Discovering Asian Television
The winter of 2022-23 was exceptionally long and snowy in Minnesota. It seemed there was one “snow emergency” after another and at least one blizzard (a rare event in the Twin Cities).
I was housebound for days at a time and became desperate for diversion. That is when I stumbled upon Asian television which has recently become popular worldwide. Netflix has been part of my life for some time, but this fall it started promoting Asian shows on the home page. I was curious and clicked on one. I don’t recall what it was, the story wasn’t particularly memorable, but soon K-Dramas became my “go-to” place when I was bored with other interests.
I also found a free channel called “Viki Rakuten” that often has shows not available on Netflix. Although South Korean shows are the most well-known, there are many other countries now making them – Mainland China, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and more.
Closed captions are always on when I watch TV. I am not hard of hearing, but I like the additional information they frequently provide. Thus, reading the English captions was no problem for me. They are also ideal for binge-watching as they are usually formatted in 12-20 episodes that are about ½ to one hour long. The names often sound like they were translated by someone drinking heavily.
What first caught my attention was the blatant product promotion. The dream of any American company is to have their product shown in a favorable manner in a film. It is advertising heaven, but difficult to achieve. That is not true in some other countries, especially in South Korean works. If your only source of information was watching their shows, you would think they eat at Subway frequently, drive luxury cars and even women in the lowest-paying jobs wear Chanel suits. It seems to be part of the current South Korean culture to desire high-end goods like purses, shoes, and cars. I haven’t seen furs worn in years in the US, but older Korean women occasionally wear them – usually in very different modern designs.
Storylines are often predictable but vary enough to be somewhat addictive. It is fun to learn smidges of their culture and see it in transition. They may have Western-style furniture like couches and beds but will sit on the floor in front of them at a low table for tasks or eating.
It doesn’t take long to identify favorite actors and follow their work. It takes longer for me to learn their names and become accustomed to the usual practice of making their family name an essential part of addressing someone. One of the easier ones is Lee Min Ho (Boys Over Flowers). Lee is his family name and only those closest to him can call him Min Ho. Other favorites are Song Joog-ke (Vincenzo, Descendants of the Sun) and Jung Hae-in (Something in the Rain, One Spring Night).
There are many genres, something for almost any taste. Conventional stories like romantic comedies, family dramas, and suspense are common, but so are time travel, magic, games, and historic costume dramas.
I would recommend beginning with one of the films mentioned above or the following shows:
Vincenzo – is a story about a Korean orphan adopted by an Italian Mafia family and his adventures in attempting to retrieve a stash of gold bars hidden in a rundown building in Seoul. The secondary characters are delightfully eccentric and funny.
Crash Landing on You – a wealthy South Korean woman is paragliding when a sudden storm blows her into a landing in North Korea where she meets a handsome soldier. The contrast between the two countries is fascinating and it is a clever story.
Start Up – a motley group of young people is given the opportunity to create a tech company in a business “incubator”.