20 Things Newbies Need to Know About Korean Dramas
Note: I have updated the first paragraph to address some situations in which visitors to my blog often ask me questions about Korean culture. Please read this introductory statement carefully, because previous visitors do not seem to have done so. While I appreciate the visits please take into account that I am not an expert on Korean cultural or historical matters. I watch Korean drama, that doesn’t make me a Korean sociologist or historian.
First of all, I am not Korean. I do not speak Korean. What I understand of Korean culture barely scratches the surface. Let me repeat that, I am not Korean, I do not break Korean, I have never lived in Korea, I am not an expert on the culture and what I know of the culture barely scratches the surface. In other words do not ask me questions about Korean culture. If you want to study Korean culture please do your own homework. You can start with some of the links on my links page. Oh look, I mentioned that in my original post below. Also, Google is a wonderful and useful tool, employ it.
Therefore this list is simply what I wish someone had first told me when I stumbled on to the fantastic world of Korean Drama so that I was not lost thinking things like look at all these wonderful characters but why can’t they hug in public? It is a really a very basic K Drama list for
Dummies Newbies. After you get your feet wet and begin trying to understand cultural and language elements, I suggest you visit some k drama resource blogs. You will find one that fits you. Dramabeans, has some excellent information for beginners. The recaps that Dramabeans does are also really helpful when you are learning your way into K Drama Land because they are generally middle of the road. This is the value of Dramabeans, it helps non-korean/non-korean speaking newbies a place to “keep up” with dramas when they don’t exactly understand what is going on due to cultural differences, pop culture references, and of course the language barrier. Also Ask A Korean has great insight to cultural information, but is not a K Drama specific site. This is you tube links/channels from people that post various instructional info that is quite helpful: Newbie Help.
Also, please check out the Links for other webpages and blogs.
- Most Korean TV shows are called dramas. Most run one season-13-30 episodes. 16-24 episodes is the norm. A basic Korean Drama is basically a 1970’s Romance Novel. There is conflict and angst and epic stuff that happens. Without the sex. Except- half the time the female lead character is older than the male lead character or the actress is older than the actor (go Korea).
- Main types of dramas: Rom-Com/Romance, Melodrama, Makjang (Extreme Soap Opera Melodrama), Sageuk (historical drama)/Fusion Sageuk (historical drama infused with modern elements and/or fantasy). There are some medical and procedural crime drama type shows. Every now and then we get a drama that does not exactly fit in these categories, such as Misaeng, which is a work place drama. There are also longer dramas and sitcoms that run 50-100 episodes often called dailies (think soap operas).
- These labels in #2 are deceiving. Rom-coms can have tragic elements. And melos can have funny moments.
- Korean women in dramas rarely show skin and it appears they might die if even their collarbone is exposed. Except legs, even in freezing cold weather, tottering on ridiculously high heels, even when they are say, secret service agents. Men are often more sexualized on TV than women. All that really means is that there is usually a shirtless scene. There are very disparate culturally assigned gender role behaviors for the Korean culture. This is often problematic for western viewers.
- There is little diversity in Korean Drama other than class and sometimes a Japanese or Chinese character. There are very few non Korean cast members or characters in the shows. There are some rare male homosexual characters, or inferences that a character may be homosexual. I have yet to see a lesbian character.
- TV Shows are heavily monitored, censored. Most kissing is a lip press. If you see an actor open his mouth this is a big deal. If the actress kisses him back it is like R rated. If it’s in a public setting it’s almost porn-PDA is a no no, I mean even holding hands. If the couple actually has sex over the course of the show consider you have witnessed the television event of the year. Do not make the mistake in thinking the actor or the actor is a terrible actor or a bad on screen kisser because of bug eyed lip press kisses. The actors are taking DIRECTION and do what they are told.
- Do not try to translate or recognize words as a newbie, just go with the flow. The subs are often not literal translations because of grammar structure and cultural practices, and other reasons. Sometimes the literal translations that do make it into the subs will seem odd because they are folk sayings or puns that make no sense to non-Koreans.
- There are strict age and social pecking orders. It is a highly patriarchal society also. The younger you are, the lower you are in status. People rarely call each other by their given names, unless the person that is being spoken to is younger or a lesser social status. Even married couples. Even twins-the younger twin calls the older twin by a certain designation (sex specific) but the older twin may call the younger by their given name. Thus, sometimes when you see a name in the subs, it doesn’t match what the person is saying. The first words you will learn to translate will most likely be these titles.
- Usually someone in the drama will be an orphan, or someone will die or be dying. Usually from cancer or a heart condition.
- Do not even think about trying to make sense of anything medical or illness related.
- Do not even think about trying to figure out monetary subs, or heck even any numerical subs.
- Prepare to crave ramen, rice, and soju and shout out Aja!, and Fighting!
- There will usually be two primary leads male/female, and two secondary leads male/female. You will probably want to stab the second female lead.
- Family is a big huge deal.
- Money and physical beauty are big huge deals.
- Extensive plastic surgery is very common in Korea. See comments section below for a discussion on this. Many celebrities have had plastic surgery and use skin lightening products.
- There is usually one “idol” in the cast. An “idol” is a singer/performer/musician that also acts.
- Most shows spotlight an industry/service through the characters jobs.
- There will be a long separation and/or a time jump with the lead characters. This ties to the Korean concept of Han.
- Words and phrases that you will hear a lot: Confession, Burden, and Do you want to die?