The ‘Korean Wave’ has swept the world in recent years and Korean dramas (or K-dramas) have certainly played a huge part in this popular movement. Many people have been attracted to and intrigued by Korean culture thanks to the growing prevalence of K-dramas, which are now accessible on major platforms all over. Netflix, for example, has recently announced plans to invest 500 million dollars in K-dramas in the coming year, a clear acknowledgment of their popularity.
Characteristics of K-dramas
Korean dramas are typically short series of 16-24 episodes long and usually cover the key genres of romance, melodrama, romantic comedy, and historical drama. They address traditional values surrounding family relationships, friendships, and love, giving them a worldwide appeal. They also combine traditional elements with Western culture and individuality, which makes them attractive to a contemporary audience. K-dramas usually involve a main character or characters that need to overcome difficult personal challenges and follow their attempts to rise to the top, against all odds.
Given their shorter length than most dramas, the storylines of K-dramas tend to be more concise and focussed on a specific theme. Their compact narratives make them easy to follow and their simple storylines mean that K-dramas rely on dramatic relationships and intense conflicts between characters to keep their audience hooked. These elements make K-dramas over-dramatized and highly emotional, which is a key element to their popularity. Generally, they contain less violence and less explicit scenes than Western series, instead of representing emotions in a sensitive way with intense romantic passion.
Now we will look in more detail at some popular Korean dramas, focussing on a sports theme and those series with athletes as main characters. While sports is not a typical theme for K-dramas, it has certainly crept in as a sub-theme to many of these popular series. Let’s have a look at the relationship between the two.
Hot Stove League (2019)
This is an enticing drama about a troubled baseball team and their attempt to rise to the top, despite the odds being set against them. The pro-league baseball team ‘Dreams’ have been at the bottom of the league for several years, and many of the players have lost their confidence. This is where Baek Seung Soo comes in as the new General Manager and the team’s last hope for success. But the new GM comes with his own set of baggage and stigma attached to his reputation, making the team’s fight towards the championship even harder. The series follows both the collective and personal battles of the players, as the GM strives to boost morale and lead the team to the victory that they deserve. With the popularity of baseball in Korea, this film was bound to warm the hearts of its viewers who were all rooting for the underdogs. Baseball betting has also taken off along with the sport, both in Korea and worldwide. With some excellent free bet offers for new customers, backing the underdogs as your MLB champions have never seemed more appealing.
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (2016)
This thought-provoking romantic drama takes inspiration from the life of South Korean Olympic weightlifter, Jang Mi Ran. The series follows the story of a college-age weightlifter, Bok Joo, who is following her dream to become a gold medallist, but coincidentally finds love for the first time along the way. The story follows the personal conflicts which Bok Joo faces between pursuing her weightlifting dream and also wanting to feel ‘feminine’ in terms of her new relationship. Can Bok Joo find a way for love and her career to exist harmoniously? The drama explores the challenges faced by adolescent aspiring athletes, as they navigate relationships alongside their hectic sporting careers. This makes for an interesting watch as it addresses important topics of gender, femininity, and individuality alongside the themes of love and relationships.
Strong Woman Do Bong-soon (2017)
Another k-drama with a strong female lead, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon challenges the typical female stereotypes and relationship roles. Do Bong-soon is an out-going heroine who was born with superhuman strengths, passed down through her family. She has a dream to become the main character in her own video game creation, but also wants to become an elegant and gentle woman to attract her crush. When Do Bong-soon takes on a gang of thugs she is spotted by Ahn Min-hyuk, the boss of a famous gaming company, who is impressed with her superpowers and wants to hire her to become his bodyguard. While this could be one step closer to Do Bong-soon’s dream, it creates further internal conflicts as she battles with her physical strength alongside her desire to appear ‘feminine’ to her true love. This is another interesting concept which conjures up questions about femininity, and how women’s careers and physical strength may impact their self-perception as a woman.
Oh My Venus (2015)
A touching romantic comedy with a sports twist, Oh My Venus tells the unlikely love story of Kim Yeong Ho, a personal trainer for Hollywood stars, and Kang Joo Eun, a lawyer with an unhealthy lifestyle. They both battle personal challenges which eventually bring them together. Kim Yeong Ho is forced to return to Korea to face his family after a scandal in Hollywood. He suffered an injury when he was younger, which he has battled and overcome by leading a healthy lifestyle. On the contrary, Kang Joo Eun comes from a wealthy family and was known as a beauty during her high school days. She has gradually become very overweight and dangerously unhealthy, which has to lead to her losing her long-term boyfriend and entering a depression. The ex-personal trainer commits to helping the 33-year-old lawyer to get fit and healthy. This journey brings the two of them closer together as they discover they can help each other to heal from their past traumas. This is a heart-warming love story that once again challenges the stereotypical rules of attraction.
As you can see from this small selection of popular K-dramas, the theme of sports forms a good partnership with other K-drama themes of love, romance, and relationships. The two work well in illustrating characters who face conflicting challenges in their lives and careers, a classic characteristic of K-dramas. This combination is particularly helpful for exploring issues of femininity, gender, and relationship roles in a subtle and thought-provoking way. Hopefully, this has given you a little inspiration for your K-drama watch list.