Walking through Modern Korean Drama History #1 : Introduction

Walking through Modern #KDrama History #1 : Introduction

Hello. This is Prof. Akia Talking and I am here to talk about Modern Korean Drama History.

Q: When did modern Korean dramas start?
This is a rather difficult question to ask.  How can we categorize “modern” Korean dramas in the first place?
The early form of Korean dramas started in the late 60s and grew during the 70s. However, these were very different from what the modern Korean drama viewer would recognize. We equate the terms like…

About young people
Romance focused
For females
By Female writers
About mostly rich people.
… with Korean dramas.

About mostly rich people
While mentioned in Korean dramas before, the now common subject of rich or Jebeols only started to get popular in the 80s. Prior to the 80s, dramas tended to be more about normal people and their families since the Military government in power at the time wanted it that way and, to be frank ,there were not that many super rich Jebeols in Korea prior to the 80s.

Korea was dirt poor for a long time. It has only been like a quarter century since millions started to not starve every early spring. Things have changed a lot for Korea and Korean dramas.

The remnants of this drama past are still maintained in Korean family dramas although the context of the family has changed a lot. Even now Korean family dramas tend to get the highest ratings in Korea but Foreign Korean drama viewers do not seem to care much for the Korean family dramas.

Some things change!
Some things don’t

Flashy or glamorous
Since the shows were about poor or regular people, you should not expect the Korean dramas of the period to be flashy or glamorous. The old American comedy “Leave it to beaver” was more glamorous in comparison.

It did not help with the flashy or glamorous that the dominance of female writers only started in the late 80s. Until then, most writers were males doing “serious” literature.

Well as serious as you could get for a primarily older less educated female audience.

With the dominance of female writers, romance was pushed more to the forefront. However it was still within the context of the family dramas or period piece shows in most cases. It was not until the early 90s and the “Great” experiment with the miniseries format that we started to get romance focused, young urban character centric, flashy or glamorous shows.

“Trendy” Korean dramas
These shows were called “trendy” Korean dramas. However, these shows did not come out of nowhere. The rule of the military government had officially ended and a civilian government had come into power in 1993. As a result, there was a sense of a new start for the country fueled by the newly empowered 20 somethings.  

The result is what I like to call the “trendy” revolution that really changed Korean popular culture. “Trendy” Korean dramas were one expression of the revolution. The show in the forefront of this “trendy” revolution was “Pilot” (1993) starring basically all of the up and coming young 20 something actors of the time who all came to dominate Korean dramas and movies for a decade or so.
This includes …

Choi Soo Jong from “Comrades” (2010)
Han Suk Kyu from “Secret Door” (2014)

Chae Si Ra from “Five Fingers” (2012)

Kim Hye Soo from “The Queen of Office” (2013)

Lee Jae Ryong from “King’s Daughter, Soo Baek Hyang” (2013)
Shin Eun Kyung from “Flames of Ambition” (2010)

“Pilot” (1993)
It was about the “glamorous” world of young professionals in the Aviation industry and their romance. It was actually the first Korean drama dealing with the Aviation industry. While technically the first “trendy” Korean drama was “Jealousy” (1992) that came out in the previous year by the same creative staff, I think “Pilot” (1993) was the one that really went for the flashy aspects represented in modern Korean dramas. “Jealousy” (1992) and  “Pilot” (1993) was also famous of using the then very young K-pop songs as theme songs.

Same now!
However, then the show had basically only one theme song it overused way too much!

Looking now, “Pilot” (1993) does not really age well. Actually it became antiquated in a y few years after it aired because none of the narrative devices that have become clichés now had not been fully established at the time. Thus, “Pilot” (1993) is pretty bland in terms of story.

Visually, “Pilot” (1993) has the traditional fuzzy edges and all brown look that all Korean dramas and movies had up to that point. Figuratively, it is as if you were seeing something shot with a defective camera and on expired film. Compared to American and Japanese dramas of the time, this look is simply bad but all pervasive in the industry even several years after this show aired. I can just remember thinking why everything looked brown. Only after the shift to HD digital that Korean dramas started to glossy and vividly colorful as Korean dramas made now.

After “Pilot” (1993) aired, there was a period of refinement for a few years. A lot of the narrative devices were being tested and established in fragments in this and that show. Well, basically Korean dramas were trying to imitate Japanese dramas as best as possible. This was the  reality of “Trendy” Korean dramas. However, in doing so, Korean dramas were establishing the “Korean drama touch” that differentiates Korean dramas from Japanese ones.

And the show that brought all of that development together in one show was “Autumn in My Heart / Autumn Tale” (2000). This show actually has to be seen as the start of modern Korean drama especially for Foreigners.

Thus, it is not a bad starting point for my walk through Modern Korean Drama History.
For the next few articles, I’ll rewatch this show and go over it.

Anyone want to travel with me?

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