It was around three in the past that we was introduced to the thought of region-free DVD playback, a virtually necessary condition for readers of DVD Beaver. As a result, an entire field of Asian film that had been heretofore unknown if you ask me or from my reach exposed. I needed already absorbed decades of Kurosawa and, recently, a smattering of classic Hong Kong gangster and fantasy films through our local Hong Kong Film Festival. Of Korean films, I knew nothing. But on the next few months, with my new and surprisingly cheap multi-region DVD player, I was immersed in beautiful DVD editions of Oldboy, Peppermint Candy, Memories of Murder, Sisily 2Km, Taegukgi, To the Mirror, Oasis and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – with lots more following close on their own heels. This was a whole new world of innovative cinema to me.
Several months into this adventure, a pal lent me a copy of the first disc in the Korean television series, 韓劇dvd. He claimed that the drama had just finished a six month’s run as typically the most popular Korean television series ever, and this 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 notion of a television series, not to mention one created for Korean mainstream TV, was hardly a thing that lit the obligatory fire under me. After two episodes, I found myself hooked.
I understood my fascination with Korean cinema, but television! It was a mystery. How could this be, I puzzled? I wasn’t everything that totally hooked on American TV. West Wing, Sopranos, Buffy – sure. Maybe I had pan-tastes, having said that i still considered myself as discriminating. So, what was the attraction – one could even say, compulsion that persists for this day? Over the past couple of years I have got watched, faithfully, eight complete series, in historical and contemporary settings – every one averaging 20 hours – and I’m halfway into Jumong, which can be over 80 hour long episodes! What is my problem!
Though you can find obvious similarities to Western primetime dramas, cable and even daytime soaps, Korean primetime television dramas – that they commonly call “miniseries” as the West already enjoyed a handy, or even altogether accurate term – are a unique art. They are structured like our miniseries in they may have a pre-ordained beginning, middle and end. While much longer than our miniseries – even episodes certainly are a whole hour long, not counting commercials, which can be usually front loaded before the episode begins – they generally do not go on for five, six or seven seasons, like Alias or Star Trek: Voyager, or perhaps for generations, much like the Days of Our Everyday Life. The closest thing we must Korean dramas could very well be any given season from the Wire. Primetime television in Korea is really outright dramas and news. So Korea’s three very competitive networks (MBC, KBS and SBS) have gotten great at it through the years, especially since the early 1990s once the government eased its censorship about content, which got their creative juices going.
Korean dramas were jump-began in 1991 with the hugely successful Eyes of Dawn, set between the Japanese invasion of WWII and the Korean War of your early 1950s. In 1995 the highly acclaimed series, The Sandglass, made it clear for an audience beyond the country that Korea was certainly onto something. The Sandglass deftly and intelligently melded the world of organized crime and also 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 Gwang-ju Democratization Movement along with the government’s crushing military response (think: Tienamin Square.) Nevertheless it wasn’t until 2002, with Yoon Suk-Ho’s Winter Sonata, that what we now call the “Korean Wave” really took off. Winter Sonata very quickly swept over Asia like atsunami, soon landing in Hawaii and therefore the Mainland, where Korean dramas already experienced a modest, but loyal following.
Right about then, Tom Larsen, who had previously worked for YesAsia.com, started his company in San Bruno, California: YA-Entertainment (to never be mistaken for YesAsia) to distribute the best Korean dramas with proper English subtitles in Canada And America. To this particular end, YAE (as Tom enjoys to call his company) secured the necessary licenses to accomplish just that with all the major Korean networks. I spent a number of hours with Tom last week speaking about our mutual interest. Larsen had first gone to Korea for two years as a volunteer, then came to the States to complete college where he naturally, but gradually, worked his distance to 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 his students study Korean. An unexpected side-effect was he with his fantastic schoolmates became totally hooked on the drama itself. Larsen has since made several trips to Korea for longer stays. I’ll revisit how YAE works shortly, however I would like to try at the very least to respond to the question: Why Korean Dramas?
Area of the answer, I do believe, is in the unique strengths of those shows: Purity, Sincerity, Passion. Perhaps the hallmark of Korean dramas (and, to some extent, in lots of of their feature films) is actually a relative purity of character. Each character’s psychology and motivation is obvious, clean, archetypical. This may not be to express they are certainly not complex. Rather a character will not be made complicated arbitrarily. Psychological advice about the type, as expressed by his / her behavior, is – I judge – often more correctly manifest than we have seen on American television series: Character complexity is a lot more convincing as soon as the core self is not concerned with fulfilling the requirements this or that producer, sponsor or target age range or subculture.
Korea can be a damaged and split country, much like numerous others whose borders are drawn by powers besides themselves, invaded and colonized several times on the centuries. Koreans are, therefore, acutely sensitive to questions of divided loyalties. Korean dramas often explore the conflict between the modern along with the traditional – in the historical series. Conflicts of obligations are often the prime motivation and focus for the dramatic narrative, often expressed in generational terms throughout the family. There exists something very reassuring about these dramas. . . not from the 1950s happy ending sense, for indeed, you will find few happy endings in Korean dramas. Compared to American tv shows: Korean TV dramas have simpler, yet compelling story lines, and natural, sympathetic acting of characters we can have confidence in.
Perhaps the most arresting feature of your acting is the passion that is 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 fascinating, strikinmg to the heart from the conflict. Korean actors and audiences, young or old, unlike our, are immersed in their country’s political context and their history. The emotional connection actors make to the characters they portray has a level of truth which is projected instantly, without having the conventional distance we appear to require from the west.
