How K-dramas conquer the world

Korean creatives share their secrets in making successful series

We sat down for a three-hour webinar organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines on June 30. It was entitled “Rediscover the Korean Creative Industry: A webinar on K-Drama Scriptwriting and Marketing.”

Rediscovering the Korean creative industry

Park Ji-Hyun is an award-winning scriptwriter and lecturer at Broadcasting Writers Education Center of the Korea TV and Radio Writers Association. Even if she won in a national competition, she waited for years to make her screenwriting debut. “It took me five years to finish my studies and try to make my debut in the industry,” the All About Eve writer recalls. “These days I think it takes seven to eight years for the newbies to debut in the industry.”

In Korea, there is an educational center solely for students who want to study scriptwriting. Well-known scriptwriters teach students one-on-one. Some go on internship with established writers and others train with production companies.

“I like being a drama writer because while I am studying to develop the main character, I search for the emotional sources for the character to be happy, angry, or sad,” muses Park. “One thing I learned about is that human beings are the only animal or living organism able to laugh or smile when they feel (happy or) sad.”

One appealing characteristic of K-dramas is the unique family relationships that Korea embraces. “In Korea, they try to get permission to get married with a potential spouse,” says the winner of the KBS Drama Award for Best Writer. “Whenever they try to introduce a potential spouse to the parents, the mother-in-law strongly opposes the potential daughter-in-law.” Approval of the parent is inherent in soap operas and mini-series.

Park’s advice to the aspiring writers is not to binge watch. “Watch every episode,” she says. “Because if you just binge-watch it, you miss the point.” There is a reason for the way every episode ends, according to her. “If you fail to notice and recognize that moment, then you learn nothing,” she added.

Boys Over Flowers

Lee Hyo Young is a former KBS network executive. He brought Boys over Flowers to the ABS-CBN network.

Exporting K-drama content to the world rose from $20 million in 2002 to $360 billion in 2019, a whopping increase of 1,600 percent! Japan is the biggest exporting market of Hallyu, followed by China but there is a dramatic increase in the US because of over-the-top (OTT) services like Netflix, which has secured audiences in more than 200 countries. OTT refers to any streaming service that delivers content over the internet.

“The reason we turn our eyes to the global market is that our domestic market is so small compared to the increasing cost of drama production,” says the CEO of Young & Content Co., Ltd.

Winter Sonata

Winter Sonata, a television drama series produced in 2002, was the catalyst of K-drama and K-Wave, conquering the markets of Japan and the rest of Asia. The popularity of Love from the Star and Descendants of the Sun ushered the Korean Wave into the world.

The Korean government is behind the success of Hallyu and that is why, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, exporting K-content remains active.

The appealing point of K-Drama, according to Park’s international partners is the observance of the Confucian culture. “Encouraging good and punishing evil, we also highlight benevolence and filial piety,” says he, the former executive director of Busan Content Market. “They find it impressive and positive.”

Descendants of the Sun

Filmmaker Jose Javier Reyes gave his analysis of how the local writers should look at the K-Dramas. “We do not imitate,” he said. “We do not impersonate. Instead, we study how they did it and what it is in Korean creatives that equips their popular entertainment with such awesome success.”

The 66-year-old director has been following K-dramas since the start of the pandemic. “We as Filipinos must look at ourselves in the same manner that Koreans use their historical experience to create not only national pride but a sense of national vision,” says the Mommy Issues creator. “We must find other sources of our narratives folklore, history, current events and from there create brave, groundbreaking stories about us the Filipinos.”