So recently, a couple of comments on the blog have combined to give me pause for thought.
And instead of just answering the latest question in the comments section, I thought it was interesting enough, and thought-provoking enough, to put it all in a new post, and see what you guys think.
Well ok, that, and the fact that as I chewed on my answer to the latest comment, I realized that there were just too many facets to the answer than I felt could fit reasonably into a simple comment.
Basically, the question is, have kdramas gotten worse / more “dumbed down” in recent years?
Let’s dive in together to take a look, shall we?
THE CONTEXT OF THIS POST
Before diving into some of my thoughts in response to the question, I figure some context to how this post came about would be useful.
First, my dear friend Timescout commented on my post on why I ended up dropping Ho Goo’s Love, that she’d noticed that the overall quality in kdramas had deteriorated over the years, and that the plots in more recent drama offerings have often been dumbed down to the point of not being watchable.
I acknowledged and agreed with her point about more dramas getting dumbed down in recent years, and also conceded that in spite of it, dramaland’s also managed to produce some really impressive offerings.
I mentioned Secret Love Affair as an example of a more recent drama that I genuinely found outstanding.
This morning, blog reader Brenda left a comment on the same post, and here’s part of what she said:
I’m not sure I agree that dramas are getting worse in general, by the way. In the last year I’ve seen some pretty good dramas, including Healer, Kill Me Heal Me, Secret Love Affair, It’s Okay That’s Love, Heart to Heart, Witch’s Romance.
Perhaps I’m not as discriminating as some, but I’ve enjoyed them as much as I have the dramas I’ve seen that were made in the late 2000’s.
…And here’s the thing. I agree with Brenda too. I enjoyed every drama that she named (if you’d like some evidence of that, just check out the various reviews that I’ve written, which I’ve linked to the show’s titles).
I’m also a big advocate of adjusting one’s viewing lens in order to enjoy what a drama has to offer, rather than tear a drama apart for its flaws.
This all came together to give me food for thought, in terms of finding an answer that’s true to both of my gut responses to Timescout and Brenda.
As I’ve chewed on this, I feel like the two big things that would help, in getting us closer to a balanced answer, is considering our personal context, as well as the industry context of k-ent.
* I guess this is an appropriate point to mention that this post isn’t so much a direct answer to Brenda’s comment, as much as it is a general musing on the subject.
1. Personal Journey
Generally speaking, I believe that our personal journey with dramas has a big influence on how we respond to the shows themselves.
Broadly, I think how long you’ve been watching dramas + how many dramas you’ve watched over that period of time really does make a difference.
For example, to someone who’s relatively new to dramas, almost everything is shiny, new and novel in dramaland. Broody cold male leads, wrist-grabs and backhugs are all fresh, thrilling and quite exciting.
At the other end of the scale, someone who’s been watching dramas for a long time is likely to feel at least a touch jaded in the face of those same things.
In terms of my own personal journey, I’ve watched about 200 dramas in the last 8 years (which at first glance makes me sound like I have a legit problem, but really, it works out to a pretty acceptable 2-3 dramas a month).
I like to think that I’m still very capable of squeeing and swooning in response to drama magic unfolding on my screen.
At the same time, I must admit that nowadays it takes a little more than a random backhug to activate my feelz. Some might call this jadedness; others might call this discernment; it is what it is.
2. Personal Preference
Basically, this section is all about what you look for in a drama. I think this is important because what you look for is unavoidably weighed against what dramas are putting out there. The more these two things match, the more satisfied you’re likely to be, as a drama viewer.
Some people are all about the romance. Some are all about the story. Some are all about character development. And some are all about the choco abs. 😉
Generally speaking, the pickier you are as a viewer, the less you’ll find to enjoy in dramaland. If you’re all about the romance and are able to overlook all other failings, you’d find a lot of dramas to choose from.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for the drama trifecta of good writing, good acting and good directing, then you’d probably be choosing from a pool of far fewer dramas.
I used to be all about the romance, and in my early drama-watching days, how much I liked a show really depended on how much that particular drama fulfilled my romance-hungry eyes.
Over time, though, I’ve come to appreciate a much bigger range of genres, causing me to have complete changes of heart over several dramas.
Case in point: Chuno. I’d been super frustrated with it on my first watch, coz I felt it had let me down on the romance front. But now, with more appreciative drama eyes, I think it’s one of the most brilliant dramas I’ve ever seen. For reals.
I’ve also realized that despite the flexible lens that I like to employ, good writing and good acting are tops on my list.
If something is well-written and well-acted, I generally am able to enjoy it, even if it’s a genre that’s outside my usual tastes. Er, barring extreme makjang and horror, that is. I generally don’t enjoy those genres. 😛
Along with this realization, I’ve found that good writing – and, to a lesser extent, good acting too – isn’t quite as common in dramaland as I would like. There are altogether too many dramas that have haphazard, poorly pieced-together narratives that feature plot holes and logic fails.
So then the question is, do I still manage to find dramas to enjoy? Yes. There are some legitimately excellent dramas out in dramaland. Plus, my flexi-lens policy comes in handy with appreciating dramas while overlooking most of their flaws.
Do I also think that there is room for more creativity, narrative integrity and all-around awesome in dramaland? Again, yes. I’d love to see more dramas that are all-around good, so that my flexi-lens can take a bit of a breather, heh.
3. Personal Taste
This section is basically a spin-off of the last section. Here, though, the question I’m looking at is, what do you find appealing/funny/good?
Lately, I’ve found that a good number of the dramas that have crossed my screen, have opted for broad comedy.
Sometimes, I found myself laughing right along with the show, like I did (at least most of the time) with Fated To Love You and Marriage Not Dating.
At other times, I found Show’s Intended Funny just not landing with me the way it did with everyone else. Shows in this category include High School King, Surplus Princess, Hyde, Jekyll, Me and Ho Goo’s Love.
At the same time, although broad comedy is generally not my kind of thing, in the past, I’ve genuinely managed to enjoy a number of dramas that have employed this kind of OTT, campy humor.
For example, You’re Beautiful, High Kick and Vampire Idol literally had me laughing out loud.
Given that I’ve managed to enjoy broad comedy quite well in the past, it puzzles me as to why many of dramaland’s more recent offerings in this category have mostly failed to land with me.
On one hand, I feel like overall execution and the actors’ comic timing are at least part of the answer. After all, I laughed with Fated To Love You and Marriage Not Dating, right?
On the other hand, though, what I’ve failed to find amusing in Ho Goo’s Love, High School King and Surplus Princess has genuinely tickled many other viewers.
So I guess it all boils down to what you find funny, and on a broader scale, what you find good. What works for you might not work for me, and vice versa. We are definitely an audience of extremely varied tastes, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Although I don’t generally comment on the k-ent industry, I feel that one simply can’t consider the question of whether kdramas are deteriorating as a whole, without considering the industry that produces them.
1. More Players
One thing that is undeniable, is the fact that nowadays, there are far more dramas competing for our attention than before.
For one thing, there are more players on the market, with cable channels like tvN, OCN and jTBC (just to name a couple) joining the Big Three networks in putting out regular dramas for our viewing pleasure.
For another, there are more shows opting for alternative drama platforms. Web dramas are becoming more and more mainstream, and are steadily gaining popularity with audiences who have limited time and attention spans to spare.
With new players and new platforms, we inevitably get more experimentation.
With more experimentation comes more missteps, as drama-makers try to figure out what works for them and for audiences. This could definitely contribute to the feeling of deterioration in quality, I think.
2. Drama-Making Conditions
As King of Dramas has illustrated with its tongue-in-cheek yet unrelenting focus on the drama-making industry, the combination of live-shoot demands, PPL demands and industry politics can definitely get in the way of creative integrity.
All too often, the stories on our screens have suffered because of these. Here’s a quick list of stuff that can – and have – adversely affect our dramas’ narratives:
1. Rushed live-shoots &/or abruptly truncated screentimes, resulting in rushed endings that lack logic. Eg, Surplus Princess & Vampire Idol, both of which ended abruptly and with little logic.
2. Accidents &/or other incidents that interfere with the actors’ ability to carry on, &/or the show’s ability to keep going on the air.
Eg, Gong Hyo Jin having to have her broken arm worked into the story of It’s Okay It’s Love (which totally felt random and odd, by the way), and Maids, which aired just one episode before their only set went up in flames and tragically took the life of one staffer.
