The term, “Korean wave” was coined by journalists in Beijing just before the millennium. Actually the more common term used is “Hallyu.” It was meant to describe how quickly entertainment and culture influences from Korea built a niche in the hearts and minds of the Chinese. The Chinese felt they were hit by a wave, specifically, a Korean wave. Through its entertainment and cultural exports, South Korea made (and are continuing to make) billions of dollars each year.
From South Korean dramas, South Korean pop music, actors and actresses of Korean heritage, Korean food and even the Korean martial art of Taekwondo, South Korea is letting the world know that they are a force to reckon with when it comes to entertainment and culture.
South Korean Drama
Basically, South Korean dramas are like soap operas or Mexican telenovelas. They are mini-series that are 16 to over a hundred episodes long, with Korean themes acted out by native South Korean actors and actresses and filmed not only in South Korea but also abroad. Some dramas deal with every day life, romance, comedy, tragedy while some are based or partially based on historical annals. These historical dramas are called “sageuk” in Korean. Best examples of this genre include Jumong, Dae Jang Geum or Jewel in the Palace, Damo, Chuno, Painter in the Wind or the more current King Gwanggaeto The Great and Tree with Deep Roots, which is about King Sejong, who invented the Korean alphabet, Hangul. Since the late 90’s, South Korean dramas have been occupying the boob tubes across China, Japan, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, and have made its stars popular outside South Korea. This genre of South Korean shows has also been showing up in North America and Europe. Although Mexican telenovelas still reign supreme, the South Korean dramas are not far behind. These South Korean dramas are dubbed in the local language of the country they are shown.
Some of the most popular South Korean dramas that were shown and are continuing to be shown in countries around the world are:
• All About Eve
• Winter Sonata
• Stairway to Heaven
• My Name is Kim Sam Soon
• Boys Over Flowers
• Full House
• Secret Garden
• Coffee Prince
• You’re Beautiful
Aside from regular dramas, love stories and situation comedies, fantasy dramas based loosely on Korean folklore and history have also gained popularity and have also made their way into televisions sets outside of South Korea. Some examples are Legend of the Four Gods, Iljimae, Hong Gil Dong and My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (My Girlfriend is a Nine-tailed Fox).
These South Korean dramas give the world a glimpse of life in South Korea and the culture of the people. What viewers tend to discover is that their culture may be different from Koreans in general but the stories and themes are universal.
If you are wondering what K-pop is, its South Korean pop music. This is one of the reasons why the Hallyu Wave has hit other countries with the strength of a tsunami. The popularity of South Korean pop stars has soared in the last decade. International producers and music groups like Kanye West, Ludacris, Will.I.Am and even the Jonas Brothers have collaborated with South Korean singers and musicians one way or another.
The K-pop genre is made up of pop, rock, hip hop, electro pop and R&B. Super Junior, SHINee, Big Bang, SNSD, Kara, Wonder Girls, CN Blue, SS501, Beast and YJY are just some of the many popular South Korean pop groups. Of course South Korean solo singers like Rain and BoA are also popular with fans outside the Korean peninsula. Through their music, interest in the style and fashion of the different K-pop groups has grown by leaps and bounds. Teenagers as well as young adults idolize their favorite K-pop groups and copy their manner of dress and style.
Part of the credit for the rise in popularity of K-pop is YouTube. Many video clips of the South Korean pop stars land on the video-sharing site. This made the South Korean entertainers highly accessible to their fans all over the world. Facebook also has a hand in the K-pop explosion. iTunes jumped on the K-pop bandwagon and made available to the public recordings of some of the popular South Korean pop stars.
Koreans in Hollywood
Most Asian actors are type-casted in Hollywood making it difficult for them to break the glass ceiling. However, some of them have and a number of them are Korean. Actors and actresses of Korean lineage have landed plum roles in Hollywood productions.
• Daniel Dae Kim and Kim Yunjin were featured in the TV series LOST. Daniel Day Kim is now on the current remake of Hawaii Five-O.
