[TV Talk] How to Watch a K-Drama

My first full K-drama... "Mischievous Kiss"
Over my four years watching my beloved K-dramas (add another year or two if you include Japan and Taiwan!), I have come to realize that there is a bit of an art form to watching these shows compared to the US or England ("Plebs," anyone?). You really have to leave all expectations, judgement, and cultural awareness aside to really enjoy them. Then you'll find yourself drawn in and in love with the characters. This is how actors like Kim Soohyun get famous, you fall in love with his portrayal of country bumpkin Song Sam Dong in "Dream High" and all over again as cold alien Do Min Joon in "My Love from Another Star." And then you squeal inside a little every time you see his face plastered somewhere (and right now it's everywhere in Korea). It's a bit of a process getting into, so I thought I'd provide a step by step guide on how to watch a K-Drama!
SNSD's Im Yoona in her 2008 role as Jang Sae Byuk from "You Are My Destiny" 
1. Know Your Terminology. There isn't too much to know, but here's a quick rundown of what I've picked up over the years (I know, I sound old):
  • Idol-Actor- An actor or actress who is previously known as an idol (K-pop singer, usually part of a group).
  • K-Drama- Shorthand term for "Korean Drama" (obviously). Once you watch your first one, you'll pretty much refer to them as such forever. These dramas range anywhere from 16 episodes to over a hundred. I think there's a more specific division, but since I clearly do not have the patience to watch dramas over 20ish episodes, I haven't explored it more. Typically, K-dramas fall in the 16-20 episode arc. Think of them like a US miniseries. The chances you're going to get a Season 2 is highly unlikely.
  • MBC, SBS, KBS- The ABC, NBC, and CBS of Korea! They are the main channels and thus have the most conservative restrictions on dramas. They usually draw in the big name actors for their shows, and the production value is a trillion times higher. They also expect their shows to get into the double digit percentage when it comes to viewership.
  • tvN- As far as I know, this is the most predominant cable channel for K-dramas. I haven't really seen anything else... Famous for "Reply 1997" and "Reply 1994" as well as the "I Need Romance" series. Cable shows have less restrictions, which is why you can get steamy scenes like in INR unlike other shows.
Hyun Bin as jerk chaebol "Kim Joo Won" in 2011's "Secret Garden"
2. Know Your Archetypes. Embrace 'em. As far as originality in K-dramas, don't expect too much. Enjoy the archetypes for what they are because they aren't going anywhere. There may different spins, may be added spunk, but over all the common theme is the same.
  • The Plucky, Poor Girl- Chick is so poor, she works a trillion jobs and is always on the go (at least in the pilot). It is usually and always a girl. She's got spunk from dealing with the real world at such a young age (around high school or college years). She isn't stylish necessarily, and it is her unique "commoner" appeal that attracts the main guy. See: "The Heirs," "Boys Over Flowers," "Fated to Love You."
  • The Jerk Chaebol- Chaebol is like a huge Korean conglomerate (think Samsung, Kia). Only in dramas this huge conglomerate is headed by one person who is obviously going to give everything over to his ridiculous son. Depending on the age, the main lead is the son or the actual chaebol himself. He is absurdly wealthy, jerkish in a hilarious way, and, ultimately, weak in the knees for the main female lead. He usually starts the show by being a funny ass who hates the poor girl, but he becomes the pursuer of said poor girl until they become a couple by the end. They will face a lot of trial and tribulation as a chaebol, all of which will be of great public interest. See: "The Heirs," "Boys Over Flowers," "Fated to Love You," "Secret Garden"
  • The Genius-In place of the Chaebol lead, comes in the Genius archetype. This guy is a genius at something, whether it is school, work, or something artistic. He is fawned over for his genius. Are you getting that the main lead is always. supposed. to. be. the. biggest. catch? In addition to being a genius, he is over all perfect--in looks, swagger, and sometimes sports. In these cases, the female lead is sometimes the first to fall rather than in the Chaebol/Poor Girl scenario. See: "Mischievous Kiss," "Reply 1994," "My Love from Another Star"
  • Woman on Top- This is the drama where the woman is in a position of power, and finds herself falling for the charms of a nice guy. She's usually a workaholic and is more powerful than the main male lead for whatever reason (fame, job, age, experience). See "Good Doctor," "Dream High," "My Love from Another Star," "I Need Romance 3," "Witch's Romance"
  • Second Lead Syndrome- Listen, if he's not first billed on the cast list, do not expect him to end up with the main female. It. ain't. gonna. happen. The day a drama decides to go for the second lead, I will be floored. Yes, he may be even more perfect than the male lead, but he's not going to make the cut. Ever. You're meant to be frustrated by this. Why? I have no idea. See all "I Need Romances," "Secret Garden," "Dream High," "Fated to Love You," "Mischievous Kiss," "My Love from Another Star," "Trot Lovers," "Reply 1994," "Reply 1997," "Boys Over Flowers," and basically every drama with romance.  
There's many more, but these are the big ones. If I went into all, this post would be a novel!
Park Shin Hye and Lee Mino in "They Heirs." This kiss is known as an indirect kiss.
Yes, that's a thing and a cause for many "Eeotokke?"s
3. Get Used to a More Conservative Platform. The biggest drama of the 2014, "He Who Came from the Stars?" The most they do is kiss. There's light, swirling music, and the beauty of Kim Soohyun and Jeon Ji Hyun, but don't expect much steamier than that. tvN has a few shows that might show a little more than kissing, but ultimately you're not going to find "Sex & the City" or "Scandal" in Korea. Movies are a different story, but dramas are very much PG. In fact, one might argue that a few actors and actresses could use a lesson or two in lip locking. 