3. Pressure from the audience, resulting in switching of a male lead, for example, which leads to a narrative that feels meandering, and arcs that feel like they’re circling in place.
Eg, Queen of Reversals, whose narrative stalled for several episodes, while the decision was still up in the air of whether or not Park Shi Hoo ought to be upgraded from second lead to first.
4. Extensions. Whether it’s because a show is enjoying good ratings or because the network needs to buy time for the next drama to start its production, extensions often result in a narrative that feels meandering and bloated.
Eg, Smile You, which got extended by a whopping 15 episodes to 45 from its original 30. As a result, all the spark and fun of the earlier episodes got replaced by melodramatic meddling parents.
Writer-nim probably ran out of ideas on how to extend her original story by 50%. What a waste, seriously. The early episodes were so winning, with so much cute.
5. PPL helps the production with much-needed money, but is often worked into the show in such an unnatural manner that it feels forced and is completely distracting.
Eg, Subway sandwiches in SO. MANY. of our recent dramas.
With pressure from these fronts only getting stronger as time goes by, it’s no surprise that the quality of our dramas are suffering more and more because of it.
I honestly believe that if some of these factors could be mitigated or removed, that we would actually get better dramas as a direct result.
3. The Drama Trend
I have always been rather bemused at how dramaland consistently manages to put out shows with similar themes, at around the same time. Like, how does this work, exactly?
Does one network agree on a concept with a production company and writer, only to have that concept quickly leaked to other production companies and networks, so that everyone else in the industry can get on board with the same theme?
Whatever the case, if you’ve been in dramaland for a while, you probably have come across at least several drama trends.
In 2012, for example, dramaland was all about time travel. We had Rooftop Prince, Queen In-hyun’s Man, Operation Proposal and Nine.
In 2013, we had noona romances (I Hear Your Voice, You From Another Star) and ghosts (Master’s Sun, Who Are You?)
In 2014, we had more noona romances (Secret Love Affair, Witch’s Romance, High School King), infidelity (One Warm Word, Secret Love Affair), reunited exes (Cunning Single Lady, Emergency Couple), adaptations (Three Musketeers, Fated To Love You, Bel Ami, Misaeng), and the first of the “Healing Romances” (It’s Okay It’s Love).
So far, 2015’s already shaping up to be a year of psychological disorders & healing romances (Kill Me Heal Me, Hyde, Jekyll, Me and Heart To Heart), vampires (Blood, Orange Marmalade, Scholar Who Walks the Night) and webtoon adaptations (The Girl Who Sees Smells, Orange Marmalade, Ho Goo’s Love, Scholar Who Walks the Night, Cheese In The Trap).
While it is rather interesting to see how different writers approach the same theme/topic, I have to admit that the repetition of the same themes across dramas in the same window of time does result in some viewer fatigue.
I mean, if dramaland were to put out another multiple personality drama right now, for instance, it would have to be Seriously Awesome in order for me to be interested enough to watch it, since I’ve already checked out 2 other dramas about multiple personalities this year.
If there was just ONE drama about multiple personalities in 2015, though, it would feel that much fresher in concept, y’know?
This is why I don’t think drama trends actually help improve the quality – or variety – that we get in dramaland.
SO WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?
Given all of the context that we’ve just considered, what’s the final answer to our original question? Are kdramas in general deteriorating in general, &/or getting dumbed down?
I think there will always be viewers in the absolute camps of “Yes, absolutely” and “No, what are you even talking about?”
Personally, I think my answer is somewhere in-between the two extremes.
On the one hand, because of the simple fact that there are more kdramas being produced these days, there are therefore more dramas that are making missteps.
Perhaps because of that, it feels like there are more meh dramas in our drama world, when perhaps the proportion of good dramas to meh might not have shifted all that much.
At the same time, with industry pressures steadily mounting over time, I feel like it is becoming more and more difficult for writers, producers and directors to make dramas that are robust with artistic integrity.
I’d love for k-ent to overcome some of the issues that I’ve mentioned in this post, coz I do honestly think that will improve the overall quality of our dramas.
In the meantime, I’m far from giving up on my beloved kdramas. I’m gonna keep rooting for dramaland to bring us more awesome, while keeping my flexi-lens handy, so that I can find more dramas to love. Coz I do love my dramas. 😉
Well most of kdramas are meh actually.
For me, i look for something’s different.
Something’s I’ve never seen in kdramas before.
That’s why i tend to stay away from usual daily life kdramas and watch fantasy kdramas instead. But it doesn’t mean all fantasy kdramas are good. I’m just looking for something’s different like When The Devil Calls Your Name. The idea of a guy selling his soul to the devil is interesting.
Arthdal Chronicles that goes tribal.
Descendant Of The Sun with military setting.
Kill Me Heal Me with multiple personality.
Hwayugi that is a Korean version of the monkey king story.
Duel with it’s human cloning plot.
Or maybe the drama idea isn’t that special but there’s something’s different in it.
Like ballet in Angel’s Last Mission.
Classical music in 30 But 17
Human allergy in I’m Not A Robot.
Male crossdressing as a female in Tale Of Nokdu.
A true psychopath in Strangers From Hell.
I want to look for a different kdrama.
But most of kdramas doesn’t have that different element that i look for.
I guess we’re all looking for something fresh when we watch a drama.. at least I personally don’t enjoy watching multiple takes on the same story. It’s why I’m not usually keen to watch more than one country’s take on a particular story franchise. I do think kdramas make a lot of effort to come up with fresh concepts and premises, but often I think the concept is better than the execution. Have you watched Circle? I thought the sci-fi idea was very fresh, particularly for a kdrama. 🙂
I do. Circle is good but I don’t think it’s as amazing as Duel.
I haven’t seen Duel, but I’ve heard good things. Oh, for something a little different, have you tried Signal? I started on it, and thought it was very good, but it got rather hard to watch and I shelved it with the intention of going back to finish it, uh, “soonish” 😅
Wow. This was a great article which broke down, eloquently and comprehensively, how I’ve been feeling recently about new dramas. I started off watching great classics, City Hunter, You Who Came from the Star, and those honestly blew my mind. Now, I’m struggling so much to find a good, wholistic drama which has elements of comedy, action, romance, good writing, good directing and good acting. For me, Healer will forever be one of my all-time favourites because of the seamless integration of all those factors, not to mention the added bonus of some eye-candy (Ji Chang Wook eeee!!!). I feel like our tastes are quite similar because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed several of the dramas recommended by you. I was just wondering whether there were any new ones, similar to Healer that you could recommend? I truly value your opinion so much, I don’t know where I would be without your blog! Thanks so much for putting your time into it! It has changed my drama watching experience for the better!! 🙂
Aw, thanks for your kind words Jenny! I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the reviews, and thanks for enjoying this post as well! <3 In terms of a drama like Healer, that's a tall order, since Healer is absolutely cracky and wonderful. I've concluded that the drama I'd like to suggest to you, is Chinese drama Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms. Yes, it's not Korean, but it does share some common elements with Healer, despite it's period fantasy context. Our male lead has powers (it always felt to me like Healer had superpowers, with him leaping off buildings all the time), the female lead is strong, the OTP has great chemistry and the love story is cracky as well. It takes a while to warm up (I got hooked mostly in the early teen episodes, so it was a bit of a slow burn for me), but when I got hooked, I got hooked good. The romance is epic, and I do hope you'll enjoy it like I did 🙂 You can check out my review here, if that helps! 🙂
Kdrama became worse and worse every year. i watching them from 2008 and i loved a lot of them at first (and i was really obsessed so i watch most of them)but i think maybe in 2013 it started to getting down the hill when they started to get less creative and more like hollywood . now i can’t even watch them any more. i watch only web series of low budget broadcast like “addicted” (Chinese) and also didn’t stop watching Jdrama i like all this year because they don’t change at all. the Most lovable K actors are almost dissapeared from the screen (Hyun Bin for example) and all the young annoying actors stays and the broadcast became more “white” “Western” it’s irritating so much i can’t even stand this because i inlove with korea and even i don;t like kpop and all those new drama i really think they should pull it together i return to themselves stop being something the aren’t at all!!! this is why i’m very sad. the last drama i watched was Jealousy Incarnate (2016_it was nice but not as Angry mom(2015)or Reply 1997(2012), i think the main problems is money when money is involve and there isn’t a soul there’s a real problem, that’s whay the future of good hight rating drama is in the web with low budget films that want to make something new and fresh with soul and love!!! if you want to watch some of them you can watch “Skam”( Norwegian) or “Addicted” (CHinese) you will see the difference
I think it’s more the lack of variation that make you feel that way, not that they necessary have become “worse”. Jdramas offers more variation to me. When I started watching asian dramas, around seven years ago, I watched maybe 70% kdramas/30% jdramas. Today it’s closer to 50/50. The big issue with kdramas is that they very often have a story that includes a lot of fantasy or unrealistic compontents far from real life issues. Jdramas often are more like real life dramas, even if dramas based on mangas can be a bit on the crazy side. Lately I have come to like the more realistic jdramas a bit more, even if I also enjoy “fantasy” and “crazy” dramas too. Kdramas still have a high quaulity I think, but I can agree it’s a bit harder to get the “wow” feeling today compared to a couple of years ago.
