Do you like K-drama? Along with the popularity of Korean idol groups including BTS, K-drama is also gaining high popularity in Asia. Koreans have loved TV soap operas since a long time ago. For Koreans who work long hours, watching TV is the best leisure activities that can be easily seen at home at night and on weekends. The Korean TV industry has developed rapidly with the increase of Koreans’ interest in cultural activities. Nowadays, there are various activities to enjoy in South Korea, but watching K-drama is still one of the most interesting leisure for Koreans.
The characteristics of K-drama have changed frequently. Due to the dynamic nature of Koreans, trends and tastes change so quickly that the characteristics of K-drama change dramatically in just a few years. Even these days, as web video contents on YouTube become popular with young people, creators are constantly trying to make various attempts not only through TV but also through online.
Today, I’d like to introduce five K-drama contents that you can enjoy on Netflix, along with the outstanding characteristics of recent K-drama.
Kingdom is the most famous K-drama in the world right now. Kingdom is actually quite a refreshing drama also for Koreans. Most K-drama contents are scewball comedy. In the past, it was because production costs were low. Also, some people said that it was because the majority of viewers was female.
Kingdom combines Korean traditional culture with zombie genres to create a fresh images. This is thanks to Kim Eun-hee, a screenplay writer who is famous for making detailed plots. This writer is a fresh writer especially in the K-drama scene dominated by the screwball comedy genre. She is good at writing Thriller and Horror genre.
Kingdom is a zombie genre and a mix of political thrillers. That’s why you can enjoy more interesting stories.
2. When The Camellia Blooms
When the Camellia Blooms was the most popular soap opera in Korea last year. In fact, if you watch this content, you can understand the approximate characteristics of the current K-drama. When The Camellia Blooms is a mixture of screwball comedy and thriller. This soap opera seemed to mix the two genres as thriller genres became more popular in South Korea recently. Also, K-drama likes to deal with the stories of ordinary citizens. Korean viewers prefer content that sides with people who live in social prejudice. This content also deals with the human rights of women, which is the hot issue in Korean society these days. In fact, it doesn’t have a particularly challenging or strong voice on this issue, but it’s clear that this K-drama stands on the side of women’s human rights.
3. Reply 1988
In recent years, retro has been popular in South Korea. Born from such an impact, all season of Reply Trilogy was popular. Each season deals with different stories. The background of Season 1 is 1997 and that of Season 2 is 1994 and that of season 3 is 1988. Everyone has different tastes, but I highly recommend Reply 1988. In 1988, South Korea was a time when the Seoul Olympic held, and its reputation was increasing internationally. Also, there was a strong desire for democratization in Korean society. In the 1980s, South Korea still had not so many apartments, and people lived in a small community in a village. In fact, current South Korea is full of apartments, and sometimes lives a selfish life beyond individualism. Reply 1988 deals with the story of teenagers in a village in South Korean society where the warmth of the small community remained. The main plot of this series is to guess who the heroine’s husband is. The romance and family stories in the midst of a turbulent 1988 Korean society present laughter and touching. Furthermore, you can enjoy Korean masterpiece songs in 1980’s through this soap opera.
In Korea, the soap operas on some minor channels began to threaten the existing major broadcasts from the time when this series was aired, and some of those channels become major channels. Until the 2000s, major broadcasting companies had been highly acclaimed for their contents production, but as the 2010s had entered, Koreans increasingly preferred non-major broadcasts’ contents. That’s why Korean broadcasts have begun to make more and more various attempts to survive the competition.
4. Sky Castle
If last year’s best Korean hit soap opera was When The Camellia Blooms, 2018’s best Korean hit soap opera was the Sky Castle. In fact, the success of this drama was quite sensational. Unlike other Korean dramas, the purpose of this content was not the romance, but the theme of the drama is the Korean education system. Recently, South Korean education system has been under controversy over the frequent change and harsh level in the university entrance system. This content was about the problem. Korean soap operas usually react sensitively to current social issues in South Korea and create works.
Korea is famous for its strong passion for education. However, it also makes some problems. Korean 18-year-old students should study except when they sleep because the their university decide their class. Sky Castle told the story of Dae-chi dong’s elite family members who have the highest passion for education in South Korean society. In fact, this content, although somewhat exaggerated, depicted the process of the collapse of elite families due to excessive competition and the dark side of the Korean education system. In particular, the Korean Teen genres usually has had a focus on romance, but this soap opera puts its focus on education system criticism, by concentrating mainly on mothers who are obsessed with their children’s education.
5. It’s Okay, That’s Love
Screwball comedy genre is the most popular in South Korean TV soap operas, but not all screwball comedy contents doesn’t succeed. Of course, they still tend to have similar plots, but Korean viewers have no interest in them, if they don’t try new things in character making and visual beauty. Korean Screwball Comedy often takes a strategy to tell the unique story of people who are specific professionals.
It’s Okay, That’s Love mainly dealt with the love story of a psychiatrist and a writer with trauma. This soap opera showed the story of not only two people’s romance, but also of people with mental deficiencies who formed a small community to comfort each other. This became the reason why many viewers loved this content. If you want to know the charming points of Korean screwball comedy, I recommend you watch It’s Okay, That’s Love first.
