It had been around three yrs ago that I was brought to the idea of region-free DVD playback, a nearly necessary condition for readers of DVD Beaver. Consequently, a whole field of Asian film which had been heretofore unknown if you ask me or out of my reach opened up. I had already absorbed decades of Kurosawa and, more recently, a smattering of classic Hong Kong gangster and fantasy films by means of our local Hong Kong Film Festival. Of Korean films, I knew nothing. But within the next few months, with my new and surprisingly cheap multi-region DVD player, I had been immersed in beautiful DVD editions of Oldboy, Peppermint Candy, Memories of Murder, Sisily 2Km, Taegukgi, To the Mirror, Oasis and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – with lots more following close on their heels. This is a completely new arena of leading edge cinema in my opinion.
A few months into this adventure, a pal lent me a copy of your first disc of your Korean television series, 韓劇dvd. He claimed the drama had just finished a six month’s run as the most common Korean television series ever, and that the latest English subtitles by YA-Entertainment were quite readable. “Maybe you’ll like it, perhaps not.” He knew my tastes pretty well by then, but the concept of a tv series, not to mention one made for Korean mainstream TV, was hardly an issue that lit the obligatory fire under me. After two episodes, I used to be hooked.
I understood my fascination with Korean cinema, but television! This was a mystery. How could this be, I puzzled? I wasn’t everything totally hooked on American TV. West Wing, Sopranos, Buffy – sure. Maybe I needed pan-tastes, however i still considered myself as discriminating. So, that which was the attraction – one may possibly say, compulsion that persists to this particular day? Over the past several years I have got watched, faithfully, eight complete series, in historical and contemporary settings – each averaging 20 hours – and I’m halfway into Jumong, which is over 80 hour long episodes! What exactly is my problem!
Though you can find obvious similarities to Western primetime dramas, cable and even daytime soaps, Korean primetime television dramas – that they can commonly call “miniseries” since the West already experienced a handy, otherwise altogether accurate term – certainly are a unique art form. These are structured like our miniseries in they may have a pre-ordained beginning, middle and end. While for a longer time than our miniseries – even the episodes can be a whole hour long, not counting commercials, that happen to be usually front loaded ahead of the episode begins – they do not go on for five, six or seven seasons, like Alias or Star Trek: Voyager, or perhaps for generations, much like the Events of Our Everyday Lives. The closest thing we will need to Korean dramas could very well be any given season in the Wire. Primetime television in Korea is pretty much nothing but dramas and news. So Korea’s three very competitive networks (MBC, KBS and SBS) have gotten excellent at it over time, especially because the early 1990s when the government eased its censorship about content, which actually got their creative juices going.
Korean dramas were jump-started in 1991 through the hugely successful Eyes of Dawn, set involving the Japanese invasion of WWII and also the Korean War from the early 1950s. In 1995 the highly acclaimed series, The Sandglass, managed to make it clear to an audience outside of the country that Korea was certainly onto something. The Sandglass deftly and intelligently melded the industry of organized crime and the ever-present love story against the backdrop of the things was then recent Korean political history, specially the events of 1980 referred to as Gwang-ju Democratization Movement and also the government’s crushing military response (think: Tienamin Square.) Nevertheless it wasn’t until 2002, with Yoon Suk-Ho’s Winter Sonata, that what we now call the “Korean Wave” really took off. Winter Sonata quickly swept over Asia like atsunami, soon landing in Hawaii and so the Mainland, where Korean dramas already had a modest, but loyal following.
Right about then, Tom Larsen, who had previously worked for YesAsia.com, started their own company in San Bruno, California: YA-Entertainment (to not be mistaken for YesAsia) to distribute the ideal Korean dramas with proper English subtitles in Canada And America. For this end, YAE (as Tom loves to call his company) secured the required licenses to do exactly that with each one of the major Korean networks. I spent a couple of hours with Tom last week discussing our mutual interest. Larsen had first gone to Korea for a couple of years being a volunteer, then came to the States in order to complete college where he naturally, but gradually, worked his distance to a Korean Language degree at Brigham Young. He came upon his interest in Korean dramas accidentally when one his professors used a then current weekly series to help his students study Korean. An unexpected unwanted effect was which he and his schoolmates became hooked on the drama itself. Larsen has since made several trips to Korea for extended stays. I’ll revisit how YAE works shortly, but first I wish to try no less than to respond to the question: Why Korean Dramas?
