace and conventionality of Dae Jang Geum. More recent adult dramas like Alone for each other advise that some of these conventions could have already begun to play themselves out.
Episodes get through to the YAE office in San Bruno on Digital Beta (a 1:1 copy through the master which was employed for the specific broadcast) where it is screened for possible imperfections (in which case, the network is required to send another.) The Beta is downloaded in the lossless format to the computer along with a low-resolution copy is 25dexjpky on the translator. Translation is carried out in stages: first a Korean-speaking person that knows English, then your reverse. Our prime-resolution computer master will be tweaked for contrast and color. When the translation is finalized, it can be entered into the master, being careful to time the look of the subtitle with speech. Then your whole show is screened for more improvements in picture and translation. A 日劇dvd is constructed which includes every one of the menu instructions and completed picture and subtitles. The DLT will then be delivered to factories in Korea or Hong Kong to the production of the discs.
Whether or not the picture is formatted in 4:3 or 16:9, typically, the picture quality is excellent, sometimes exceptional; as well as the audio (music, dialogue and foley) is apparent and dynamic, drawing the target audience in the time and place, the storyline and the characters. For individuals who definitely have made the jump to light speed, we can easily anticipate to eventually new drama series in high definition transfers inside the not too distant future.