My thoughts on 50+ episode full series K-dramas, storytelling, and pacing!

Hello. This is a Korean in America. In this article, I would like to discuss the 50 episode full series K-drama in general. It is a subgenre of K-dramas in which interesting characters, dynamic relationships, and slice of life storytelling need to come together but usually falls short. However, it is a better window into Korean society than the 20ish episode miniseries! And, when on the rare instance in which everything comes together to create a gem of structural perfection, it is something special!

Recently, I have gone over several 50 + episode full series K-dramas. This includes series such as “I Summon You Gold”,”You’re The Best Lee Soon-Shin”, and “Assorted Gems”. These long running series all had something common. There were structurally messy. Not all of the relationships that make up the slice of life type stories were interesting enough to warrant the air time dedicated to it. Some of the individual sub plots do not tie well together and seem to function independent from the other sub plots or the central plot line. The central plot line or theme seems to be put on hold for several episodes in favor of the other sub plots. As a result, it seems that more than half of the series’ air time feels like filler material inserted to pad out the series.

With 50 + episode full series K-dramas, this is not a unique phenomenon. K-dramas, even the shorter miniseries which run around 20 episodes, are not known for its cohesive plots and are well known to include fillers to make up for the fact that there is simply not enough plot related material to fill up the air time. Miniseries compensate by focusing on the romantic relationship. Full series, on the other hand, tosses several relationships commonly centered on one or two noisy Korean families and see what sticks. And this is why full series K-dramas tend to be structurally messy affairs.

It does not help that Korean society and storytelling is not that keen on enforcing the 3 act structure like western storytelling mediums. I mean… American storytelling believes and enforces the 3 act structure like a religion. As a result, the story telling is more structured and concise about the journey the characters take and the themes of the story. Other cultures, including Korea do not have the same degree of devotion to the religion of the 3 act structure. Just see Korean movies that are not deliberately trying to imitate Hollywood movies, it is not always easy to identify the acts. As a result, they are more fluid but less clear about what is being said on screen. This is an interesting aspect of Korean cinema and Korean society as a whole.

As a result of its slice of life type story telling methods which involves the aggregation of many multi-episode subplots, full series K-dramas tend to not have well defined story acts throughout its run. It has several subplots running in parallel and movies on from to another subplot when the previous subplot runs its course. As a result, the pacing of the series is terrible. 

For more episodic story telling methods, this would not be a problem. However, full series K-dramas are more of a hybrid of both episodic and series type of storytelling. So, there still is a central plot or at least a theme. Even when a full series K-dramas has a stronger central plot, the plot is dispersed erratically through the series’ run among all the other subplots. As a result, the pacing is terrible with the central plot wrapping up too soon or being rushed at the end of the series. Once again, the pacing of the series is terrible and requires a liberal use of the “Fast Forward” button on your remote. Even one of the better full series, “Assorted Gems”, could not avoid this problem although it is better than others.

The K-drama, “Dandelion Family”, is a special case which succeeds in doing the impossible! It actually is structurally sound which is unique in K-dramas. I will be discussing it in the future.


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