It was around three years back that we was exposed to the thought of region-free DVD playback, a nearly necessary condition for readers of DVD Beaver. For that reason, a whole world of Asian film which was heretofore unknown if you ask me or out from my reach opened up. I had already absorbed decades of Kurosawa and, recently, a smattering of classic Hong Kong gangster and fantasy films through our local Hong Kong Film Festival. Of Korean films, I knew nothing. But across the next few months, with my new and surprisingly cheap multi-region DVD player, I was 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. It was another arena of innovative cinema if you ask me.
Several months into this adventure, a buddy lent us a copy from the first disc in the Korean television series, 韓劇dvd. He claimed the drama had just finished a six month’s run as typically the most popular Korean television series ever, which the latest English subtitles by YA-Entertainment were quite readable. “Maybe you’ll want it, perhaps not.” He knew my tastes pretty well at that time, but the thought of a tv series, much less one created for Korean mainstream TV, was hardly a thing that lit the obligatory fire under me. After two episodes, I was hooked.
I understood my fascination with Korean cinema, but television! This became a mystery. How could this be, I puzzled? I wasn’t everything that totally hooked on American TV. West Wing, Sopranos, Buffy – sure. Maybe I had pan-tastes, having said that i still looked at myself as discriminating. So, what was the attraction – one might even say, compulsion that persists to this day? Throughout the last few years I have watched, faithfully, eight complete series, in historical and contemporary settings – each averaging 20 hours – and I’m halfway into Jumong, which happens to be over 80 hour long episodes! Exactly what is my problem!
Though you will find obvious similarities to Western primetime dramas, cable as well as daytime soaps, Korean primetime television dramas – which they commonly call “miniseries” because the West already possessed a handy, or else altogether accurate term – certainly are a unique art. They may be structured like our miniseries in they have a pre-ordained beginning, middle and end. While considerably longer than our miniseries – even episodes can be a whole hour long, not counting commercials, which are usually front loaded prior to the episode begins – they generally do not continue for five, six or seven seasons, like Alias or Star Trek: Voyager, or even for generations, much like the Times of Our Way Of Life. The closest thing we must Korean dramas is probably virtually any season in the Wire. Primetime television in Korea is pretty much outright dramas and news. So Korea’s three very competitive networks (MBC, KBS and SBS) have gotten great at it over the years, especially considering that the early 1990s as soon as the government eased its censorship about content, which got their creative juices going.
Korean dramas were jump-were only available in 1991 with the hugely successful Eyes of Dawn, set involving the Japanese invasion of WWII and also the Korean War in the early 1950s. In 1995 the highly acclaimed series, The Sandglass, managed to get clear to an audience outside of the country that Korea was certainly onto something. The Sandglass deftly and intelligently melded the realm of organized crime and also the ever-present love story versus the backdrop of the items was then recent Korean political history, specially the events of 1980 referred to as the Gwang-ju Democratization Movement along with the government’s crushing military response (think: Tienamin Square.) But it really wasn’t until 2002, with Yoon Suk-Ho’s Winter Sonata, that whatever 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 his own company in San Bruno, California: YA-Entertainment (not to be wrongly identified as YesAsia) to distribute the ideal Korean dramas with proper English subtitles in The United States. To the end, YAE (as Tom loves to call his company) secured the required licenses to perform just that with all of the major Korean networks. I spent a few hours with Tom last week talking about our mutual interest. Larsen had first gone to Korea for a couple of years like a volunteer, then came straight back to the States to finish college where he naturally, but gradually, worked his distance to a Korean Language degree at Brigham Young. He came upon his desire for Korean dramas accidentally when one his professors used a then current weekly series to aid his students study Korean. An unexpected unwanted effect was that he or she along with his schoolmates became totally hooked on the drama itself. Larsen has since made several trips to Korea for prolonged stays. I’ll return to how YAE works shortly, however I wish to try no less than to reply to the question: Why Korean Dramas?
Part of the answer, I think, depends on the unique strengths of the shows: Purity, Sincerity, Passion. Probably the hallmark of Korean dramas (and, to some degree, in many in their feature films) can be a relative purity of character. Each character’s psychology and motivation is obvious, clean, archetypical. This is simply not to say they are certainly not complex. Rather a character is not really made complicated arbitrarily. Psychological insight into the type, as expressed by her or his behavior, is – I judge – often more correctly manifest than what we have seen on American television series: Character complexity is far more convincing if the core self will not be interested in fulfilling the needs of this or that producer, sponsor or target age range or subculture.
Korea is really a damaged and split country, much like numerous others whose borders are drawn by powers aside from themselves, invaded and colonized many times within the centuries. Koreans are, therefore, acutely responsive to questions of divided loyalties. Korean dramas often explore the conflict in between the modern and also the traditional – even in the historical series. Conflicts of obligations are often the prime motivation and focus for your dramatic narrative, often expressed in generational terms in the family. There may be something very reassuring about these dramas. . . not in the 1950s happy ending sense, for indeed, there are few happy endings in Korean dramas. When compared with American television shows: Korean TV dramas have simpler, yet compelling story lines, and natural, sympathetic acting of characters we could believe in.
Probably the most arresting feature from the acting will be the passion which is delivered to performance. There’s a good price of heartfelt angst which, viewed out of context, can strike the unsuspecting Westerner as somewhat laughable. However in context, such expressions of emotion are powerful and interesting, strikinmg to the heart in the conflict. Korean actors and audiences, old or young, unlike our personal, are immersed within their country’s political context as well as their history. The emotional connection actors make to the characters they portray has a degree of truth that may be projected instantly, without having the conventional distance we often require within the west.