Love the subject and you raised some valid points. I will try to keep it short (no promise) and say that, I think that on a general scale older kdramas were better. Because there were more that were captivating, and there were less drama that felt rushed. That doesn’t mean I’m less of a fan today because I’m still a big fan, but let’s just say that I find myself dropping way more dramas than I used to. And I compare today to my post-honeymoon phase. Trends have always been part of the game, so I guess this can’t be the reason for me. Maybe the personal journey part can explain my perception, still I think it’s has a lot to do with many standards that are changing, when I want it to keep its “koreanness”. Some dramas have a little too much western invasion in them. I’m all for cultural exchange, naturally…but still. In small doses when it comes to the film industry. This industry always carries a country’s cultural codes. And I love differences of standards, cultures, etc.
I agree about adjusting our lens. I don’t mind flaws and inconsistencies if there aren’t too many, in other words, if there are few I don’t even notice them, the same can be said about the bulk of viewers. Those flaws have always been there and it’s not that serious. There is no need to bash constantly.
That said, those recent years there have been some good dramas, even this year (I’m addicted to MASK rightnow). I still think this is a very creative industry, and there are tons of genres besides romantic comedy, which is what the western audience seems to box Kdramas in for the most part. I love love love the genre, but I detest the generalization. there is so much more than romcoms in Kdramaland.
But the quality of dramas have dropped a bit I think, nothing dramatic and crazy, but it’s still noticeable. There are less and less hit dramas even locally. Watching the ratings last year and this year, I was surprised that so many dramas struggle to reach the 10% mark these days. Koreans themselves are bored. Yes there is the internet, so people are free to catch up later, but 6-7 years ago there was the internet too and for them subtitles were not needed. Several times I’ve heard koreans say they hardly watch dramas anymore. Just a few weeks ago a korean friend of mine who lives in Korea texted me when I asked her what drama she was watching “there’s nothing to watch”. That should tell us something.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Blue! Loved reading them! 😀
What a great point, about dramas needing to retain their Koreanness. It’s a huge part of kdramas’ appeal to international audiences, I think. Even as an Asian myself, I find it fascinating to learn about Korean culture and seeing where it’s different or similar to my own. Kdramas have done heaps to put Korea on the global map, in terms of tourism and general interest. So, in some dramas trying on more Western influences, they inevitably lose some of their innate appeal.
I do like that the industry is experimenting, and that experimentation has brought us some interesting dramas. I love the art film sensibility and treatment of Secret Love Affair, for instance. And yet, that drama manages to retain a lot of its Koreanness, in terms of its melodramatic flair, and its emphasis on relationships and feelings. It’s too bad that the ratings game is affecting so many of the recent experimental shows. Surplus Princess took a while to grow on me, but I actually got to really like it after the first 2 episodes. It’s too bad that poor ratings caused it to be cut, which in turn led to a very nonsensical WTH sort of ending. In that sense, I do wish that the industry itself was more tolerant of experimentation, ie, I wish they’d give dramas more room to experiment.
With everyone just trying to get a slice of the ratings pie while in the thick of the live-shoot system, it’s not surprising that quality has ended up suffering. When you’re under pressure to get ratings and your show isn’t hitting the numbers, story often gets sacrificed in efforts to jolt the numbers in the show’s favor. On the flipside of things, it’s really sad to see robust, well-told stories like Angry Mom not get the ratings that they deserve.
I don’t know that it’s true that there’s “nothing” to watch.. I think part of it is definitely audiences feeling jaded. Partly, there’s just so much to sift through, to try to find the ones that are worth watching. I think, anyway 🙂
I also believe that experimentation is a good thing and even essential. I actually didn’t even understand why Surplus Princess flopped to the point of being cut to 10 episodes (if I recall correctly) because I was totally enjoying the show, but at the end of the day we can’t fight the ratings. I know it is frustrating but I have come to the realization that this is a business. There was actually a discussion on my page on Ex-Girlfriend Club being cut to 12 episodes and if tvN was right to do so. Not everyone agreed but I understood their perspective nevertheless. 🙂
Didn’t see Secret Love Affair, I will add it to my watch list. 😉
I agree that there’s still a lot to watch but a lot to sift through, HAHA, and I don’t think she meant it literally 😀 I think it meant that it wasn’t like it used to be. Many koreans can’t relate to dramas that overuse western references. I don’t think that mean they’re narrow-minded, we don’t see asian references in most western shows anyway. It is understandable because I guess the main audience has to relate to the stories culturally, although they do love many western cultures especially US, France or the UK, etc. A drama who did a great job incorporating a western touch while still being Korean is WONDERFUL DAYS, at some point you get it that the prosecutor is international since he speaks english fluently to a foreigner, but that lasts about 20 seconds and it was to help the person. I also liked how in School 2015 an english teacher speaks korean fluently, which shows another aspect of this cultural exchange. 🙂
Anyway, love the discussion here, and I need to mention that your headers are amazing 🙂
Did you watch School 2015?
P.S. Added you to my blogroll 😉
Sigh. It’s sad that ratings play such a huge role. I totally didn’t feel Surplus Princess was a flop to warrant a drastic cut in episodes. Except for the first 2 eps, I was actually enjoying the show quite well and would’ve liked to see the kind of story the writers would’ve served up, if they’d been given their full 16 eps. Maybe then the ending would’ve made more sense? I guess I should just be thankful that shows like Angry Mom didn’t get cut despite the less than stellar ratings. Angry Mom was GOOD. And yay that you’re adding Secret Love Affair to your list! It’s BRILLIANT. You need to be in the mood for an art film sort of experience, though. I aborted my first attempt at SLA simply coz my mood didn’t match with its art film atmosphere.
I’m currently watching Wonderful Days, so I know the English conversations you’re referring to. I hadn’t thought of it before, but you’re right, it does give that international touch to Dong Seok’s character while retaining a very Korean flavor to the rest of the show. Also, more shows are using Westerners who speak fluent Korean.. Julien Kang is a great example. Everything that he appears in, from High Kick 2 to Marriage Not Dating, gets that international touch, coz he speaks Korean so well.
Glad you’re liking the headers – I enjoy making ’em 🙂 And yes, I did watch S2015.. I’m working on the review at the moment, so stay tuned for that!
PS: thanks for the space of honor on your blogroll! 🙂
You’re welcome 🙂
I feel one of the problems is that kdramas today is very focused on dramas with twisted story-lines and/or main characters that have some special character or issue. Even if they are fun to watch, some more variation with dramas with a bit more realistic story-lines with normal real-life issues would not hurt. I think dramas like Reply 1994/1997 is good examples on how kdramas can be very good and still be about normal real-life issues.
You’re absolutely right considering a rather western-oriented point of view. I’ve begun to watch kdramas after having spent quite some time in k-movies. At first I had so many questions…well, more than I could handle, tbh. It was more lke a cultural shock in a way.
Nowadays, after a quite amount of dramas and ever since I’ve embraced all the k-dramaland’s paradoxes (which seems as if I’ve been learning a foreign language for that matter, lol) I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no realistic story-lines and certainly not real-life issues in k-dramas whatsoever. Bizarre, huh?? Well, not so much! For instance, take the AM series: they have their own share of the melo flair. In AM ’97 there is the dead sister, the dead parents, the dead sister engagement to the teacher, the kid who have a crush on the surviving sister whom the dead sister’s fiance is now after and at the same time he’s the big brother to the boy who have the crush. If this really sounds ordinary plot-wise, then what’s not ordinary?
