South Korean Dramas

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South Korean Dramas

#1  Postby hackenslash » Nov 16, 2021 2:22 am

So, in the last couple of years, I've become quite invested in South Korean drama. With Squid Game getting a lot of noise, I thought it worth talking about a bit.

I watched Squid Game, and I can see why it strikes a chord with Western sensibilities. It's a good show but, in reality, it isn't even in the running for good Korean shows.

There are some really lovely things about how Koreans handle certain aspects of life, and it's reflected wonderfully in their dramas in ways I doubt will appear in Western fayre for some time. A couple of hitpoints for reference.

The first and most important factor is the attitude to death, and particularly suicide (an area of interest for me, as it should be for anybody seriously interested in philosophy. It is, as Camus pointed out, the one remaining serious issue for philosophy, at least in the sense of philosophy that consists of footnotes to Plato. One of the more refreshing elements of the Korean oeuvre is they're considerably less squeamish about death.

Another factor is the attitude to gender. The amount of gender-swapping is off the charts. I recall an oldish flick with Forest Whittaker whose title escapes me, wherein the notion of gender-fluidity was the thing that set it apart. In Korea, this wouldn't be anything like sufficient to hang an entire movie on, as it would have made the whole thing little more than a trope. Maybe one in three of the many shows I've seen have some sort of gender shift.

Among the things that strikes me is the attitudes to food and drink. In Korean entertainment, food is key, and that's reflected in their drama, with entire story arcs centred on food. Indeed, many of their dramas are set in or around food establishments.

What's among the most striking features is the endings. They're really not at all Hollywood. Even where an ending is happy, it's real-happy, rather than the faux forced- and contrived-happy of the standard Western fayre. More importantly, they have one. Series don't tend to run into multiple seasons. They tell the story and it's done. The endless search for sequels is, to my mind, the absolute pits of Western entertainment. The franchise killed real entertainment.

If I'm being honest, though, it's the hats. Seriously. I've been embroiled in Joseon- and Goryeo-era period dramas, and the hats are spectacular.

Seriously, Squid Game is a pretty mediocre affair by Korean standards. If you want see the real thing, I recommend Empress Ki, which is an epic over 51 hours. The Crowned Clown is another good one, a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, Joseon style. Also Haechi, a sort of period police procedural.

Good modern shows are Hotel del Luna, Uncanny Counter and Black. Mystic Pop-up Bar is excellent.

All have an interesting feature, that I call the Eddings factor. David Eddings, professor of linguistics and fantasy author, is known for writing in a style that reflected the reading age of his central characters, starting out quite child-like and growing into adulthood. Korean dramas tend to this as well, though it's more emotionally-oriented. Almost all shows start out fairly whimsical, but rapidly descend into the darkness of intrigue and political machinations. Oodles of Confucius and Sun Tzu, among many others, which informs the dialogue.

Really, I'm hoping that this will serve as an indicator to others into the genre in terms of what I enjoy so that I can get some recommendations.
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