Korean, Pinoy experts discuss popularity, future of K-dramas

Published July 1, 2021, 3:46 PM

by Jonathan Hicap

(Clockwise from top left) Korean scriptwriter Park Ji-hyun, drama ‘All About Eve,’ Direk Joey Reyes, Rona Co, Lee Hyo-young and Amor Aljibe (KCC / MBC) 

The Korean Embassy in the Philippines and the Korean Cultural Center (KCC) in the country gathered a group of Korean and Filipino experts to discuss Korean drama scriptwriting and marketing.

Korean scriptwriter Park Ji-hyun and Lee Hyo-young, who worked at KBS and is now an evaluation consultant at the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and CEO of Young & Content Co., discussed screenwriting and marketing during the “Rediscover the Korean Creative Industry: A webinar on K-Drama Scriptwriting and Marketing” held online on June 30 and broadcast on KCC’s YouTube channel.

Joining them were Direk Joey Reyes and scriptwriter Rona Co with Amor Aljibe as facilitator.

Manila Bulletin asked Park Ji-hyun, Lee Hyo-young, Reyes and Co about Korean and Filipino dramas.

Park Ji-hyun wrote the hit 2000 drama “All About Eve,” which starred Jang Dong-gun, Chase Rim, Han Jae-suk and Kim So-yeon, who is in the drama “Penthouse 3.” She won the Best Writer Award at the KBS Drama Award in 1997, 2001, and 2006 and became a Creative Writing lecturer at Chung-Ang University in 2018. She is currently a lecturer at the Broadcasting Writers Education Center of the Korea TV and Radio Writers Association.

Manila Bulletin asked Park Ji-hyun where she usually gets ideas for scripts that she writes and she said, “I normally get it from the society.”

“My first one-act play ‘Drama Game,’ which was aired in KBS, and also my debut drama and one episode is based on the first parricide (case that) happened in Korea. Mother is usually the first person the sons meet, and I believe the change of heart and feelings of the character until killing mother can be the drama. I wrote the script while imagining a change of character and their mind that made them hate their mother who was once the universe to them,” she said.

She added, “Another episode is based on the kidnapping case that happened in Korea. A wealthy woman with a nice car was kidnapped at the parking lot of a department store. (This case actually led to the creation of a women’s parking lot in the department store and other public places.) The episode is mainly talking about the guy who is chasing for money in vain. Another episode is talking about illiterate grandmothers who were born in poor times in Korea. However, since they pretend to know the language, they learned the language in secret. But this story is about that even though they knew how to read the language, now the world was still full of things they don’t know about. Overall, I still get inspiration from the social aspects such as the rich and the poor, the standard and the dignity of it. (I personally believe that there is class poverty.)”

Compared to dialogues in Korean dramas 20 years ago, Park Ji-hyun does not think that scripts today have become bolder.

“I don’t believe it became bolder. Maybe the scenes are bold since R rated scenes are becoming more common now. I see that the details, the depth and the angle of the character description are still formal somewhat like the narrow-minded rich, the servile poor, female character who is smart and pretty but trapped in maternal instinct, and a successful and gentle male character with painful family history,” she explained.

Park Ji-hyun said she enjoyed watching the Filipino drama “Doble Kara” starring Julia Montes and advised scriptwriters in the Philippines to offer more stories.

“I enjoyed watching the Pinoy drama ‘Doble Kara.’ I was able to think of human desires and manners between the family. The lines were great too. I remember they were concise and going down to the nitty-gritty. Of course I felt sorry that it was just a translated version of the original drama. Also, the Manila Film Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Asia. I hope there will be a lot more stories of human contradictions, sacrifices and warmth while the background is full of beautiful Philippines. It’s the time where all the contents are open, and I am glad that we all can watch each other’s dramas freely,” she said.

The pandemic saw the rise in popularity of OTT (over-the-top) video streaming platforms like Netflix, iQiyi and Viu in the Philippines. This is also happening in South Korea where drama producers partner with OTT platforms like Netflix, TVing and Wavve to air their content. .

Lee Hyo-young said OTTs have become popular and through them, more dramas are produced.

“As young people in Korea watch dramas through the Internet and mobile through the so-called OTT platforms rather than traditional media such as TV, the ratings of existing TV as well as advertising sales are on the decline,” he said.

