Korean drama (Hangul: 한국드라마; RR: hanguk deurama), K-drama or KD's for short, refers to televised dramas in Korean language, made in South Korea, mostly in a miniseries format, with distinctive features that set it apart from regular Western television series or soap operas. Korean dramas can be set in contemporary times or in historical settings, the Korean word for the latter being sageuk (사극). Different genres apply to these two types, from romantic comedies and action series to fusion science fiction dramas.
South Korea started to broadcast television series in the 1960s, today's mini deurama format of 12–24 episodes started in the 1990s, transforming traditional historical series to this format, as well, creating the notion of "fusion sageuks". Korean dramas are usually shot within a very tight schedule, often a few hours before actual broadcast, screenplays are flexible and may change anytime during production, depending on viewers' feedback, putting actors in a difficult position. Production companies often have financial issues.
Korean dramas are popular worldwide, partially due to the spread of the Korean wave, with streaming services that offer multiple language subtitles. Some of the most famous dramas have been broadcast via traditional television channels, as well, for example Jewel in the Palace (2003) was sold to 91 countries.
Korean dramas are usually helmed by one director and written by one screenwriter, thus having a distinct directing style and language, unlike American television series, where often several directors and writers work together. Series are likely to have only one season, with 12–24 episodes. Historical series (sageuk) may be longer, with 50 to 200 episodes, but they also run for only one season.
The broadcast time for flagship dramas is 22:00 to 23:00, with episodes on two consecutive nights: Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and weekends. Different dramas appear on each of the nationwide networks, Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and on the cable channels, Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (jTBC), Channel A, tvN, and Orion Cinema Network (OCN).
The 19:00 to 20:00 evening time slot is usually for daily dramas that run from Monday through Friday. Dramas in these slots are in the telenovella format, rarely running over 200 episodes. Unlike the American soap operas, these daily dramas are not also scheduled during the day-time. Instead, the day-time schedule often includes reruns of the flagship dramas. The night-time dailies can achieve very high ratings. For example, the evening series Temptation of a Wife peaked at 40.6%, according to TNS Korea.
Traditional historical series tend to be long, very detailed and may likely contain archaic language, covering wars, concentrating on kings, famous military leaders or political intrigues. These series are mostly favoured by older people. At the beginning of the 2000s "fusion sageuk" was introduced, where colorful historical backgrounds were combined with modern drama making techniques, occasionally mixing the plot with fantasy, romance, action or science fiction, attracting younger generations. Famous fusion sageuks include Hur Jun, Damo, Hwang Jini, Jewel in the Palace, Dong Yi, Chuno or Moon Embracing the Sun.
Series set in contemporary times usually run for one season, for 12−24 episodes of 60 minutes. They are often centered around a love story, with family ties and relationships being in the focus, but there are no complicated plot lines or hidden messages like in Japanese dramas. Plots often are driven with the help of unexpected events like accidents, kidnappings or fatal diseases. Characters are mostly idealised, with Korean male protagonists described as handsome, intelligent, emotional, ready to love one woman for a lifetime. This has also been a contributing factor to the popularity of Korean dramas among women, as the image of Korean men became different from that of other Asian men (e.g. the tough protagonists of Chinese martial arts films).
The daily dramas are also usually set in contemporary times, describing a family conflict or family relationships, centered around Korean women, who sacrifice themselves for family happiness.
Radio broadcasting, including the broadcasting of radio dramas in Korea began in 1927 under Japanese rule, with most programming in Japanese, around 30% in Korean. After the Korean War, radio dramas such as Cheongsilhongsil (1954) reflected the country's mood.
Televsision broadcasting began in 1956 with the launch of an experimental station, HLKZ-TV, which was shut down a few years later due to a fire. The first national television channel was Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), which started up in 1961. The first Korean television film was a 15 minute piece titled The Gate of Heaven (천국의 문, Cheongugui mun), on HLKZ-TV.
The first television series was aired by KBS in 1962. Their commercial competitor, TBC had a more aggressive program policy and aired controversial dramas, as well. The first historical TV series (sageuk) aired was Gukto manri (국토만리), directed by Kim Jae-hyeong (김재형), depicting the Goryeo era. In the '60s, television sets were of limited availability, thus dramas could not reach a larger audience.