You can also enjoy Another! Miss Oh, Stranger, My Love from The Star, Signal, Fight for My Way, and so on. There are various K-drama contents on Netflix.
He was one of the most popular Hongkong actor, and showed unforgettable performances for cinephiles. He captivated the audience with his image of a beautiful and bright boy when he debuted, but in the latter of his career, he left a great mark in the history of the film with his unique lonely and gloomy performance. He was the most colorful actor in Asia in the ’80s and ’90s, but he was also the most lonely actor.
Today marks 17 years since the death of Leslie Cheung. On April 1, 2003, he committed suicide by jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Hotel, which made many fans feel sorry for him. It seems like he was left alone in the world and struggled to survive against the world. Sadly, however, he couldn’t stand the depression and left us. Now he’s not in this world, but his films are always in our hearts.
Today, I’m going to introduce five images that represent Leslie Cheung.
#1 A Chinese Ghost Story – Ning Tsei-Shen
He didn’t have a strong masculine image when he debuted. Back then, in Asia, gangster genre and martial arts films were popular, so macho male characters were in vogue. Leslie’s appearance at this time was really refreshing. He showed off his unisexual charm. His image in A Chinese Ghost Story, which stimulates other people’s protective instinct, is his signature image at the time. He gained popularity for his image of a beautiful and lovely boy, though not masculine.
There was an interesting story about his name. His English name, Leslie, was taken from Leslie Howard, who played Ashley in Gone with the Wind. He said he liked the name because it was unisexual name.
#2 Farewell My Concubine – Dieyi
This character is Leslie’s most famous image. A sad actor who puts on heavy makeup and plays Beijing opera seems to express Leslies’s life itself.
In particular, there is an impressive scene in this film that shows Leslie’s sadness. Dieyi performed Beijing opera in front of the Japanese army to save his loved one, Xiaolou from prison, but Xiaolou spitted on Dieyi’s face and left him because Xiaolou thought Dieyi sold their tradition. The moment that Dieyi is looking at Xiaolou sadly is the saddest scene in this film. This moment is made of wax figure, and it is displayed in the Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. Madame Tussauds seems to have decided to remember this moment as Leslie’s representative image. This, I think, is because his face at this moment in the film is one of the best scenes that expresses Leslie’s sadness.
The face of Dieyi is Leslie’s hunger for love and sadness.
#3 Ashes of Time– Ouyang Feng
Wong Kar-wai’s meeting with Leslie is a great moment in Hong Kong’s film history. They created three masterpieces, starting with Days of Being Wild. These beautiful and sad masterpieces cannot be created by Wong Kar-wai alone without Leslie. This fact makes our hearts hurt even more.
Wong Kar-wai took Leslie’s characters outside of Hong Kong and left him alone. Wong directed unforgettable performance from Leslie by creating situations that maximized the loneliness and sadness Leslie felt. Especially, In Ashes of Time, Leslie’s character is left in the middle of the desert. He struggles alone there. Just like Leslie was really depressed and struggling with the world by himself.
Ashes of Time redux changed the ending of the original film. It was Wong Kar-wai’s choice. The changed ending is like a letter from Wong to Leslie, who passed away. In the changed ending, Leslie constantly fights alone against countless enemies. This image seems to show Leslie’s real-life psychology when he’s alive, which makes fans feel more sorry. Like this image, Leslie was constantly fighting against invisible enemies.
#4 Happy Together– Po-Wing
Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai were Wang Kar-wai’s personas. These two actors made various masterpieces with Wang. Happy Together, the film starring two of them as lovers, shows two representative human figures from director Wong Kar-wai. Wang Kfar-wai said that Po-Wing played by Leslie is like an airplane and Yui-Fai played by the Toni is like an airport. In fact, Wong Kar-wai always uses these two actors for this image. This is the image of two people he sees.
Po-Wing was a constant wanderer. He can’t love someone forever, so he’s always wandering around, but he’s always looking for love. He leaves his lover first for fear of being abandoned, but eventually he wants his love. So in this film, the last scene in which Po-Wing cries missing his ex-lover makes pathos. He becomes left alone again in a remote place. He feels absolute solitude again. The feeling Po-Wing had suffered is similar with what Leslie had been through all his life. Especially, Po-Wing’s last scene, who tries to live his daily life somehow but suddenly cries in sorrow, reminds us of the last moment of Leslie Cheung.
#5 Days of Being Wild – Yuddy
Leslie’s dance with his underwear in Days of Being Wild shows his narcissism well. He loves himself too much. However, the behind of his narcissism, there is a huge sadness. Yuddy has always been abandoned. Especially, the fact that his natural mother rejected him is a huge trauma for him. He is always afraid of being abandoned, so he leaves someone first and can’t settle anywhere. Before someone rejects him, he leaves. The only one whom he can love is himself.