He added, “Global OTT platforms such as Netflix and, of course, the local OTTs in Korea such as TVing and Wavve, also invested heavily in producing their own dramas and entered a competitive system. By doing so, more content is being produced. As global OTTs such as Netflix and Disney Plus enter the global competition to attract more paid members, high-quality Korean dramas are expected to be delivered to the world through OTT as they are trying to capture the K-drama fans not only in Asia but also in the Americas and Europe. Dramas such as ‘Crash Landing on You’ and ‘Itaewon Class’ have already strengthened the spread of Hallyu around the world through Netflix.”

Direk Joey is one of the most popular directors in the Philippines and is an educator at the Department of Communication, College of Liberal Arts at De la Salle University. Presently, he is the chairman of the Digital Film Program at the School of Design and Arts, De la Salle College of St. Benilde. He is also the competition director and monitoring head of the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and competition director for CineFilipino.

Co has 15 years of TV and film writing experience mainly for ABS-CBN. She co-wrote the film “Hello, Love, Goodbye” as well as the Cinemalaya film “Nabubulok.” She also penned some of ABS-CBN’s top-rating TV dramas including “Forevermore,” “The Legal Wife,” “Ngayon at Kailanman” and “A Love to Last.”

When asked what they thought were the similarities and differences between Filipino and Korean TV dramas in terms of storylines and dialogue, Reyes said, “What makes K-dramas carry such international appeal is its universality. The treatment and elements within the narrative may be distinctly Korean (which is great because it never surrenders its identity for the sake of market accessibility alone) but what the stories say defy cultural barriers and even time.”

“The heart of every Korean drama is about ‘family’ and that is so distinctly Filipino. Yes, Pinoys love love stories but unfold a narrative about family love and Filipinos are not only hooked: they empathize. That is the magic of K-dramas: the ability to touch on the soft spots of popular audiences — not only to entertain but to enlighten and recognize,” he said.

According to Co, “I see that South Korean and Filipino TV dramas have a lot of similarities in that most of the themes of our shows center on romantic love and love for family. We love ‘kilig’ love stories, underdog stories and stories of perseverance where characters overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We also always have parental characters that are either supportive of or highly against our main character’s wants and goals. Both our dramas are also always full of heart, and most of the time, the heart of our stories are grounded on familial relations. We are also both very conservative in terms of the values that we highlight in our dramas.”

In South Korea, the government provides support such as promotion to the Korean drama industry. Reyes and Co said that in the Philippines, there are efforts to support the entertainment industry.

“Efforts are being made right now by Congressman Toff de Venecia to create a bill to boost the Creative Economy of the Philippines most especially now that the pandemic has created not only damage but havoc to the entertainment and cultural sectors. But it took years for Hallyu to reach its fruition as we are savoring now: what is important is that the government support goes beyond short-term but, like Korea, sees the value of popular culture as a viable export which only requires time and talent as investment,” said Reyes.

Co said, “For movies with theatrical release, there’s a tax incentive for those graded A or B by the Cinema Evaluation Board. Small independent productions can seek grants from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts or the Film Development Council of the Philippines. But other than those, I am not aware of any existing government program that truly supports our industry. In my years with ABS-CBN, I haven’t heard of any other incentive for the production of our TV shows and movies.”

What do they like about Korean dramas? Reyes said, “The diversity and courage to deal with subjects that are volatile and rarely spoken in popular entertainment.”

“Who would talk about the travails of old age in a TV series (‘Dear My Friends,’ ‘Navillera’) or mental health issues (‘It’s OK not to be OK’) or the value of education (‘Sky Castle,’ ‘Law School’) or even the intricate, delicate stories surrounding death (‘’Move to Heaven’)? When you can turn the Romeo and Juliet motif into a tale about the two worlds of the two Koreas — or make a comedy out of one of the most curious periods of your history (‘Mr. Queen’), how can you not love Korean dramas? How can you not study and try to learn from how our Asian brothers did it … and how we can learn from their experience for the creation of our own narratives, not to duplicate or impersonate but to find the Filipino in our entertainment?” he added.

For Co, she said that “I like that most South Korean dramas are character-driven. It makes it possible to create an entirely new viewing experience despite some shows having a similar storyline with other productions.”

“I also love that their characters are highly nuanced, never generic. And their characters always give a lot of insights about love, life or family. I also like that they’re not afraid to tell new stories and historical dramas. At nakakainggit siya. As a Filipino creative, I believe that we have a lot of talented storytellers and we have a lot of interesting stories to tell. We just need to be allowed to tell them,” she said.