Like the 韓劇dvd from the 1940s, the characters in the Korean drama have got a directness with regards to their greed, their desires, their weaknesses, in addition to their righteousness, and therefore are fully devoted to the results. It’s tough to say when the writing in Korean dramas has anything much like the bite and grit of a 40s or 50s American film (given our addiction to a translation, however well-intended) – I rather doubt it. Instead, specifically in the historical series, the actors wear their emotional link with their character on his or her face as a sort of character mask. It’s among the conventions of Korean drama which we are able to see clearly what another character cannot, though they may be “there” – sort of similar to a stage whisper.
I have got for ages been a supporter in the less-is-more school of drama. Not really that I enjoy a blank stage in modern street clothes, but that too much detail can make an otherwise involved participant right into a passive observer. Also, the greater number of detail, the better chance that we will occur on an error which will take me out from the reality that this art director has so carefully constructed (such as the 1979 penny that Chris Reeves finds in the pocket in Somewhere with time.) Graphic presentations with sensational story lines have a short-term objective: to help keep the viewer interested before the next commercial. There is not any long-term objective.
A huge plus is the story lines of Korean dramas are, with hardly any exceptions, only if they have to be, then the series concerns an end. It can do not persist with contrived excuses to re-invent its characters. Nor is the length of a series determined by the “television season” since it is in the Usa K-dramas usually are not mini-series. Typically, they are between 17-24 / 7-long episodes, though some have over 50 episodes (e.g. Emperor of 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 in many instances more skilled than American actors of the similar age. For it will be the rule in Korea, as opposed to the exception, that high profile actors do both television and film. In these dramas, we Westerners have the main benefit of learning people different from ourselves, often remarkably attractive, which includes an appeal in its own right.
Korean dramas possess a resemblance to a different dramatic form once familiar to us and currently in disrepute: the ” melodrama.” Wikipedia, describes “melodrama” as coming from the Greek word for song “melody”, combined with “drama”. Music is commonly used to increase the emotional response or 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 may be constructed a world of heightened emotion, stock characters and a hero who rights the disturbance to the balance of proper and evil inside a universe with a clear moral division.
Aside from the “happy ending” part plus an infinite availability of trials both for hero and heroine – usually, the second – this description isn’t so far off the mark. But most importantly, the thought of the melodrama underscores another essential difference between Korean and Western drama, and that is certainly the role of music. Western television shows and, to your great extent, current day cinema uses music in the comparatively casual way. A United States TV series can have a signature theme that may or may not – not often – get worked in the score as being a show goes along. Many of the music is there to back up the atmosphere or provide additional energy to the action sequences. Not too with Korean dramas – the location where the music is utilized similar to musical theatre, even opera. Certain themes represent specific characters or relationships between them. The background music is deliberately and intensely passionate and can stand on its own. Virtually every series has a minumum of one song (not sung with 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 typical excellent examples.
The setting for the typical Korean drama could possibly be almost anyplace: home, office, or outdoors which have the benefit of familiar and less known locations. The producers of Dae Jang Geum created a small working village and palace for the filming, which contains since turn into a popular tourist attraction. A series could possibly be one or a variety of familiar genres: romances, comedies, political or crime thrillers or historical dramas. Even though the settings are frequently familiar, the traditions and, often, the costumes and make-up can be quite distinct from Western shows. Some customs can be fascinating, although some exasperating, even just in contemporary settings – in terms of example, during winter Sonata, exactly how the female lead character, Yujin, is ostracized by family and friends once she balks on the engagement, a predicament that Korean audiences really can relate to.
Korean TV dramas, like all other art form, have their share of conventions: chance meetings, instant flashback replays, highly fantasized love stories, chance meetings, character masks, chance meetings, all of these can seem like unnecessary time-stoppers to Americans who are used to a fast pace. I suggest not suppressing the inevitable giggle from some faux-respect, but understand that these items have the territory. My feeling: If you can appreciate Mozart, you should certainly appreciate the pace and conventionality of Dae Jang Geum. More recent adult dramas like Alone in Love propose that some of these conventions may have already begun to play themselves out.
Episodes get through to the YAE office in San Bruno on Digital Beta (a 1:1 copy from the master that had been employed for the exact broadcast) where it really is screened for possible imperfections (in which case, the network is asked to send another.) The Beta is downloaded in the lossless format to the computer along with a low-resolution copy is 25dexjpky for the translator. Translation is carried out in stages: first a Korean-speaking individual that knows English, then your reverse. Our prime-resolution computer master will be tweaked for contrast and color. If the translation is finalized, it is entered the master, being careful to time the look of the subtitle with speech. Then this whole show is screened for even more improvements in picture and translation. A 2017推薦日劇 is constructed that has all the menu instructions and completed picture and subtitles. The DLT is then sent to factories in Korea or Hong Kong for your manufacture of the discs.
Whether or not the picture is formatted in 4:3 or 16:9, generally, the picture quality is very good, sometimes exceptional; along with the audio (music, dialogue and foley) is clear and dynamic, drawing the crowd into the some time and place, the history and also the characters. For individuals that have made the jump to light speed, we can anticipate to eventually new drama series in hi-def transfers from the not very distant future.