In the 1970s, television sets started to spread among the general population, and dramas switched from portraying dramatic historical figures to introducing national heroes like Lee Sun-shin or Sejong the Great. Contemporary series dealt with personal sufferings, one of the influential series was Kim Soo-hyun's Stepmother (새엄마, Saeeomma), aired by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in 1972 and 1973. As technology and funding was limited, Korean channels could not make series in resource-heavy genres like action and science fiction; American and other foreign series were imported instead.
The 1980s saw a turn in Korean television, as color TV became available. Modern dramas tried to evoke nostalgia from urban dwellers by depicting rural life. Kim Soo-hyun's first real commercial success, Love and Ambition (사랑과 야망, Saranggwa yamang), aired on MBC in 1987 is regarded as a milestone of Korean television. which recorded a 78% viewership, "streets became quiet at around the airing time of the drama as “practically everyone in the country” was at home in front of the TV", according to The Korea Times. The most outstanding classical sageuk of the era is considered to be 500 Years of Joseon (조선왕조500년, Joseonwangjo 500 nyeon), a serial that ran for eight years, consisting of 11 separate series. The serial was produced by Lee Byung-hoon, who later directed one of the biggest international successes of Korean drama, Dae Jang Geum.
The 1990s brought another important milestone for Korean television. As technology developed, new opportunities arose, and the beginning of the decade marked the launch of a new commercial channel, Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), which facilitated and re-initiated a race for catching viewers' attention. The first real commercial success among Korean television series was Eyes of Dawn (여명의 눈동자, Yeomyeongui nundongja), aired in 1991 by MBC, starring Chae Si-ra and Choi Jae-seong. The series led the viewers through turbulent times from the Japanese rule to the Korean War. New channel SBS also produced successful series, one of them being Sanglass in 1995. Sanglass was a "trendy drama", which the Korean Culture and Information Service considers as an important milestone, having changed the way K-*dramas are made, introducing a new format. In this decade, the new miniseries format became wide-spread, with 12 to 24 episodes. This era marked the start of export for Korean dramas, setting off the Korean wave.
The beginning years of the 2000s gave birth to a new genre, called "fusion sageuk", essentially changing the ways to produce historical series, with such successful pieces like Hur Jun, Damo or Dae Jang Geum.
Korean series used to be produced by the television channels themselves, in the 21st century, however, they are usually outsourced to independent production companies. In 2012, as much as 75% of all K-dramas were produced this way. Competition is fierce among these companies, out of 156 registered firms only 34 produced dramas that were actually aired in 2012.
The budget of the production is shared between the producing company and the broadcaster. The broadcasting channel usually covers around 50% of expenses, in case of employing top stars and famous scriptwriters, they may cover even more. The rest of the budget has to be brought in by the production company, with the help of sponsors, whose names are featured in the ending rolls. In case of product placements, incomes are shared by the producer and the channel. The channel keeps 100% of the advertisement income during airtime; this could amount to 300-400 million South Korean won. A typical Korean drama may cost as much as 250 million won per episode, and sageuks (historical dramas) cost more than that. For example, Gu Family Book cost 500 million won per episode. Kim Jong-hak producer spent as much as 10 billion won on Faith, which was considered a commercial failure, resulting in the inability of Kim paying crew salaries and other due payments. Kim, who produced such successful dramas, like Eyes of Dawn and Sandglass, committed suicide, after he was accused with embezzlement.
In Korea, much of the budget is spent on top star appearance fees, at times they may take up as much as 55-65% of the whole budget, while – in comparison – in Japan it is 20-30%, and roughly 10% in the USA. Everything else, including salaries of lesser-known actors, extras, and technical staff, location rent and other expenses, have to be covered from the remaining amount. Often, production companies overrun their budgets and cannot pay salaries. In 2012 actors were holding a demonstration in front of the headquarters of KBS, expressing their concerns. Actors are usually paid after the last episode is aired, at the end of the month. In case of series made by smaller production companies for cabel channels, there were cases when the companies went bankrupt and could not pay their actors and crew, while the channel relegated all responsibilities of payment to the bankrupt production firm. The biggest stars may earn as much as 100 million won per episode, Bae Yong-jun, the star of Winter Sonata reportedly received 250 million won per episode for The Legend in 2007.