“I’ve heard that there’s a kind of bird without legs that can only fly and fly, and sleep in the wind when it is tired. The bird only lands once in its life… that’s when it dies.”
It is one of the most impressive dialogue in Days of Being Wild. The fate of the bird, which is forced to wander alone forever, makes a lonely emotion. If there is only one image that represents Leslie, it would be a bird without legs. He had to endure alone in the world, and he wasn’t involved in anywhere, but he was constantly craving love. It is similar with a bird without legs.
This movie is the first collaboration between Wong Kar-Wai and Leslie. After this film, Leslie’s image began to change.
Leslie Cheung was a spokesperson for the weakest and most painful place we had. He was completed with the addition of loneliness and sadness to his pure and lovely image. He had an image of an irreparable wounded boy, and the is now sealed forever. Whenever I reminisce about his performance, I miss him. He was friend who can treat my sadness.
How do you remember him? Why don’t we watch his movie today?
Kingdom S2 was released on Netflix two weeks ago. Like season1, season2 also gained a lot of attention with positive reputation from the viewers. When the Kingdom S1 was released, traditional Korean costumes and cultures became popular. The zombie genre, which started in the U.S., was transformed into a unique one when it met Korean traditional culture. Kingdom is a successful example of the genre localization.
Today, I will talk about K-Zombie. K-Zombie means Korean Zombie films. The first K-Zombie film, A Mostrous Corpse, was released in 1980, but it became localized successfully in South Korea from 2010s, especially after Train to Busan. There were a few zombie movies, but there were no great films, and the number of the production for Zombie films was little. Consequently, the Zombie films became a very unfamiliar genre for Korean audiences. Only some Zombie genre fans used to look for western Zombie movies. In South Korea, the waste land of zombie films, a noticeable change began to occur in the 2010s. In particular, as World War Z of Hollywood got success in South Korea in 2013, Korean filmmakers saw the potential of the zombie genre in the Korean film market.
Eventually, a huge success occurred in 2016. Train to Busan was released. The film grabbed attention not only in Korea but also in other countries, with its fast plot and its unique character “Ma Dong-seok,” who smashed Zombies. The film got a huge success, and the increasing number of Korean filmmakers became interested in Zombie genres. 2016 has become an important year for the Korean zombie film history. In addition, this year, an important Korean Occult film, Wailing, was released, and there was a zombie in a short time. The great thing about Train to Busan and Wailing is that they have convinced audiences that Zombies are not strange at all when they appear in Korean society. The audience is not easily convinced of the elements of the unfamiliar genre, but the mentioned two films succeed in convincing it. This was a remarkable achievement, considering that many filmmakers fail to convince it when they bring in foreign genres.
Having gained confidence after the success of Train to Busan, Korean filmmakers began to make a new attempt. It is to make zombie films against the backdrop of the Chosun Dynasty. This first attempt is actually not Kingdom, but Rampant. In fact, this choice is too natural. Korean middle-aged and older audiences cannot accept the fact that zombies appear in modern Korea. Since the history of zombie genres is not long in Korea, there are many viewers who find it hard to accept that Zombie crisis happens in modern Korean society, although it happens in the film.
Chosun Dynasty has attractive elements to make Zombie films rather than Modern Korea. Filmmakers can create a variety of actions freely with swords and guns. Also, since the speed of sharing information is slow in Chosun Dynasty, filmmakers can make various huddles easily for characters in films. (The speed of internet in South Korea is amazingly fast even underground. lol.) That’s why Rampant seems to have found a land of opportunity. But it failed. The idea was good, but it was hard to make a success for the film full of the cliché and terrible storytelling. However, then Kingdom, which had joined hands with Netflix, got a huge success.
Director Kim Seong-hoon, who directed Kingdom S1, is good at fast-paced storytelling and making suspense, and Kingdom also shows his strength. (I strongly recommend you another his film A Hard Day.) However, the biggest contribution to the film was made by Kim Eun-hee, the writer of this film. This writer is famous for making a good mystery thriller genre in South Korea. She is good at structuring meticulous plot to reveal the cause of the mystery in her scenario. Her talent made Kingdom an attractive mystery zombie film. Great directions and the well-organized screenplay created the unique zombie film with images of Korean traditional culture.
The K-Zombie genre has just started. Only three or four films have been released since Train to Busan, and more various attempts are expected. Personally, I think zombie genre is something that current Koreans are easy to like. This is because Zombie genres are basically good for dealing with political issues, and Koreans tend to have huge interest in the issues. Zombies can metaphor for various things such as deindividuation or anxiety or even infectious diseases. Zombie films can criticize society through these metaphors. Kingdom also strongly criticizes the selfishness of the establishment through the Zombie genre. Train to Busan also criticizes hatred feelings to others in Korean society through zombies. Koreans have a strong sense of criticism about politics and interest in political issues. Of course, there are still many strong conflicts in Korean society and many social problems have not been solved, but it is clear that Koreans are very interested in social criticism. Zombie genre has recently become an attractive genre that satisfies the needs of current Korean people, so I’m sure that this genre can be developed more in South Korea. K-Zombie genre will be developed more and more.