To make the long story short, my point is that everything lies to the execution and the artistic point of view. Depending on the director’s vision and the network’s choices , the (almost) same script may end up being either a hilarious comedy or a family week-end drama or even a melodrama. As “Anthony Kim” kept repeating “The melo is in every single drama” 😉 Because it’s the melodrama element that transforms a seemingly plain story into a k-drama. And that’s why they’re so addictive and fun almost always xD!
Yeah, I recolonize the “seeing k-movies for some years before moving on to k-dramas” thing 🙂
And a drama would not be a good drama if it’s too “ordinary”, that would be boring I agree.
You’ve got a point, Patrik! Many of the prime-time shows tend to be high concept type shows, with very few dramas going more slice-of-life. A couple of recent-ish ones that you might like are Plus Nine Boys, Misaeng, and Let’s Eat 2. All 3 are very different from each other, but they have a slice-of-life flavor in common.
You might also like family dramas, come to think of it. They tend to be longer at around 50 episodes, but they tend to also have that slice-of-life approach, and when done well, can be really gratifying to watch. My favorite family dramas are Life Is Beautiful and Ojakgyo Brothers. They typically take at least 8 episodes to complete their setup, but on the upside, we get a lot more detail in terms of character interaction and development 🙂
I’m actually watching Plus Nine Boys right now, just a few episodes left, and I like it a lot. An example of the type of dramas I think they should do more of. I also like the first version of “Let’s Eat” and will probably also see version 2 at some point. Family dramas is a bit too long for my liking 😛
Ah, I really liked Plus Nine Boys!! So pleased that you’re enjoying it, Patrik! 🙂 I do think the show is underrated, and deserves more love. I feel the same about Let’s Eat 2. So many fans of the first season struggled to embrace the new characters in the second season. I found it took me several episodes to get into it, but eventually I really, really enjoyed the show 🙂
I saw a picture from Let’s Eat Season 2 in the end of your post. Are you currently watching this drama? I’m just curious: how do you find it? Do you like it? I hope you’ll remember me, I’m Serena, from Europe and about for two months I’m a subber on Viki. And guess, wich drama am I translating now? Let’s Eat (2), of course! This is my second project. I already finished a j-drama (Ghostwriter) and I work on a taiwanese one (The Crossing Hero). I can’t wait for High Society, wich I’ll translate as well, starting next week. I’m not a newbie anymore, you know, I got almost 8000 lines.
Hello, Serena. I’d just like to say Thanks to you, and all the subbers out there. Where would we be without you.
If you don’t mind. I have some questions.
1.How is subbing done. Is It true something like google translate, or are there people doing it who can actually speak the language of the drama/movie, whatever they are subbing.
2. Do people from asian countries work as subbrs?
3. When you are working on subbing a drama, how long would it take you to sub an episode.
4. do you work on your own or with other people or with a team on a drama.
I’m just curious.
Sorry for the delay! I saw your questions only today. I’m so glad someone said “Thanks!” to subbers. It’s so rare among people watching the shows we translate to say even hello the volunteers, so I really appreciate this. There are also seggers, moderators and channel managers working on a drama and they deserve people’s appreciation too.
I’ll answer you following the order you asked:
1. Subbing is done by people, volunteers like me using an application named Subtitling Editor. Using Google translation is not allowed, it’s an unwritten rule, but it’s accepted by subbers and editors, in order to provide a high quality translation. First of all, there are Ko-Eng (or Chinese-Eng) subbers working on a drama, they provide the English translation. Then, the episode it’s edited and released for other languages. This is the moment we are getting involved, people translating from English to any other languages. I am an Eng-Romanian subber. So, to ask properly to your question: I don’t speak Korean or Chinese or whatever other asian language a production on viki may have. But I can speak English, that’s how I can make this subtitling job into Romanian. I also speak French and I understand a litlle bit of Spanish.
2. I really don’t know if people from asian countries work as subbers. I guess there are lots of korean-american or chinese-american people working as translators, because they need to know quite well both English and an asian language. But I don’t know for sure, it’s just my opinion.
3. An episode it’s divided in 4, 5 or 6 parts. The lasting of each part is about ten minutes, maybe twelve. Each member of the team is subbing a part. That means there are about 150 lines in a part, sometimes 200. If the writting is simple, without special terms like in a medical, historical, technical production it may take an hour, for an experienced subber, or 90 to 120 minutes, for someone like me, on a medium level of experience (3 months and almost 10000 lines). If the writting is plenty of figures of speach, complicated terms from a certain branch or an historical drama it may takes longer, even three hours, for only 10 minutes in the video.
4. You may work on your own, under the coordination of a channel manager or you may choose to work as a part of a team and that’s how I work. Every language has his own team (4-6 subbers and an editor), managed by a moderator. Every language moderator works under the autorithy of a channel manager, each one for every drama/movie/show. And I also need to mention the staff of the site as a part of this work.
I forgot about the seggers, people “cutting” the video in small parts named segments. This work comes before the Ko-Eng traslation and it’s made using an application named Segment Timer.
That’s how subtitles are made! I hope you’ll find interesting this story. Sorry for the mistakes I made! I’m in a big hurry and my English is not so good as I wish, but I can guarantee you my Romanian is the best!:)))))))))))
If you want to know anything else related to this topic, just ask and I’ll be happy to answer. May I ask something too? Wich country are you from?
And I want to thank you, kfangurl, for playing host to our conversation here, on your amazing blog!
Hi Serena, I am from and living in ireland. For a while I was a member of a gym run two romanians
Thanks for your informative answer to my question. Let me assure youm that I do appreciate the efforts if all who are involved with subbing.
Now for the rude bit 🙂 Well, I hope you don’t find it too rude if at all.
One thing that frustrates me when watching a period drama is when characters use modern terms. Of course one drama could have more than one subbing organisation
working on it, so one sub could be better than an another.
An example of modern dialogue being used in a period drama would be the term “merc” Sorry I can’t remember what drama, it was, but it was probably korean. I doubt very much if the term would have been around at the time the drama was set.
But I wonder if it’s the “fault” of subbers, or is that accurate translation of the original dialogue.
You know. I have a feeling it has nothing to do with the subbers. It has to the with the makers of the drama. After all, period dramas often have pretty boys with hairstyles that also look out of place in period dramas. So if they can do it with hairstyles, why not with dialogue.
Some other questions about Viki, which you may or may not have the answers too.
(1) episodes of korean dramas are in 1 part, but episodes of dramas from say russia, are split up. Yes, when one part is finished, it will move onto the next part. The slightly annoying problem for me is that, the next part will not remain in fullscreen, which is how i like to watch stuff.
(2) you click on a drama or movie, and find out it’s not available in your country. That’s fine. But it would be nice if there was some kind of filter to show what exactly is available to me. I know these question have nothing to do with subbing, so will understand if you have no answers.
Thank you again for replying to my subbing questions.
Thank you! For your answer about wich country are you from, I mean. It’s always nice to meet someone from another country (even it’s just on internet). You’re the first irish person I’ve ever met!
About the inappropiate subtitling of the period dramas: it might be the writting (but I have serious doubts), it might be the translation. Volunteers are mostly people willing to do a good job, something useful. But there are also individuals hwo don’t know very well neither English, nor their own language, or something about the history or the culture of the country wich the plot of the drama is placed. And the staff of an entertainment site neither can’t make a narrow selection of the people working as volunteers, nor wants such a thing for obvious reasons. That’s why an exclamation like “Daebak!” (in Ko) may become “Cool!” in the English translation of a period drama!
The Romanian team on viki has his own “school”, it’s called Romanian Viki Trad, and it’s something made by experienced volunteers for the rookies. As a newbie, you may learn about the korean culture, rules in their society, formal and informal speech, terms used in a period drama, subtitling and segging technics and even grammatical matters.
Regarding the technical matters in the second half of your reply, I don’t have an answer yet, but I’ll ask some people I know and the staff as well. I’ll let you know what I’ll find out. Bye!
Thanks again, serena.
Wow~! Thanks for the insight into subbing, Serena! With no subbing experience myself, I found this informative and quite fascinating. So thank YOU, for sharing! <3
Hey there, Serena! Great to see ya! And, that’s great to know, that you’ve become a subbing sunbae now! It’s thanks to folks like you, that fans the world over are getting to enjoy their dramas, so thanks for the hard work!