Part of the answer, I think, is in the unique strengths of these shows: Purity, Sincerity, Passion. Maybe the hallmark of Korean dramas (and, to some degree, in lots of of the feature films) is actually a relative purity of character. Each character’s psychology and motivation is apparent, clean, archetypical. This may not be to mention they are certainly not complex. Rather a character is not really made complicated arbitrarily. Psychological advice about the character, as expressed by his or her behavior, is – I judge – often more correctly manifest than we notice on American television series: Character complexity is much more convincing as soon as the core self is not really interested in fulfilling the requirements this or that producer, sponsor or target age range or subculture.
Korea is actually a damaged and split country, as are many more whose borders are drawn by powers aside from themselves, invaded and colonized several times on the centuries. Koreans are, therefore, acutely sensitive to questions of divided loyalties. Korean dramas often explore the conflict between the modern and also the traditional – even in the historical series. Conflicts of obligations are frequently the prime motivation while focusing for that dramatic narrative, often expressed in generational terms in the family. There may be something very reassuring about these dramas. . . not within the 1950s happy ending sense, for indeed, you will find few happy endings in Korean dramas. In comparison with American television shows: Korean TV dramas have simpler, yet compelling story lines, and natural, sympathetic acting of characters we are able to have confidence in.
Maybe the most arresting feature in the acting will be the passion that is certainly taken to performance. There’s the best value of heartfelt angst which, viewed from context, can strike the unsuspecting Westerner as somewhat laughable. However in context, such expressions of emotion are powerful and fascinating, strikinmg to the heart of your conflict. Korean actors and audiences, young or old, unlike our personal, are immersed with their country’s political context and their history. The emotional connection actors make on the characters they portray has a level of truth that is projected instantly, minus the conventional distance we seem to require in the west.
Like the 韓劇dvd of your 1940s, the characters within a Korean drama have a directness about their greed, their desires, their weaknesses, and their righteousness, and so are fully focused on the results. It’s difficult to say if the writing in Korean dramas has anything like the bite and grit of your 40s or 50s American film (given our reliance upon a translation, however well-intended) – I rather doubt it. Instead, specially in the historical series, the actors wear their emotional link to their character on his or her face as a sort of character mask. It’s one of many conventions of Korean drama that we can see clearly what another character cannot, though these are “straight away” – form of such as a stage whisper.
I actually have for ages been a supporter in the less-is-more school of drama. Not that I prefer a blank stage in modern street clothes, but this too much detail can change an otherwise involved participant into a passive observer. Also, the greater detail, the better chance that I can happen with an error which takes me out of the reality that this art director has so carefully constructed (just like the 1979 penny that Chris Reeves finds within his pocket in Somewhere soon enough.) Graphic presentations with sensational story lines have a short-term objective: to keep the viewer interested until the next commercial. There is no long-term objective.
A large plus would be that the story lines of Korean dramas are, with not many exceptions, only as long as they need to be, after which the series goes to a conclusion. It does not persist with contrived excuses to re-invent its characters. Nor is the duration of a series determined by the “television season” because it is within the United states K-dramas are certainly not mini-series. Typically, they can be between 17-24 hour-long episodes, though some have 50 plus episodes (e.g. Emperor from the Sea, Dae Jang Geum, and Jumong).
Korean actors are relatively unknown to American audiences. These are disarming, engaging and, despite their youth or pop status in Korea (as is often the case), are typically more skilled than American actors of the similar age. For this is basically the rule in Korea, rather than exception, that high profile actors do both television and film. Over these dramas, we Westerners have the advantages of getting to know people different from ourselves, often remarkably attractive, which has an appeal in the own right.
