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Charm of K-drama

By Mark Peterson

Okay, call me slow. Yes, I know everyone else has been talking about K-drama forever. But I've finally gotten on board. The key to my conversion has been "Crash Landing on You."

My wife had watched "Crash" twice and finally talked me into watching it with her. Sixteen episodes, each one ending with a classic cliff-hanger that leaves you anxious to see the next episode and wondering how in the world they're going to resolve this crisis. But every time they did, and we launched on to the next episode.

"Crash" has everything. Suspense. Romance. Humor. Charming characters, rogues, lovable rogues and villains, absolutely unmitigatedly evil villains. And clever, even devious good guys that can out-maneuver the bad guys. And oh, the bad guys. Your skin just crawls when the chief bad guy figures out what is happening and zeroes in on the hero and heroine.

The acting was really good. It draws you in, both the good guys and the bad guys. I looked up the record of the actors and was surprised to see many of them had shallow experience. There were some whose resume was long and varied, but there were several who had not been in many productions yet.

Two supporting actors, who played a brother and sister in "Crash," had appeared in another mega-hit ― "Parasite." The "poor wife" and the man in the basement had unrecognizably different personalities ― a sign of good acting ― as the flamboyant woman who dared to sprinkle her speech with English phrases in North Korea, and her brother, the mild-mannered and manipulative one-star general.

I'm a bit of a fish out of water writing about K-drama. I'm generally aware of the role of K-drama in the Korean wave. And I've looked at some of the music groups ― the typical boy groups and girl groups ― and some of the movies, not so much for personal entertainment, but for academic purposes, to keep up on Korean culture.

And I've read and even written a little about the political influence of K-pop ― what we call "soft power." I understand that the Korean government is supportive to a large degree of the Korean wave, in all its forms, as a positive aspect of South Korea putting its best foot forward.

I used to work directly with the American government public relations arm, once called United State Information Service (USIS), now largely disbanded and folded into the State Department. The South Korean government has a cultural arm overseas ― there are Korean Culture Centers in major cities around the world ― but nothing helps their objectives better than the popular K-wave movement.

I have noted previously that one of the most important Korean wave successes was "Winter Sonata," the K-drama that swept across Japan. The gentle and good man in that drama spawned marriage brokerage offices that would line up Japanese women with Korean men. Before that was "Dae Jang Geum" also known as the "Jewel in the Crown" that was a huge success in China and other places including Iran. "Crash Landing on You" might be the lead production to impact the United States. But it is a little more generalized. There are several other programs that are easily available to American audiences online through services such as Netflix.

Watching "Crash" ― okay, I'll admit it, binge watching ― has been entertaining and fun. But my "Korean Studies professorship" makes me look at the serious side of it as well. The way South Korea is portrayed ― honestly, with warts and moles ― makes Korea look like the very nice, livable society that it is. The humor of the show is very disarming, and perhaps missed by many.

In the opening episode, one of the first things we find as we are introduced to the complicated, squabbling South Korean family, is that the father has just gotten out of jail ― as if that's a normal thing. And with heads of chaebol indeed going to jail, the scene in "Crash" presented as if it were normal, was just too funny for those of us who understood that it was a thumb being poked in the chaebol's eye.

Another joke that the novice American wouldn't get was when a group of North Koreans visited Seoul as part of a sports delegation, when one of the North Koreans said, "Look at all those cars. They must have brought all the cars in the whole country to drive by us here to try to impress us." It sounded absurdly naive, but some years ago, when one of the first delegations from the North visited Seoul for family reunions ― such has happened from time to time ― they reportedly thought that all the cars in Seoul were lined up to drive back and forth in front of their hotel to impress them.

"Crash" was a complete delight. A great watch. If you haven't gotten into it yet, well, you are slower than I am.


Mark Peterson (markpeterson@byu.edu) is professor emeritus of Korean, Asian and Near Eastern languages at Brigham Young University in Utah.



