A Korean drama, in its most simplistic definition is a miniseries television show from South Korea. They usually only run one season and will have a set number of episodes, with 16 to 23 being the usual. (However, this will be changing as they are breaking what was formerly one hour episode to two 30 minute episodes to increase commercial viewing.) A great thing about Dramafever and Viki is, since they are licensed, we get to watch the new episodes of currently airing dramas, usually a day after they have aired in South Korea.
The two main genres are saeguks/historical and contemporary.
One thing that really got me into Korean dramas as the strong family values.
Saeguks that are also a blend of fantasy are my favorite. This includes titles like Gu Family Book. Like a traditional historical, it had real history tied in. (The Japanese fleet was invading, and Admiral Yi had his turtle ships.) And it had fantasy, as it had the love story between Kang-chi, a half 9 tailed fox, and his human love interest.
Contemporaries are modern settings. (That’s easy to remember.) These you can break down further into rom-coms, melodramas, thrillers, etc. Again, the focus is often on family ties.
There is usually two primary leads (male/female) and two secondary leads (male/female.)
Let’s look at the love triangle. (Yep, those are pretty normal even in Korean-TV land.) Often, there’s two male leads, and one female lead. The main lead, especially the male, tend to be a bit rude. Even mean. In my opinion, this is because he’s going to be doing the most growth. The girl is usually naive and innocent. It’s this dynamic that causes the male lead to change. By the end of the show, he’s kinder, more responsible. The girl has also grown up, but usually not as dramatically.
The second male lead. Have you heard of “Second Male Lead Syndrome” yet? (As a writer, one of the best compliments I got over Foxtails was when a reader wrote to tell me she had a serious case of second male lead syndrome, and even third male lead syndrome.) SML Syndrome is when you fall in love with the second male lead. And it’s hard not to. He is often the best friend. He’s the sweetheart that won’t get the girl. He stands by as her support when the male lead is basically being a spoiled mean brat. Sometimes, he even has a show down with the lead.
There may also be a second female lead, who loves the main guy. She’s often the “mean girl,” and a catalyst in the boy loses girl situation. But not always.
Sometimes the second leads aren’t interested in the main leads, and have their own complimentary love story going on.
As in most romance stories, there’s the basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back.
A quick word on subtitles and swearing. Different translators will make different choices. For instance on Viki, they sometimes leave some Korean words intact. Dramafever tends to switch them to the giv3n names. (This is why you’ll hear a girl call an older boy Orabeoni in a historical, and it says his name (Eun Ki) on DF, and Viki will say Orabeoni.)
I am a fan of Korean dramas. I love how there is no sex. I love how the kiss is often the romance highlight, and it’s closed mouth. (I don’t want to see them playing tonsil hockey.) I love the strong value placed on family, and family ties.
I don’t mind the patriarchal family and social structure. I like how there is an order. I like how the women are valued and protected.
What I don’t like I show it is considered unfilial to die before your parent, at least historically. Nor how it was unfilial to your husband not to die with him (which was something Prince Sado’s wife wrote about, as she had to deal with his death, and living for her son, as it was also her place to remain for her son.)
But you know, with all cultures there is the beautiful, and the unbeautiful. I choose to focus on the beautiful.
Interested in reading Foxtails?
Elizabeth has to make a choice between two men.
And one of them won’t take no for an answer.
A story covering two generations, interwoven together, comes this tale about love, sacrifice, and redemption.