Korean dramas have got a resemblance to a different dramatic form once familiar to us and currently in disrepute: the ” melodrama.” Wikipedia, describes “melodrama” as from the Greek word for song “melody”, combined with “drama”. Music is utilized to enhance the emotional response or to suggest characters. There is a tidy structure or formula to melodrama: a villain poses a threat, the hero escapes the threat (or rescues the heroine) and there is a happy ending. In melodrama there is certainly constructed a world of heightened emotion, stock characters as well as a hero who rights the disturbance to the balance of proper and evil in a universe by using a clear moral division.
Apart from the “happy ending” part along with an infinite availability of trials for hero and heroine – usually, the latter – this description isn’t thus far off the mark. But furthermore, the notion of the melodrama underscores another essential difference between Korean and Western drama, and that is certainly the role of music. Western tv shows and, to a great extent, present-day cinema utilizes music in a comparatively casual way. An American TV series will have a signature theme that may or may not – not often – get worked into the score being a show goes along. A lot of the music is there to support the atmosphere or provide additional energy on the action sequences. Not so with Korean dramas – where music is used more like musical theatre, even opera. Certain themes represent specific characters or relationships between the two. The background music is deliberately and intensely passionate and may stand on its own. Almost every series has a minumum of one song (not sung by a character) that appears during especially sensitive moments. The lyric is reflective and poetic. Many television soundtrack albums are hugely successful in Asia. The background music for Winter Sonata, Seo Dong Yo, Palace and Jumong are excellent examples.
The setting for a typical Korean drama could possibly be just about anywhere: home, office, or outdoors which have the main benefit of familiar and much less known locations. The producers of Dae Jang Geum developed a small working village and palace to the filming, which includes since develop into a popular tourist attraction. A series might be one or a mixture of familiar genres: romances, comedies, political or crime thrillers or historical dramas. While the settings are usually familiar, the traditions and, often, the costumes and then make-up can be quite distinct from Western shows. Some customs may be fascinating, and some exasperating, even during contemporary settings – concerning example, in the wintertime Sonata, exactly how the female lead character, Yujin, is ostracized by relatives and buddies once she balks on her engagement, a predicament that Korean audiences really can correspond with.
Korean TV dramas, as with any other art form, their very own share of conventions: chance meetings, instant flashback replays, highly fantasized love stories, chance meetings, character masks, chance meetings, which all can appear like unnecessary time-stoppers to Americans who are employed to a fast pace. I would recommend not suppressing the inevitable giggle from some faux-respect, but recognize that this stuff come with the territory. My feeling: If you can appreciate Mozart, you should be able to appreciate the pace and conventionality of Dae Jang Geum. More recent adult dramas like Alone for each other claim that a few of these conventions could have already started to play themselves out.
Episodes arrive at the YAE office in San Bruno on Digital Beta (a 1:1 copy from your master that was utilized for the actual broadcast) where it can be screened for possible imperfections (in which case, the network is inspired to send another.) The Beta is downloaded in the lossless format to the pc as well as a low-resolution copy is 25dexjpky towards the translator. Translation is done in stages: first a Korean-speaking individual that knows English, then the reverse. The top-resolution computer master is then tweaked for contrast and color. Once the translation is finalized, it is put into the master, being careful to time the appearance of the subtitle with speech. Then your whole show is screened for further improvements in picture and translation. A 日劇dvd is constructed that has every one of the menu instructions and completed picture and subtitles. The DLT is then shipped to factories in Korea or Hong Kong for the output of the discs.
Whether or not the picture is formatted in 4:3 or 16:9, in most cases, the image quality is excellent, sometimes exceptional; and also the audio (music, dialogue and foley) is obvious and dynamic, drawing the viewers to the some time and place, the tale and also the characters. For folks who definitely have made the jump to light speed, we could be prepared to eventually new drama series in high definition transfers from the not very distant future.