Great spotting, btw! I just finished watching Let’s Eat 2, and really liked it! I should be posting a review soon, so you can look out for that! 😉
I read your review and I liked it, as allways. I’ll write my own, soon. About Let’s Eat 2, of course. I don’t have a blog, but I’ll post it on fb. Thanks for your kind thoughts about volunteers!
Yay that you enjoyed the review, Serena!! Let’s Eat 2 turned out to be such a heartwarming little watch – I’m so glad that your subbing efforts have made the show available to more people! <3
short answer: yes. long answer: it’s only normal since the main reason for their existence is (pure) entertainment. i think the human species is still adapting to the daily growing flood of information that technology has forced us to face. whenever we’re not sleeping, we’re subject to an ever growing amount of stimuli, the background noise of daily life is ever stronger too … and “home” (or “own room”) is more and more a sanctuary where one can escape from all that. what does one seek in a sanctuary? safety, peace and (thanks to technology) entertainment. so what does entertain us? well, after the daily overload of stimuli, i think anything simple does the trick.
would you watch a show where the romance between the main characters builds up on a complex dialogue about concepts of string theory and quantum physics? of course! but how would you feel after watching each episode? i admit: i would feel entertained (a bit) … dumb (a lot) and tired (even more than i was before i started watching). all that on a daily basis? no, thank you! i’m content with a documentary or whatever complex information i come across once or twice a week. we all want to relax and that usually translates into “for a (relatively) short time turn brain off and feeling on” … and that’s (imho) the foolproof recipe for any entertainment media produced for the masses (not an elite/select audience).
Hey there, INTJ! Great to see you, as always! 🙂
You’ve raised a good point, and I do agree that people looking for respite from busy, over-stimulated lives would likely be drawn to simple stuff. At the same time, I hope I didn’t give the impression that I specifically look for complexity in my dramas, coz the truth is far from it! If a drama is complex and meaty, then it’s a bonus and I enjoy exploring its layers. But, I primarily look to be engaged and entertained by my dramas, and am perfectly happy with a simple story which engages me. I think, though, that these days more dramas are forsaking the cohesiveness of their stories, even the simple ones, and that can be bemusing for me as a viewer. Coz I think that primarily, dramas tell a story, and therefore it bemuses me when the story doesn’t make sense. In that sense, I hope dramas won’t forsake that core value, of storytelling, under the pressures that I mention in the post.
imagine a group of early humans sitting by the fire. a guest has arrived and after “dinner” he “has to pay” for the food by telling a story (entertainment). now imagine the look in the eyes of the audience. the older (more experienced) ones will listen bemused to his words … the younger ones will be bewitched. on the other hand, the guest is likely to get carried away by the looks in the eyes of the younger audience … and therefore trying to make the story better/more interesting. but one should not forget that not every guest is a “professional storyteller”, some are simply not good at it … and that some guests do tell really good stories (even under the pressure of the bewitched eyes). these (really good) stories are the ones that will be remembered … though the list will probably be different for each person in that group. 🙂 some might even remember a particular story based on the criteria “so bad it’s good”. 😀 …. but, no matter the story, only very few of them will be aware of how lucky they all are: they are not deaf.
Lol. You’re right, INTJ.. we should all pause occasionally to be grateful for the fact that we’re alive and in a position to be enjoying dramas at all. 🙂
At the same time, I’d like to say that while I do agree that some storytellers are better than others, in the case of our dramas, they do produce them professionally after all, unlike your analogy of guests as storytellers, where not everyone is a professional and therefore shouldn’t be judged as such.. Since our dramas are produced professionally, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that they maintain a professional standard of storytelling while they’re at it 😉
AaaaaHHHH finally it opens!!.. 🙂 hello Kfangurl nice to be here once again <3
This is another well written post Kfangurl! Before anything else, i would like to thank all those who have shared their views already…..i have read, think, and absorbed everything. As I read, I have to go deeper and loving it to pieces coz I learned new things from the comments. It always feels good that my brain picks up something worth reading for. And I agree with you with the YES and No answer. To me I think to fully understood of the query, if k-dramas are becoming dumber?" is to go beyond right when they started. I mean, I have only known k-dramas in the middle of 2006 and I have watched about more than a hundred already with different genres. I have seen all the cliches and stories with the same plot only with different actors, writers and how they are made. But beyond that I don’t know anything.
I do love how you enumerate your thoughts and differentiate each instance. It is very profound and on point. But concerning the query, I think the answer varies on how the viewers perceive the drama and what type of k-drama viewers are they. With all the submitted comments, I’d say that like you, all of them are a keen viewers and have methodical comprehension with the all the facets of story-writing. And with me, I am just a regular drama viewer. An i may give my views in a way I
Majority of Asian drama viewers are mothers, aunts, grandmas, those mostly who stayed home and after doing the household chores find their comfort by watching their favorite drama. I mean, some of them is intelligent enough to see whether the drama is good or bad, But honestly, like in the case of my own experienced, be it with my siblings, friends and even to my late mother. Those words mentioned in the comments such as "trifecta", “lens-focus”, lapses of logic", the "cliche" and among others, those are too profound for them. They maybe aware of those procedural method in a drama but they find it too weighty. They don't make a big fuzz out of it and refused of scrutinizing bits by bits on their drama preference. Why? Because they have their own perception on drama watching. As long as the drama pleases them and gives them a relief from a stressful and tiresome day then it’s fine with them.
I can honestly vouch that I am a shallow viewer and I say this every time! I don’t have a great sensitivity on how a drama is made or how it works. That I sometimes overlook the lapses of logic…that I love seeing eye candies, that I’d still love seeing the wrist-grabbing, back-hugging and piggy-back riding scenes and many more in my drama…..the clichés, the repeated tropes that you may say so tiresome to watch. But you see, it’s still as enjoyable to include those scenes as before. And I think with those old tropes in a drama with different implementation and with collaboration of fresh ideas from the maker, I guess it will still find its way to enchant viewers. 😉
Awww, thanks dear Evez, for persevering in your efforts to visit the blog, even when your internet was giving you problems! You know how much I love having you around <3
So pleased that you found this post interesting and enjoyable, my dear. It's always very encouraging to know that! And also, thanks for giving us an alternative point of view too. I think what you mentioned is a very valid point as well.. What kind of viewer you are definitely makes a difference in terms of how you receive and respond to the dramas. Like you said, not everyone has high expectations of their dramas, and if your expectations aren't high to begin with, then it's likely that you won't be as disappointed as others might be. It's true that many viewers treat dramas as a simple way to unwind after a long day, and therefore like the dramas that don't require them to think too much.
I personally do enjoy those types of dramas too. I generally watch those when I'm tired and want a mindless way to relax. I also watch those dramas as nightcaps.. y'know, something sink into a little bit, before I drift off into dreamland.
For dramas in general, I actually don’t need them to be complex. Complexity is not something that I look for; if it’s there, it’s there. What I do look for, though, is dramas that are engaging and make story sense. Those can be simple and very enjoyable for all audiences, and that’s what I’d like dramaland to give us more of. 🙂
I think the answer may have an element of selection bias to it.
We remember the memorable dramas and forget the snoozers. And so the past can look better and quicker than the present. Just a thought…
Great read, and well reasoned tho!
That’s a great point, samsooki! Our memories do tend to be quite selective. Not only do we forget the snoozers, I think we often also forget the less charming parts of our favorite dramas, preferring to only remember the most cracky bits. We are so subjective, that way! XD
Hah hah! This is the truth! Every drama has some really cringe-worthy, face-palming parts – even the universally loved ones 😄
Hee. YES. Which, by the way, totally reminds me of when I reviewed AM1994. Jandoe had been squealing over the show and waxing lyrical over it so much on twitter that I’d felt inspired to finally finish my review. And when she read it, she said that she actually cringed when I wrote about the not-so-charming bits of AM1994. XD We tend to forget our favorite dramas’ faults, probably so that we can love ’em more 😉
I agree with everything you said. The more k-dramas you watch, the more precise your taste becomes and you know what you want and especially what you don’t want to when you’re willing to give a drama 16 to 24 hours of your life. I know that I gave up on trying to understand Korean humor. It is just not my thing and I accepted it. On the other hand, K-dramas do provide some funny unexpected moments, so some of them can make me laugh. Like “Heard It Through The Grapevine”. I laugh several times, to my surprise. On the other hand, I’m half-watching “The Lover” and I just don’t… get it. Lol. dramajjang is reviewing it, so I carefully read the review to help me see the funny I miss. I still don’t laugh, BUT I do figure out what the drama is trying to do.
