The Korean television industry’s unique approach to daytime drama has won it an international fan base. Korean soap operas are often romantic dramas or comedies with attractive stars, highly competent writing, and a definite plot that usually ends within a maximum of 200 episodes. This stands in contrast to the soap operas of Mexico or the U.S., which extend story lines over months or years and are not noted for the high quality of their acting or writing. The unique qualities of the Korean soap opera have impressed viewers throughout Asia, the Americas, and the world, via subtitled releases on DVD or the Internet.
In many countries, entertainment product is translated fare imported from other nations, especially from the United States. This does not always serve the importing country well, as the highly sexual and violent content of U.S. programming does not suit nations with different cultural standards. South Korea’s television industry responded by creating its own dramas, with content designed to appeal to its citizens. Historical, cultural, and language components were crafted to give them a broad appeal across the Korean populace.
The Korean soap opera turned out to be quite popular in neighboring countries such as Japan and China. Surprisingly, it was also popular in countries that did not share a culture and history with Korea, such as Egypt, India, and Mexico. These Korean dramas, called k-dramas by fans, were soon imported to the United States, particularly to cities that had large Korean-American populations. The high production values of the k-dramas soon won fans who had no connections to the Pacific Rim. This universal appeal is itself one of the most unique things about the Korean soap opera.
Historical dramas, known in Korean as sa geuk, are among the most popular of the k-drama genre, even though the history they deal with is almost exclusively Korean. Lavish costumes and elaborate martial-arts sequences define this kind of Korean soap opera. It often conforms to the traditional values of Korea, such as Confucianism. Other k-dramas involve modern characters and situations, but maintain a distinctly Korean take on the proceedings.
The rising popularity of the Korean soap opera around the world has been dubbed the Korean wave. Fan clubs and websites are devoted to individual k-dramas or the art form as a whole. Fans trade information on subtitled DVDs and await the latest news on new series coming from Korea. Performers and production crews often use the genre’s popularity to further their careers on an international scale. Korean-American actress Yunjin Kim, for example, got her start in Korean soap operas before landing a starring role on the hit American television series Lost.