Like the 韓劇dvd in the 1940s, the characters in the Korean drama possess a directness regarding their greed, their desires, their weaknesses, as well as their righteousness, and therefore are fully committed to the effects. It’s tough to say when the writing in Korean dramas has anything like the bite and grit of your 40s or 50s American film (given our reliance on a translation, however well-intended) – I rather doubt it. Instead, specially in the historical series, the actors wear their emotional link to their character on the face as a sort of character mask. It’s one of the conventions of Korean drama that people will see clearly what another character cannot, though they may be “there” – sort of just like a stage whisper.
I actually have always been a supporter of your less-is-more school of drama. Not too I enjoy a blank stage in modern street clothes, but this too much detail can change an otherwise involved participant right into a passive observer. Also, the better detail, the greater number of chance that we will occur on an error which will take me out of the reality how the art director has so carefully constructed (like the 1979 penny that Chris Reeves finds within his pocket in Somewhere soon enough.) Graphic presentations with sensational story lines use a short-term objective: to keep the viewer interested until the next commercial. There is no long term objective.
A huge plus is the story lines of Korean dramas are, with only a few exceptions, only if they need to be, then the series concerns a conclusion. It will not persist with contrived excuses to re-invent its characters. Nor is the length of a series based on the “television season” as it is inside the Usa K-dramas are certainly not mini-series. Typically, they may be between 17-twenty-four hour-long episodes, though some have 50 plus episodes (e.g. Emperor of the Sea, Dae Jang Geum, and Jumong).
Korean actors are relatively unknown to American audiences. They are disarming, engaging and, despite their youth or pop status in Korea (as is usually the case), are generally more skilled than American actors of your similar age. For it will be the rule in Korea, rather than exception, that high profile actors do both television and film. Within these dramas, we Westerners have the benefit of getting to know people not the same as ourselves, often remarkably attractive, that has an appeal within its own right.
Korean dramas possess 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”, combined with “drama”. Music is utilized to boost the emotional response or even to suggest characters. There is a tidy structure or formula to melodrama: a villain poses a threat, the hero escapes the threat (or rescues the heroine) and you will discover a happy ending. In melodrama there exists constructed a realm of heightened emotion, stock characters and a hero who rights the disturbance to the balance of excellent and evil in the universe having a clear moral division.
Except for the “happy ending” part as well as an infinite flow of trials for both hero and heroine – usually, the second – this description isn’t so far off the mark. But most importantly, the notion of the melodrama underscores another essential distinction between Korean and Western drama, and that is certainly the role of music. Western tv shows and, to some great extent, present-day cinema employs music in the comparatively casual way. An American TV series may have a signature theme that might or might not – usually not – get worked in the score as a show goes along. The majority of the music could there be to aid the atmosphere or provide additional energy to the action sequences. Less than with Korean dramas – where the music is commonly used a lot more like musical theatre, even opera. Certain themes represent specific characters or relationships between them. The songs is deliberately and intensely passionate and can stand by itself. Almost every series has at least one song (not sung with a character) that appears during especially sensitive moments. The lyric is reflective and poetic. Many television soundtrack albums are hugely successful in Asia. The tunes for Winter Sonata, Seo Dong Yo, Palace and Jumong are typical excellent examples.
The setting for a typical Korean drama could be just about anyplace: home, office, or outdoors who have the advantage of familiar and fewer known locations. The producers of Dae Jang Geum made a small working village and palace for the filming, which has since become a popular tourist attraction. A series might be one or a combination of familiar genres: romances, comedies, political or crime thrillers or historical dramas. As the settings are usually familiar, the traditions and, often, the costumes and then make-up can be very not the same as Western shows. Some customs can be fascinating, although some exasperating, in contemporary settings – concerning example, during winter Sonata, how the female lead character, Yujin, is ostracized by family and friends once she balks on her engagement, a predicament that Korean audiences can actually relate with.
Korean TV dramas, like every other art, their very 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 used to a quick pace. I would recommend not suppressing the inevitable giggle out of some faux-respect, but understand that these matters come with the territory. My feeling: When you can appreciate Mozart, you should be able to appreciate the pace and conventionality of Dae Jang Geum. More modern adult dramas like Alone in Love advise that many of these conventions might have already started to play themselves out.
Episodes reach the YAE office in San Bruno on Digital Beta (a 1:1 copy from your master which had been utilized for the specific broadcast) where it can be screened for possible imperfections (whereby, the network is motivated to send another.) The Beta is downloaded in a lossless format to the computer and a low-resolution copy is 25dexjpky for the translator. Translation is done in stages: first a Korean-speaking person who knows English, then a reverse. The high-resolution computer master is then tweaked for contrast and color. When the translation is finalized, it is actually entered into the master, taking good care to time the look of the subtitle with speech. Then the whole show is screened for more improvements in picture and translation. A 日劇dvd is constructed which contains every one of the menu instructions and completed picture and subtitles. The DLT is then delivered to factories in Korea or Hong Kong for your output of the discs.
Regardless of if the picture is formatted in 4:3 or 16:9, typically, the graphic quality is superb, sometimes exceptional; and the audio (music, dialogue and foley) is obvious and dynamic, drawing the viewers to the time and place, the history and also the characters. For those of us who have made the jump to light speed, we could expect to eventually new drama series in high definition transfers inside the not too distant future.