As producing a series involves high expenses, production companies seek to shoot the episodes in the shortest time possible. In contrast to practices elsewhere, the first four episodes of Korean series are usually shot in advance, but the rest are shot continuously as the series is being aired. Scripts are not finished in advance, and may change according to viewer feedback and viewership ratings. These changes may occur a couple of hours before daily shooting, and sometimes the crew might only get a couple of ready pages. The production usually works with three camera crews, who work in a rotating manner to speed up filming. Because of unregulated script changes and tight shooting schedules, actors are almost continuously on standby on location, and have no time to leave the set or sleep properly. The Korean media have a separate word to describe irregular, short sleeps that actors resort to, in often uncomfortable positions, or within the set: jjok-jam (쪽잠), or "side-sleeping". Dramas usually air with two episodes a week, which have to be shot within that week. Some Korean actors have admitted to receiving IV therapy during filming, due to extreme schedules and exhaustion.
Production teams used to send two tapes to the channels (one as a backup copy), however, now due to tight filming schedules, a 70 minute episode might arrive to the broadcasting station on seven separate tapes in ten-minute installments. It happens that while the episode is being broadcast, the crew would be still shooting the last minutes or cutting the rest of the episode. This is the reason why during the airing of Episode 19 of Man from the Equator, screens countrywide went black for 10 minutes. Actor Kwon Sang-woo was openly complaining that he was still shooting Queen of Ambition 30 minutes before the last episode began airing. In South Korea some production teams still do planning and scheduling manually, instead of using dedicated software.
The larger broadcasting companies have their own dedicated shooting locations for historical dramas (saeguk), with extensive and elaborate sets. MBC's series are shot at MBC Dramia in Gyeonggi, while KBS dramas utilise the Mungyeongsaejae Studio (문경새재 KBS촬영장) in North Gyeongsang and their studio in Suwon.
- Bae Yong-joon (Winter Sonata)
- Choi Ji-woo (Winter Sonata)
- Ha Ji-won (Hwang Jini, Damo, Secret Garden)
- Hyun Bin (My Lovely Sam Soon, Secret Garden)
- Kim Tae-hee (Stairway to Heaven, Iris)
- Lee Byeong-heon (All In, Iris)
- Lee Joon-gi (Iljimae, Two Weeks, Arang and the Magistrate)
- Lee Young-ae (Dae Jang Geum)
- Song Hye-gyo (All In, Autumn in My Heart, Full House)
- Song Seung-heon (Autumn in My heart, My Princess)
Stars of the younger generation include:
- Jang Geun-seok (Beethoven Virus, You're Beautiful, Pretty Man)
- Lee Minho (Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, The Heirs)
- Lee Seung-gi (Gu Family Book, The King 2 Hearts)
- Kim Soo-hyun (Moon Embracing the Sun, My Love From the Star)
- Park Shin-hye (You're Beautiful, The Heirs)
- Song Joong-gi (Sungkyunkwan Scandal, The Innocent Man)
- Bae Suzy (Dream High, Gu Family Book)
- IU (Dream High, You're the Best, Lee Soon-shin, Pretty Man)
- Kim Jae-joong (Protect the Boss, Triangle)
- Kim Hyun-joong (Boys Over Flowers, Playful Kiss, Inspiring Generation)
- Park Yoo-chun (Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Missing You, Rooftop Prince)
- Rain (Full House, The Fugitive: Plan B)
- Seo In-guk (Reply 1997, Master's Sun)
Scriptwriters and directors
Scriptwriters and directors of Korean dramas are often as well-known as actors are. An overwhelming majority of scriptwriters (90% according to the Beijing Metro Reader) are women, who not only write love stories but action series, as well. Compared to Korean cinema, television is more appealing for scriptwriters, as contract conditions are better, acknowledgment is greater and the job is higher paid. Famous scriptwriters tend to have a say in their field. The most well-know scriptwriters include the Hong Sisters, who wrote popular series like You're Beautiful and Master's Sun; Kim Eun-sook, the screenwriter of Lovers in Paris and Secret Garden; Lee Kyung-hee, famous for A Love to Kill and The Innocent Man; male writer Choi Wan-kyu of Midas and Triangle; Noh Hee-kyung, the author of That Winter, The Wind Blows; or Park Ji-eun, who wrote My Love From the Star and My Husband Got a Family.