I don’t think k-dramas are getting worse or dumbed down. Of course there are trends, but I think you can call it also “cycles”. Fiction is never truly original, but what makes it stands out is how different it is from what was done before. It’s a matter of execution. I don’t think I have watched enough 90’s k-dramas to make the comparison, but what I feel is that lately, a few dramas have been daring to go for a different approach for the past couple of years and they’re the ones making other average K-dramas look even more average than they are. “Healer” is the most recent and best example for me. Every time I try to describe it to someone who has a little bit of Asian dramas culture, I always say “the writing, the pace, the acting didn’t feel like watching a K-drama. It wasn’t like a US show either. It’s both and completely different at the same time”. I don’t know how to freaking describe it, but it’s like, despite its flaws, the plot was well-written enough for me to not consider just the average K-drama…
I do think we are in a transition phase, though. I don’t think there are much more dramas being produced, although cable channels are doing a pretty good job at being an alternative. I think it’s more about diversity in dramaland and how the way of consumption is changing too. From the i-community perspective, ten years ago, you had to wait 2 or 3 days sometimes a week to get subs for a drama. You had to use clubbox, streaming was only if you was willing to let the page load foreverrrr. Now we can follow nearly EVERY night drama of nearly every channel with just one or 2 days of delay at the most which means we can potentially watch much more dramas and make a comparison much faster. As for the Korean audience, streaming services offer them the opportunity to watch their dramas when THEY want and not when broadcast stations want. I think it’s one of the reasons you see less and less the whole 5 or 6 episodes dedicated to childhood and teen years of the characters. 2 or 3 episodes at the most and the drama is ready to go b/c people want the story to unfold fast. (Maybe it’s also because the child actors from 5 years ago are now teenagers who are so good they can headline their own dramas and dramaland has yet to find a new set of 5 or 10 child actors?) Anywayyyyyz, what was my point again? I agree that K-dramas are actually being more exploring and daring today. I agree creativity is being hindered by the external factors you mentioned and it all comes down to personal taste. Sometimes, dramaland will give you three dramas you enjoy at the same time, sometimes you’ll have to wait for a few months to find something you truly enjoy.
What an insightful comment, miss Sunny! Especially the last paragraph containts so many revelations that I was shocked! You’re sooooo right… Y ou should add the difficulty in promoting kdramas to China due to the new law and voila, you have completed the puzzle called the new era of the old kdramaland.
True, true. I didn’t think about how China is such a big market, but I think the k-industry is set to go for it. So many actors and actresses are working over there and I do feel that some k-dramas are more designed to cater to a foreign audience than to the domestic audience.
* sigh * I do feel a bit nostalgic of the times when you had to wait to get accurate and pretty subs to read. I felt like I relished, enjoyed the dramas much more back in the dyas. Maybe this feeling plays a role too in how I watch K-dramas today. Maybe I’m still looking for this “time-stops” moment, when the whole process has changed so the feeling is easier to find?
As we grow older, it’s getting much more difficult to get swept off our feet. Psychology states the fact that falling in love is so easy for human beings; however, a deeper connection such as love grows much more gradually. I feel I’m entering this phase, now…hahaha! I don’t want a short love affair nor a fling anymore; I want a meaningful lasting relationship
( breaking-up is not an option for me, lol) ^_^
Oh, what an excellent point, my dear Sunny!! It’s so true that along with everything else, that dramaland HAS managed to produce some gems in recent years, and those gems really do raise the bar for all other dramas. If we were to expect Healer-type feels or SLA-type meatiness from all of our dramas, we’d be sorely disappointed.
And what you said about consumption channels makes a lot of sense too. When dramas are at our fingertips anytime we want it, our whole perception of it is different compared to when we would have to wait days or even weeks to get subs. It takes on that fast-food sort of vibe, in a sense. I think it even impacts the quality of the subs that we do get. Dramafever is quick as lightning with its subs, but so many nuances are lost in translation. Unfortunately, fansubs that do translate those nuances are now fewer in number than ever, since it makes little sense for fansubbing groups to keep subbing in the face of quick providers like Dramafever.
Like you said, being able to sample so many more dramas than before does make it easier for us to pick out the duds. So while the proportion of duds to gems may not have shifted as much as we think, our ability to sample everything and make quick comparisons makes us as an audience that much harder to please. What is you said is so true, though. Sometimes dramaland offers up several good dramas at once, and sometimes, we just have to wait out the meh season. I do believe, though, that there’s enough good in dramaland for our patience to be rewarded 🙂
yaaaas to all of this 🙂
I started watching last year when I happened upon Secret Garden. Then I watched the other dramas written by the same person and liked them (except for Heirs). More or less at the same time I started cherry picking from yearly best of lists. It’s only recently that I’ve started watching some as they come out. Certainly for me, if i was to compare the older shows with new ones, it would be unfair.
If I’d been watching for longer, I think the same would apply. I’d remember the ones I liked and tend to forget the clunkers.
I’ve thought the new shows that I’ve watched are on a par with the older ones. I enjoyed Healer and I think it compares well to City Hunter, I think the writing for the first few episodes for The Producers has been really good. And while I don’t think the first Warm and Cosy episodes compare well to Master’s Sun or Greatest Love, etc, I doubt it’s a trend. They did drive me to go watch Delightful Girl Choon-Hyang which I’m finding a lot of fun, though I suspect it’s an example of the rushed shoot syndrome.
About extensions, it’s curious, when I watched the Coffee Prince (which I understand was extended) the first time, some of the later episodes annoyed me a bit as they felt unneeded and contrived, then the second time, I actually liked them because I was just happy to watch the characters.
I do think what makes the dramas good is interesting & what gets in the way of them being good is also interesting.
I think there’s a fear here of getting jaded. Suppose a drama came out that didn’t break any new ground, reused old plot devices, (ruling out amnesia and other mental problems of course), but which was generally as good as one of my favorites, say My Name Is Kim Sam-soon. I’d probably like it now, but what about next year? I like to think that if it had a scene comparable to the eating cake at the piano while it rains outside scene, i’d die again.
Anyhow I enjoyed the post. It’s caused me to waste some time when I should’ve been working.
Hey there, Bill! Welcome to the blog, it’s great to meet ya 🙂
It’s great that besides checking out the new shows, you’re also exploring some of the older dramas. I really enjoyed Delightful Girl Choon Hyang, and thought it was a lot of fun! The leads have great comic timing, which I think brought the drama from good to fabulously fun, for me 🙂
Your experience with Coffee Prince’s extension actually resonates with me. When I first watched it, I also found the later episodes a little slow, and I felt some of the plot direction unnecessary. On hindsight and further watches, though, I feel like the direction the writer chose now makes more sense. Perhaps it’s because I’ve already acquainted myself with the show and therefore my brain rationalizes why the plot should develop that way, in order to enhance my own enjoyment of the show? Or perhaps now that I’ve gotten to know the characters, the plot developments actually feel in line with their personalities? I’m not entirely sure. But either way, you’re not alone in responding to the show that way! ^^
As for not becoming a jaded viewer, I personally think keeping an appreciative lens on helps. I like to think that 8 years into my drama journey, that I’m still fully capable of swooning at my screen at drama magic (I recently was addicted to Healer, and flat-out swooned in response), and I think part of that ability comes from keeping an appreciative lens on when I watch my dramas. I try not to nitpick too much, and focus instead on the good stuff that a show has to offer. While I have become more discerning, I’m pretty sure I’m not quite jaded ^^
Love this post. I agree with each word written….the more experience you have as a viewer watching dramas the more you see the common tropes, but that still shouldn’t deter you from watching. There are new dramas out everyday, but in a way, the writers bring on a fresh twist to their stories. K dramas are not the only ones with these issues…taiwanese dramas even American shows have the same problems as well. It is how well we want to enjoy the drama without tearing it apart. It is good to analyze a show, but sometimes you have to suspend belief and go with the flow of the drama. It is called fiction for a reason. There are recent new dramas where I find myself enjoying the script due to the fact that the actors add their own spin to the characters. I do think that as more dramas are coming out and the TV stations are competing for viewers actors have that responsibility to add.more flare into their characters which is more fun to watch because you can tell when an actor is given that creative freeway to act in a certain way to get more out of the viewers. In my opinion, I am enjoying more new dramas because in a way, they are not as recycled as you think they are. For instance, second leads become the jerk and the first lead is nice and sweet and the girl still gets him. There needs to be a change in drama land writing, but overall these dramas are not meant to be analyzed deeply and are just for simple enjoyment.