By Mark Peterson

Okay, call me slow. Yes, I know everyone else has been talking about K-drama forever. But I've finally gotten on board. The key to my conversion has been "Crash Landing on You."

My wife had watched "Crash" twice and finally talked me into watching it with her. Sixteen episodes, each one ending with a classic cliff-hanger that leaves you anxious to see the next episode and wondering how in the world they're going to resolve this crisis. But every time they did, and we launched on to the next episode.

"Crash" has everything. Suspense. Romance. Humor. Charming characters, rogues, lovable rogues and villains, absolutely unmitigatedly evil villains. And clever, even devious good guys that can out-maneuver the bad guys. And oh, the bad guys. Your skin just crawls when the chief bad guy figures out what is happening and zeroes in on the hero and heroine.

The acting was really good. It draws you in, both the good guys and the bad guys. I looked up the record of the actors and was surprised to see many of them had shallow experience. There were some whose resume was long and varied, but there were several who had not been in many productions yet.

Two supporting actors, who played a brother and sister in "Crash," had appeared in another mega-hit ― "Parasite." The "poor wife" and the man in the basement had unrecognizably different personalities ― a sign of good acting ― as the flamboyant woman who dared to sprinkle her speech with English phrases in North Korea, and her brother, the mild-mannered and manipulative one-star general.

I'm a bit of a fish out of water writing about K-drama. I'm generally aware of the role of K-drama in the Korean wave. And I've looked at some of the music groups ― the typical boy groups and girl groups ― and some of the movies, not so much for personal entertainment, but for academic purposes, to keep up on Korean culture.

And I've read and even written a little about the political influence of K-pop ― what we call "soft power." I understand that the Korean government is supportive to a large degree of the Korean wave, in all its forms, as a positive aspect of South Korea putting its best foot forward.

I used to work directly with the American government public relations arm, once called United State Information Service (USIS), now largely disbanded and folded into the State Department. The South Korean government has a cultural arm overseas ― there are Korean Culture Centers in major cities around the world ― but nothing helps their objectives better than the popular K-wave movement.

I have noted previously that one of the most important Korean wave successes was "Winter Sonata," the K-drama that swept across Japan. The gentle and good man in that drama spawned marriage brokerage offices that would line up Japanese women with Korean men. Before that was "Dae Jang Geum" also known as the "Jewel in the Crown" that was a huge success in China and other places including Iran. "Crash Landing on You" might be the lead production to impact the United States. But it is a little more generalized. There are several other programs that are easily available to American audiences online through services such as Netflix.

Watching "Crash" ― okay, I'll admit it, binge watching ― has been entertaining and fun. But my "Korean Studies professorship" makes me look at the serious side of it as well. The way South Korea is portrayed ― honestly, with warts and moles ― makes Korea look like the very nice, livable society that it is. The humor of the show is very disarming, and perhaps missed by many.

In the opening episode, one of the first things we find as we are introduced to the complicated, squabbling South Korean family, is that the father has just gotten out of jail ― as if that's a normal thing. And with heads of chaebol indeed going to jail, the scene in "Crash" presented as if it were normal, was just too funny for those of us who understood that it was a thumb being poked in the chaebol's eye.

Another joke that the novice American wouldn't get was when a group of North Koreans visited Seoul as part of a sports delegation, when one of the North Koreans said, "Look at all those cars. They must have brought all the cars in the whole country to drive by us here to try to impress us." It sounded absurdly naive, but some years ago, when one of the first delegations from the North visited Seoul for family reunions ― such has happened from time to time ― they reportedly thought that all the cars in Seoul were lined up to drive back and forth in front of their hotel to impress them.

"Crash" was a complete delight. A great watch. If you haven't gotten into it yet, well, you are slower than I am.


Mark Peterson (markpeterson@byu.edu) is professor emeritus of Korean, Asian and Near Eastern languages at Brigham Young University in Utah.





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