• Daniel Henney was in a big budget super hero movie called X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
• James Kyson-Lee was in the television show Heroes.
• John Cho of Harold and Kumar fame played a major role in the 2009 blockbuster Star Trek. He was Lieutenant Sulu.
• Lee Byung Hun, South Korean actor/singer/model was cast in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
• Rain or Bi, a popular South Korean superstar, starred in Speed Racer and Ninja Assassin.
• Sandra Oh was in the critically acclaimed film Sideways before she landed a role on TV’s Grey’s Anatomy.
• Sung Kang’s claim to fame was being part of the cast of three of The Fast and Furious movies.
Actors with Korean roots have their own fan base. It is expected that as they gain more meaty roles in TV and movies, more and more people will be exposed to their acting chops. A lot of patience is needed for talented Korean actors to win good roles. In the case of native Korean actors, they need to perfect their English language skills before they can truly find themselves in the shortlist of casting agents in Hollywood and elsewhere.
Slowly but surely, Korean food is beginning to become more popular these days. Thanks in part to the different food channels on cable television and to the South Korean dramas. Korean cuisine may not be as popular as the other Asian foods like Chinese, Japanese or Indian cuisine, but chefs and foodies from different parts of the world are beginning to discover the great flavors found in South Korean food. Some of the more popular Korean dishes area:
• Kimchi – made using red pepper paste, chili powder, salt, napa cabbage, cucumber, radish or onion and pickled in red pepper paste, chili powder, salt, and fish sauce or fermented seafood and allowed to age to develop its distinct spicy and slightly salty taste. It is probably the most popular food from Korea and considered as one of the healthiest food in the world.
• Bibimbap – is rice topped with meat, vegetables, and eggs, mixed with spices.
• Bulgogi – the Japanese have their teriyaki while the Koreans have their bulgogi. Bulgogi can be made with beef, pork or chicken marinated in soy sauce, garlic, pepper, sugar, onions, scallions and sesame oil before grilling. It has been listed as one of the most delicious foods in the world. It’s believed to have originated during the Goguryeo period in ancient Korea and had been the food of the rich and the nobles of the Joseon era.
• Galbi – grilled short ribs marinated in soy sauce and other ingredients is Korea’s answer to barbecue.
• Samgyeopsal – is pork belly; Korea’s answer to bacon, grilled with slices mushrooms, onions and garlic wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves with some ssamjang, a dipping paste fro grilled meats or lettuce wraps made from sesame oil, minced garlic, soybean paste, chili paste and honey.
Korea’s homegrown martial arts is Taekwondo. Its popularity has continued to grow worldwide since it became a demonstration sport in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. By the 2000 Olympics, Taekwondo became a full-fledged medal sport. In 2010, Taekwondo was included in the Commonwealth Games.
According to one source, there are more than 30 million Taekwondo practitioners in 123 countries. The number of Taekwondo black belts was said to be roughly 3 million individuals. In the same year when these statistics came out, the government of South Korea had estimated that there were 70 million Taekwondo practitioners in 190 countries.
What is this national sport of South Korea all about? The term Taekwondo can be divided into three syllables. Tae means “to strike with the foot”; kwon means “to strike with the fist”; and do means “art” or “way.” The loose translation then of Taekwondo is “the art of striking with the foot and the fist.” The main emphasis of the sport is on kicking techniques. The legs can make powerful strikes because it is the strongest and longest part of the body.
People of all ages, genders, professions and social status practice Taekwondo. It develops strength, speed, flexibility, balance and stamina. To be a true Taekwondo jin or practitioner is to master one’s physical and mental power.
South Korean popularity is rising as each year passes. There was a time when South Korea’s culture lived under the shadow of Japan’s and China’s; but not anymore. It is becoming more known throughout the world. And this is a good thing for everyone. Discovering new cultures is what will connect the different peoples of the world. So, when you see the Korean wave coming, why not ride it for a little while and see what you have been missing.