Same goes for other things that usually bump up a rating--profanity and violence. Everything is quite tame, even when the villain is a crazy killing machine.
An example of a medical drama, "Good Doctor."
4. Okay, Now It's Time to Choose. What's your genre? I'm a sucker for romances, and when I was in high school/college I was all about them high school/college romance dramas. However, now that I'm in my twenties, I find myself drawn to ones about working women and the like. I actually only watched the first few episodes and the last episode of "Dream High" because I frankly couldn't get invested in the high school drama. There's also a lot of different ones including medical, spy (sometimes both), historical, and more. I like modern ones with romance, but I also thoroughly enjoy friendship plots like in "A Gentleman's Dignity." Lately I've been a fan of noona romances. They're just so good. 

5. Where to Watch. I highly recommend Viki. Drama Fever, Hulu, and even Netflix stream Korean dramas, but Viki is by far my favorite. It's not as refined as the latter three, but man if the comments from other watchers doesn't make the experience ten times better. You're most likely going to watch these dramas by yourself (it's hard to convince people to read subtitles), but it feels like you're watching with friends with these comments. Particularly when they say exactly what you're thinking.

6. Set Aside at Least 2 Hours. You're not going to be able to watch just one, I promise. I mostly binge watch these shows, which is why I hate watching them while they're on TV. 
"Reply 1997" cast. I think I need to watch this again....
7. Some of My Favorites. Here's a list of some of my favorites. Watch them!
Recent Popular Classics: 
  • "Boys Over Flowers" (favorite. manga. ever.)
  • "Secret Garden"
  • "He Who Came from the Stars"
  • "Reply 1997" 
8. Find a Place to Relive the Drama. I highly recommend checking out Drama Beans and reading their recaps.They're incredibly funny, and sometimes they pick up on points I missed. It's another way to feel like you're watching with a community. 

Hope this helps you start with your K-drama watching. Remember K-pop draws a lot of fans, but it's K-dramas that are making Korean men suddenly the "it" type of guy to crush on. Just watch Hyun Bin in "Secret Garden," and I dare you not to fall for his weird charm.

*Side Note: You should know that I've never really watched dramas from the first Hallyu. That's a whole different ball game, and I am no expert on them.

[all images were collected on Google Image Search and are not mine]

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