Acknowledged TV directors include Lee Byung-hoon, who directed Dae Jang Geum and Yi San; Kim Jong-hak, the director of Eyes of Dawn, and Sandglass, who committed suicide; and Pyo Min-soo, the director of Full House and Iris II. While scriptwriters are mostly women, directors are usually men, there are only very few female directors in Korean television. Some of them rose to prominence, like Lee Na-jeong (이나정), who directed The Innocent Man, or Lee Yun-jeong (이윤정), whose most famous work is The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince. The latter director is also the first female television producer employed by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
Music plays an important role in Korean dramas. Original soundtracks, abbreviated OST, are explicitly made for each series, and in contrast to American series, fans have a need to buy the soundtrack album of dramas. This trend started in the 1990s, when producers swapped purely instrumental soundtracks for songs performed by popular K-pop singers. Tom Larsen, director of YA Entertainment, a distributor of Korean TV series, thinks that Korean soundtracks are polished enough musically to be considered standalone hits.
During the 2000s it became customary for lead actors to participate in original soundtracks, also partially due to the employment of K-pop stars as actors. Actor Lee Min-ho, and leader of boy band SS501, Kim Hyun-joong both recorded songs for Boys Over Flowers, while actor Jang Keun-suk and singer Lee Hong-gi of F.T. Island sang for You're Beautiful.
OST songs of popular K-dramas can also become hits on regular music charts, with good sales of both physical and digital albums. Songs from the OST album of Secret Garden, for example, had high digital sales and high ranking on music charts. My Destiny, performed by Lyn for My Love from the Star led music charts in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as in South Korea and performed well in other Asian countries, too. It also won the Best OST award at the 2014 Paeksang Arts Awards. Performers of OST songs for action series Iris held two concerts in Japan in front of an audience of 60,000 people.
OST composers usually look for singers who have previously had success in the genre. Songs are written to reflect the mood of the series and their structure and style is different from those of a usual K-pop song, nevertheless easily recognisable. Singers are fond of performing OST, as these songs are also capable of reaching high ranks on charts and high sales. Sometimes performers give their own songs for a series, for example Baek Ji-young thought her song That Man, originally written for her own album, would fit Secret Garden. There are popular OST singers, who are often employed, like Baek Ji-young, Lyn and Lee Seung-cheol. Rarely, foreign singers are invited to perform songs for Korean OST, for example Swedish artist Lasse Lindh sang several songs for series like Angel Eyes, Soul Mate and I Need Romance.
According to a researcher at the University of Vienna, popularity of Korean dramas have their foundation in Confucian values they transmit, with which Asian viewers can easily identify. Respect for elders, filial piety, family-orientedness and the display of perceived "Asian moral values" play an important role in Korean series. YA Entertainment, the American distributor of Korean dramas believes that part of the attractiveness of these series come from the quality of camera work, carefully chosen, scenic locations, spectacular costumes, while the "final product is very stylish and attractive, with arguably some of the highest TV production values in the world." Korean series follow their own formula, are innovative and don't conform to Western television productions. Stephan Lee from Entertainment Weekly called Korean dramas "fascinating and weirdly comforting".
Exports of Korean series yielded 37,5 million USD in 2003, which was triple the amount reached in 1999. According to data from Korea Creative Content Agency, in 2013 K-dramas constituted 82% of the culture content export of South Korea, with an income of 167 million USD, which is four times more than a decade before.
The first Korean drama to gain widespread popularity in Japan was Winter Sonata, which was broadcast on the NHK satellite channel NHK BS2 in 2003. The program was aired twice in the same year due to high demand from viewers. NHK also hosted a classical concert featuring Winter Sonata′s tunes performed by Korean musicians. Korean dramas boost tourism between Korea and Japan, and is considered a possible way of improving strained relationships between the two countries, as series have become increasingly popular with Japanese viewers. Conversely, the series Iris had several pivotal scenes shot in Akita, Japan, which led to an increase of Korean tourists in that part of Japan.
In 2006, South Korean programs on Chinese government TV networks accounted for more than all other foreign programs combined. Hong Kong has its own channel for airing Korean dramas, TVB J2, but ATV also airs Korean series in prime-time slots.
Korean dramas have become popular in India, particularly in Manipur, where Hindi films and TV serials were banned in 2000. As a result, local television stations began broadcasting subtitled Korean dramas instead. Many young people in Northeast India Mizoram Nagaland Kolkata and Tamil Nadu copy the hairstyles and clothes of the Korean actors. As a part of cultural exchange Indian Public Broadcaster i.e. DDNational telecasted Emperor of the Sea and Dae Jang Geum.
