The Hallyu wave, otherwise known as the Korean wave, has been taking over the world step by step - with Korean drama being a main contributor to this phenomenon. Abbreviated as K-Drama, it refers to South Korean produced television dramas which range between 16 to over 100 episodes.
The success and popularity of K-Drama can be felt in Australia through the Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) – an annual event held since 2010 which screens the latest hit films from Korea. The festival, which first took place in Sydney, has branched out to Melbourne and now Brisbane for the first time this year.
Festival director, Lee Yong-Kwan focused heavily on promoting the festival. He said, "We want to encourage Asian cinema and encourage talk about Asian cinema.”
It attracted 1,250 people in 2010, 3,703 people in 2011 and 72% of the people who attended had a non-Korean background.
K-Drama began gaining popularity in Asian countries such as Japan, China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines, before the Korean wave hit the United States. In late 2008, Netflix, an American streaming/video rental company, began offering Korean dramas as part of its video selection. Because of its popularity, DramaFever later offered a free streaming service of English subtitled K-Dramas in the United States.
K-Drama, though cliché and stereotypical, are able to successfully establish an emotional connection with its viewers, making them constantly hungry for more. Online Korean drama reviewer, Erika Ayala, agrees saying, “People who watch Korean dramas do so because they want to get on the roller coaster ride of emotions that only a well-made drama can give.”
With majority of them emphasizing the importance of family, genres range from melodramatic and serious (Nice Guy), to comedy (Big). As most of them are PG rated, they are suitable for the whole family to enjoy.
Actors and directors involved in each K-Drama put a lot of effort into their art of storytelling, with much research into the storyline and characters, and attention given to skilful martial arts scenes and elaborate costumes. A costume from ‘The Moon that Embraces the Sun’ was reported to have cost 1.5million won (approximately $1,318AUD).
Recently, the trend in South Korea is time slip dramas – where characters either travel from the past into the future (Rooftop Prince), from the future into the past (Time Slip Dr Jin) or continuously travel between the two eras (Queen In-Hyun’s Man). This type of drama has been rather successful as they keep their audience hooked and on edge with their unpredictable endings.
‘Secret Garden’, which was voted as their favourite Korean drama by international community earlier this year was sold to 13 countries across Asia and the United States, and 2009 drama ‘Boys over Flowers’ is still being broadcasted in America and Europe 3 years after its original air date.
Another example is the 2002 drama ‘Winter Sonata’. Despite the fact that the drama ended 10 years ago, international fans are continuously seeking out and visiting the filming locations in Korea.
SBS Australia is known to air popular Korean films on its channels. Dedicated subbing communities, such as Viki and Darksmurf, also helps increase K-Dramas’ popularity as fans from all over the world come together to help translate dramas into over 150 different languages including German, Romanian, Portuguese and Arabic.
Michael D. Shin, a professor of Modern Korean Literature and History at Cornell University noted that “Hallyu is overwhelmingly driven by Korean TV dramas: the export earnings of TV dramas far surpass those of Korean music and film.”
With so much success all over the world, it’s going to be hard for Australians to not to be swept up by the Korean wave.