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Korean Dramas: Beyond and Beneath Pretty Faces and Sad Songs

By October 7, 2010No Comments

By Angela

New Organizing Project blogger


Have you ever wondered why Korean dramas are so intriguing or addicting? Have you ever been so absorbed by the actors/actresses and/or the plot of Korean dramas? Have you ever found yourself frustrated by the cliff-hanger at the end of each episode? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, I invite you to journey with me into the psychology of Korean dramas.


Oh, the world of popular Korean dramas: “Winter Sonata,” “Dae Jang Geum,” “Full House,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Love Story in Harvard,” “My Lovely Sam Soon,” “Queen Seondeok,” “I’m Sorry, I Love You,” “The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince,” “IRIS,” “King of Baking, Kim Tak Goo” and the list goes on. These dramas have become famous in Korea and all throughout Asia to such a great extent that it was named the Korean wave, also known as Hallyu. The popularity of Korean dramas has also spread to areas such as Latin America, the Middle East and the United States.

So what about Korean dramas is so captivating? In other words, what’s so special about Korean dramas?

I can’t speak for the writers, directors or scholars of Korean studies, but personally, I think the mass appeal comes from the way Korean dramas portray human relationships and hit upon core emotions resonant in our own lives. Korean dramas play upon interwoven themes of family, friendships, intimate relationships (read: love triangles), wars, and politics. However, these themes also tap into feelings such as love, hate, trust, betrayal and pain and many more. These human relationships and stories are fictitious and over-exaggerated in many ways yet they can powerfully connect with our lived feelings.

Korean dramas also serve as a means of escapism. People usually have a finite set of experiences that they go through in their daily lives, which can become a bit mundane. But through the main characters, they are able to fall in love with the characters and they are able to get entangled in complicated love relationships. The seemingly never-ending series of episodes also allows people to follow the characters as they grow, overcome, persevere, and change over time.

But general thoughts aside, the reason why Korean dramas are so special to me has to do with my nostalgia for the country I was born in. It has been ten years since I was in Korea, ten years since my family came to the U.S. Because I have only a distant memory of Korea, these dramas allow me to revisit my experiences there through the portrayals of the scenery, food, customs, and culture. Although my memories in Korea remain faint, I feel a warm gratitude that Korean dramas take me to a familiar place. In that way, I think Korean dramas sometimes capture the essence of Korean culture, customs, and values – globalizing and marketing what it means to be Korean through the interweaving of human relationship stories that are at some level universal.

Frankly speaking, I have a love/hate relationship with Korean dramas. I love reconnecting to a country that I no longer live in and exploring all the human psychology embedded in the stories. But at the same time, I hate how much I can get addicted and absorbed into them. After every drama series, I partly regret that I have wasted eighteen to twenty-four hours of my life being a zombie. But I always resort to watching the next series or episodes because I know there is much more than mindlessly biding my time.

Beyond and beneath the pretty faces and sad songs, there is layered meaning in and in watching Korean dramas.  Next time you find yourself absorbed in one, ask yourself some questions of the human psychology within the drama, but also within your watching of the drama.  You can reassure yourself, then, that you are partaking in a study of human psychology and Korean culture.