When Dae Jang Geum was on air in Thailand, Korean food started gaining wide popularity. Due to lop-sided nature of entertainment exports favoring South Korea, the Thai government requested increased introduction of popular Thai films to South Korean media outlets. This led to the signing of an Agreement of Cultural Cooperation between the two countries in August 2004.
In Singapore, Prime 12 (now known as Suria) originally aired the only Korean drama series Sandglass in 1996 on a weekly basis. Since 2001, Korean dramas are shown on Chinese language channel MediaCorp Channel U on a daily basis.
Asian dramas, including Korean, have become popular in the Philippines in the 2000s. GMA Network has aired a score of dramas, including Full House. Joey Abacan, GMA Network vice president for Program Management, says Filipinos love Korea novelas because they can relate to the stories: "Most of the time, the Korean dramas are quite escapist and moving. Aside from the touching plotlines, the production is really a visual experience of places that most of us are not accustomed to seeing".
In November 2008, Netflix began offering several Korean dramas as part of its video selection. In August 2009, DramaFever began offering free subtitled video streaming service, with video advertisements, in the United States. As of May 2010[update], Korean dramas began airing on a DramaFever channel on Hulu.
Additionally, Korean dramas are available at online DVD retailers. Some Korean dramas, however, are not available for region 1 (North America) encoding and NTSC video format. Amazon offers streaming of Winter Sonata for a fee.
There has been sharp criticism of working conditions in Korean entertainment, including unregulated working hours, delay or failure of payment and a lack of formalized, written contracts. An estimated number of 20,000 extras work in the production of Korean dramas, most of them don't have written contracts, thus are ineligible for health insurance in case of accidents during shooting or on location. Neither production companies, nor television channels are willing to take responsibility for accidents, any medical attendance has to be paid for by the actors.
The quality of Korean series is controversial, with some saying they mostly copy Japanese and American patterns. Some veteran actors are of the opinion that the standard and quality of Korean television series has dropped cmpared to productions of previous decades. Choi Bool-am thinks that "the fundamental problem is that broadcasting companies put viewer ratings first. [...] dramas need to present good people to the public. Popularity should not be the only thing to be considered." Lee Sun-jae, leading actor of legendary series Hur Jun believes that there are also issues with the attitude and qualification of young actors. Kim Dae-oh from Koreana magazine criticized schematic story lines, that mostly focus on love. Kim thinks that due to the changeability of the script, the story can take startling turns. Chosun Ilbo listed schematic love stories as a negative aspect of K-dramas, as well. When compared to American series, the author believes that Korean dramas trend to focus on emotions and relationships, rather than events. It is also considered schematic, that the story is mostly driven by accidents, illnesses or memory loss; love triangles, rich man–poor girl scenarios and gangster characters are often employed. James Turnbull from The Grand Narrative thinks that Korean series build upon templates much more than Western series do, focus more on music and casting famous actors. He also remarks that he finds "internal monologues" of characters annoying, "which somehow writers of Western dramas manage to do quite well without".
Kang Myeong-gu, director of the Seoul National University Asia Center conducted a study, which concluded that Korean series do not represent high culture, in China, according to his studies, viewers with college degrees mostly prefer Japanese or American productions, and Korean dramas are watched by the less educated.
|1.||First Love||KBS2||65.8%||April 20, 1997|
|2.||What is Love||MBC||64.9%||May 24, 1992|
|3.||Sandglass||SBS||64.5%||February 6, 1995|
|4.||Hur Jun||MBC||63.7%||June 27, 2000|
|5.||Sunny Place of Youth||KBS2||62.7%||November 12, 1995|
|6.||You and I||MBC||62.4%||April 12, 1998|
|7.||The Son and the Daughter||MBC||61.1%||March 21, 1993|
|8.||Taejo Wang Geon||KBS||60.2%||May 20, 2001|
|9.||Eyes of Dawn||MBC||58.4%||February 6, 1992|
|10.||Dae Jang Geum||MBC||57.8%||March 23, 2004|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Television series of South Korea.|
- List of South Korean television series
- List of South Korean broadcasting networks
- Korean wave
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