It’s true people tend to overanalyze dramas lately…Especially rom-coms, which are de facto lighter and funnier, have become such a serious topic on several blogs as if they are a cinephile movie. Maybe talking dramas to death deprives them of their inner charm; while their original purpose is our entertainment, audiences treat them like a university seminar, at the very least! For some reason viewers have become more restless and demanding! BTW, I also believe in the leap of faith; otherwise life is boring!
You’ve hit the nail right on the head. At the end of the day, one watches dramas to be entertained. Over-analyzing them robs them of their innate charm.
However, you do get those dramas which are simply unsalvageable – leaps of faith and rose-coloured lenses notwithstanding!
Heh. YES. Not every drama is salvageable by adjusting one’s lens. Sometimes dropping the drama is the best solution after all 😉
Exactly, agree 100%. I myself used to analyze dramas considering the fact that I was an English major, but that made each shows I watch boring and I was in a drama slump because I felt everything became bland.
But, once I decided to go in with fresh eyes like when I first started watching kdramas, I found myself loving every new dramas that catches my interest. Everything has to do with how you are willing to view a drama. It is just fiction…..
Agree 100%. I was an English major major so I used to analyze most of the dramas soon after. It got to a point where I was like I’m done and I entered my drama slump. But, afterwards, I decided to watch them with fresh eyes like when I first started watching dramas and less criticism. With the new dramas coming out, I am enjoying each one that catches my interest because I am watching solely for pure enjoyment. Everyone wants to be a critic nowadays and that’s sad because you simply forget to enjoy someone else’s craft.
Hi there, fellow English major!! 😀 Your drama journey sounds a lot like mine! Once I stopped overanalyzing dramas, I found myself enjoying dramas a whole lot more. That really must be the secret to enjoying the best of dramaland! ^^
So true.👏 Sometime, you just have to let things go and go with the flow. 😊😊
Yes to this! I do think that some viewers tend of overanalyze dramas. Given what we know about the external factors and pressures that writers face, it’s unavoidable that we sometimes get stuff in dramas that don’t really make sense. Taking that in stride and enjoying what the drama does do well, is a much happier exercise than dissecting every detail to try to understand the meaning behind everything. I’ve realized that in dramaland, sometimes there IS no meaning intended.
That’s a great point, I absolutely agree that not all dramas can stand up to detailed analysis. I used to try to analyze dramas on a regular basis too, and found that it ruined quite a few dramas. I’ve since learned to adjust my lens according to what the drama has to offer, and that’s given me the best of both worlds. I get more dramas to enjoy, and when a drama CAN stand up to the analysis, that’s when I dive in with my deconstructing lens.
And you’re right, I do notice that writers are trying out new twists on old tropes, and it does help to keep things different and fresh. I don’t demand different and fresh just for the sake of being different, though. I’m actually quite happy for a show to not reinvent the wheel, if it’s able to serve up a robust story and engaging characters. I think that’s the more important thing, for me 🙂
I do agree with each an everyone of you on so many levels but I also have another perspective in few things. Since I grew up watching soap-operas and telenonelas, the whole new world of kdramas still seems exciting for various reasons.
The number of episodes is actually the no1 factor for almost no dragging whatsoever. With that said, it’s true some dramas do tend to hold on a “micro-vibration” plot-wise. But their season is so limited that everything is done with them within few months (6 months tops)
It’s true that (oh, poor) writers NEVER realize their initial idea in this bizzare world! Why? Actors who cannot act, idols who cannot act but insist on acting, pushy agencies that want to make money, pushy channels that want to make money by using PPL, scandals(?) that don’t let (good) actors perform bcoz the production will lose money…Wait, too much money, here. So people who make a living working in kdramaland have always the”living” on their mind and they do bid farewell to any artistic attempt! That’s the main problem globally, I think; fast-food entertainment while most members of any production team in any country are far more educated and real professionals than previous generations.
Are all writers equally good? Undoubtedly no! Are most of the writers decent? Definitely! If CEOs and other artistically deaf-and- dumb people around any project could have less to say, things would have been so much better!
That’s why everything that has been mentioned by you, guys, applies to this little rule. If money was not an issue, people would have been watching indie cinema exclusively, right?^^
You make an excellent point, hariaharia! If ratings and money weren’t an issue, we’d very likely be watching very different dramas! Unfortunately, I don’t think ratings and money are ever going to be out of the picture. Even though we’ll never be rid of these issues, I do hope that writers and PDs will face less pressure to change their artistic direction because of money considerations.
Your remark about kdrama length actually brings up the issue of context, which I think is very valid. If one is used to shows with long seasons and no foreseeable end, like in US television, say, then even a 16-episode or 20-episode kdrama that has drag feels short (& harmless) in comparison. Context really counts for a lot, doesn’t it! 🙂
I’m pretty new to the kdrama-verse and don’t have much chance to watch that many dramas, but I agree with all you’ve said in that the answer lies somewhere in between “Yes!” and “No!”
I would also agree with mary. We’ve grown and they’ve pretty much stayed the same and the gimmicks can get tiring.
However, there is really nothing original/new under the sun but I think, overall, it boils down to how well a drama is executed and, to a very large extent, personal preference & taste.
For example, you mentioned “Fated to Love” and “Marriage not Dating” as two romances with broad comedy. I found “Marriage not Dating” lol funny and very even-paced (it has become one of my favourite dramas), while “Fated to Love” started to grate on my nerves because I found Jang Hyuk’s acting a bit too over-the-top for my liking and the extremes of comedy and tragedy somewhat irritating – perfect example of ‘jarring tonal shifts’ as Timescout so eloquently put it.
I still love the kdramas, though. And if I read about one that seems to be universally liked, I will – in all likelihood – make a plan to watch it 🙂
Yes, I agree that it definitely does have a lot to do with execution and personal preference. Shows with similar premises but with different execution can be as different as night and day. One might be boring and tiresome, while the other could be engaging and quite delightful. It all lies in the execution. 🙂
Personal preference is also a big thing.. I did find FTLY a little too OTT at times, but managed to enjoy most of the humor anyway. I can’t say the same for Ho Goo’s Love, or High School King, and both of those shows have loyal audiences who loved the humor. To each our own, eh? 🙂
Like you, I like to follow a drama’s positive buzz as well. That’s how I’ve come to watch and enjoy some dramas that I would’ve otherwise skipped. Gaksital comes to mind as one such drama. I’m not into political nor turn-of-the-century stuff, and only tuned in coz so many people were raving about the show. And I’m so glad I checked it out, coz I ended up thinking the show was quite brilliant 🙂
I haven’t read your whole post yet but my opinion on the matter is always this: it’s your taste that’s improving, while dramaland stays the same (with a few notable exceptions).
Growing up or having a more refined taste in something isn’t bad. It’s a human thing. We sum up our experiences and form a better idea of what is the definition of a “good drama”. The problem happens when dramaland doesn’t improve along with your tastes. So you stop enjoying the same silly stuff you used to cry or giggle at 5 years ago. You drop more shows, because you can see where this is going. You don’t even check out this or that drama anymore, because you watched that premise before and know that you don’t like High School dramas or Switched Bodies dramas or the Hong Sisters.
After the 87th contract marriage trope, you’re going to think that marriage contracts are not funny, unoriginal, and a “cop out” on the writer’s part. “Marriage contract? Seriously? Who would do that?” — you probably ask this more often now, when you didn’t ask it years ago. (And if you DID hate it from the get-go, you probably never got deeply into kdramas in the first place, because it requires you to turn off your brain at some point and just enjoy the emotional play onscreen.)
Lee Yeon-hee’s cross-dressing in Hwajung plays with (in general) a similar set of jokes and problems as Park Min-young’s in Sungkyunkwan. Or YEH in Coffee Prince. Or Sulli in TTBY. Or PSH in You’re Beautiful. But now that it’s the 23rd time you’re seeing this gimmick, you’re going to groan and complain when you hear a new drama with the same premise in the works. Still, it doesn’t mean that the 99th cross-dressing drama is any dumber than the 1st. Again, they were all “dumb” to begin with.
Sorry for my long comment. This issue has always puzzled me. If you outgrew dramas, then mourn that you can’t enjoy them anymore. But move on. Find another hobby. Or, I dunno, go to Seoul and work for KBS and change the system so it will improve along with the rising standards of the long-time drama watchers.
You wouldn’t advice your bestfriend to keep seeing a dumb guy who doesn’t grow as a person, so why would you keep yourself attached to a hobby/fandom that you don’t enjoy anymore?
Oh, I definitely agree with your points about our tastes evolving as we go, and that people who’ve fallen out of love with dramas really shouldn’t force themselves to keep watching. That’s absolutely true.
At the same time, I don’t know if it’s as cut-and-dry as your comment suggests. For one thing, I do think that dramaland has changed and evolved over time and isn’t quite the same as the dramaland of 5 or 8 years ago. I do believe it’s harder than ever before, for drama-makers to write and make good dramas. Still, I applaud the fact that we still do get drama gems from time to time.
Another thing is, I think not all jaded viewers are disillusioned to the point of dropping dramas altogether. I think at least some of these viewers are still checking out dramas in the hope of stumbling across one of those drama gems. I understand where they’re coming from, and absolutely don’t mind having more discerning viewers in our midst. After all, we all have different tastes.
What I do mind, is when people bring a lot of negative energy into the dramaverse.. Constant grumbling, or persistently tearing apart a drama to purposefully locate its flaws.. Those types of behavior don’t help anyone and don’t add to our happy or theirs. And at the end of the day, I do think that we’re really here for the happy 🙂
“I’m also a big advocate of adjusting one’s viewing lens in order to enjoy what a drama has to offer, rather than tear a drama apart for its flaws.”
Yes, I think that has to a prerequisite for enjoying the dramas.
” If you’re all about the romance and are able to overlook all other failings, you’d find a lot of dramas to choose from. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for the drama trifecta of good writing, good acting and good directing, then you’d probably be choosing from a pool of far fewer dramas.”
I would put myself in the second category. But it would depend what failings I would have to overlook.
On dramatrends. Sorry, I just had a skim through the post. So forgive me, if I’m repeating something you already said.
Things usually get copied, because they are a hit. So I can only assume that some time travel drama was a big hit. so others wanted to try the same thing.
It’s the same as when Star wars came out, a lot of sci movies tried to emilate it’s sucess.
As to whether dramas have been dumbed down or not, I have no idea. I tend to mix up my dramas in terms of period. I will say that recently I watched “what happens to my family” and “punch” I thought both were excellent. Punch might possiblly be the best korean drama since i started watching them. in my case, that was in 2011.
Hey there Martin, great to see ya around here! ^^
Yes, I do agree that it depends on what flaws I have to ignore, in order to enjoy a show. Sometimes there are just too many flaws and not enough positives to keep me going, in which case I end up dropping a show. We all have different things that we find engaging, of course. Chemistry between the leads is a big plus for me and I’ve overlooked gaping holes in the writing for the sake of said chemistry, like I did with Lie To Me. Of course, someone else with different preferences might not have lasted the show, especially if poor writing is a deal breaker for them.
As for the drama trends, I do agree with you, that sometimes it’s a case of other dramas jumping on what they perceive to be a cool and successful bandwagon. What bemuses me is, in dramaland, the trend often comes about when several shows get trotted out with similar themes at about the same time. It’s practically like magic, and I’ve always wondered how that works ^^
A very good post m’dear. Glad I could give you some food for thought. 🙂 I’d say all of the points you touched on this post are valid. Even in my case.
I was pondering upon this ‘disillusionment’ with kdramas few years back and my take then and now is that the quality of writing is the biggest offender. The part that has deteriorated, taking the rest down with it. There are the poorly written characters with no real growth or development, jarring tonal shifts, storylines that make no sense whatever or go around in circles, manufactured aaaaangst…. Plus too many overused tropes I’ve become allregic to. Most of the time there doesn’t even seem to be any real effort to make the stories stand out, originality and attention to detail are sorely lacking. It’s as if most networks are afraid of trying out something new, or even a new/fresh take on something tried and trusted. Guess it’s the bottom line thing, what sells and ‘no rocking the boat and scaring the advertisers/overseas buyers’.
Also, a swoony OTP is NOT enough if everything else sucks. So yeah, it does come down to preferences too. ^^
I’m sure time is another factor as well, the first flush of ‘drama-love’, when everything was ‘new and shiny’, has faded and the flaws are more noticeable now. I’ve never been very good at watching shows through adjusted lenses, so when something doesn’t appeal, it doesn’t appeal, no buts of ifs.
Gosh, that lemmings-effect is seriously annoying! I’ve started to dread the unveiling of the next popular ‘theme’. *g*
Despite of how I generally feel about these things I’m still hopefull that I can find gems in the sea of bland and boring. Dramas to enjoy and even to love. 🙂
With some dramas, it does feel like the writers aren’t trying very hard at all to make their work interesting, creative or original.. I don’t actually need a drama to be creative for the sake of being creative, actually. I’m perfectly happy to watch a drama that is cohesive and engaging, even if it doesn’t reinvent the drama wheel. It’s just that quite a few dramas I’ve come across don’t seem to be trying that hard, even, to tell a cohesive story and develop characters properly. I recently tried out 2 episodes of My Lovely Girl coz it was available in-flight, and it really felt like a bunch of randomly strung together tropes rather than a genuine effort at telling a story. Of course, the bland acting from most of the cast (aside from Rain) didn’t help.
It’s too bad that you find it hard to adjust your lens.. I’ve found that the flexibility-lens really has helped me to enjoy more shows. But, the very fact that you’re still checking out dramas in spite of the many which don’t work for you, shows that you still love dramas. And that’s something that I think is worth celebrating 🙂 If you’d really given up all hope on dramas, you probably wouldn’t be around in the dramaverse anymore, and that would be a sad day for me 😉
That lemming effect is the darnedest thing, isn’t it? I mean, I can understand if one drama rolled out an interesting theme and other dramas followed suit later. But they always come out at about the same time. I always wonder who leaks the info, and why network execs don’t actually plug the leak XD
I found it incredible that most KDRAMA only have 16 episodes. Most western shows have seasons. It must be really hard to actually come up with something new that can attract attention and not rock the gravy boat. But then I just finished Coffee Prince and totally loved it and I also watched OH My Ghostess and love it as well. I have one big grouse though. The love triangle plot. Can somebody give that plot a rest, but then it’s not just KDRAMA. Thank god for the 16 episode strategy or we all have have to suffer like I suffered through True Blood. Also what’s with that walk to show someone with very low confidence or innocent (really tiny steps- flower boy next door and what’s up)? Also in reality I don’t like my man pulling, grabbing and calling me stupid( looking at you Junho from Lee Soon Shin) . Do Korean woman really like that dominant behaviour? Even is fiction it’s annoying.
Hey there, Tintin! I must agree that the manhandling in kdramas can get annoying. In my early years of watching kdrama, it didn’t bother me much at all coz I was too busy marveling at the novelties in these new & shiny kdramas that I’d just discovered. Over time, though, the manhandling has become more of an annoyance to me. Along with the love triangles or squares (or other geometric shape), the cutesy Candies, though, I’ve also come to accept it as part of the cliches and tropes in dramaland. On the upside, there are dramas experimenting and trying new things, and sometimes we get lovely surprises where there isn’t a cutesy Candy for a heroine (like in Twenty Again), or a love triangle at the center (like in Healer). Sometimes, we even get shows where the male lead isn’t a jerk (like in My Beautiful Bride), though that trope is particularly strong.
My own conclusion is that to continue to enjoy what dramaland has to offer, one often needs to accept that cliches are almost always going to be present. If a show manages to execute tropes with meaning and heart, I don’t even care that it’s a cliche anymore. So as long as a show manages to get the execution right, it doesn’t even have to be terribly inventive to have my happy attention. Like the recent She Was Pretty, for example. Not very inventive, and quite predictable, but so full of heart that I loved it anyway. 🙂