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Hyun Bin, Son Ye-jin dating
—or why has Korea landed on us?

K-drama, K-pop didn’t just crash land on the Philippines

Hyun Bin is Bench menswear's endorser. His Captain Ri's t-shirt is one of the line's bestsellers. (Photo from Bench)
Hyun Bin is Bench menswear's endorser. His Captain Ri's t-shirt is one of the line's bestsellers. (Photo from Bench)
Son Ye-jin is Smart endorser, with Hyun Bin. (Photo from Smart)

Son Ye-jin is Smart endorser, with Hyun Bin. (Photo from Smart)

Why am I not surprised that to many Filipinos on social media, the good news greeting them in 2021 was the confirmation that Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin are dating?

The pair became household names in the Philippines last year, especially in what became the world’s longest lockdown, when their drama, Crash Landing on You, became arguably the most-watched K-drama here in recent years—to the point that long after CLOY, as the series was called with cozy familiarity by its global audience, ended, many felt separation anxiety from the love story. Viewers couldn’t have enough of Captain Ri and the business heiress he rescued after she accidentally parachuted on North Korea.

The pair’s talent management agencies announced that the two have been seeing each other regularly, and have a relationship that developed even after the filming of the Korean TV drama series ended. Korean news websites added the “kilig” trivia that a love of golf is among the interests the couple share. The visual icing on the cake was Son Ye-jin’s IG photo of a bouquet sent by Hyun Bin. It also didn’t hurt that last year the pair received the Tiktok Popularity Award in the 2020 Baeksang Awards.

The two, separately,  have impressive filmography, so it shouldn’t be surprising if their global audience is rewarded with a CLOY season 2 in the near or distant future. And—there must be fans out there who are holding their breath.

Why has Korea—through K-drama and K-pop—landed on us?

It wasn’t a crash landing, to be sure, because it didn’t happen overnight. The Korean Wave has been in the Philippines long enough to produce “generations” of fans since the ‘90s.

Last year, UP offered an unprecedented course on K-drama which drew a surprisingly good number of enrollees.

Korea Landing On You (KLOY) K-culture virtual forum of UP Korea Research Center: bottom, from left, Cherish Maningat, Dr. Aldrin Lee, Prof. Amor Aljibe; top, from left, the author, Helweena Sadorra, Dr. Erik Capistrano, Dr. Doobo Shim

Korea Landing On You (KLOY) K-culture virtual forum of UP Korea Research Center: bottom, from left, Cherish Maningat, Dr. Aldrin Lee, Prof. Amor Aljibe; top, from left, the author, Helweena Sadorra, Dr. Erik Capistrano, Dr. Doobo Shim

This was among the insights drawn from the Korea Landed on You, the K-Culture online forum held by the University of the Philippines Korea Research Center (UP-KRC) on Sept. 25, 2020. The forum invited a panel of academics and media, themselves followers of K-drama and K-pop, and a Filipino actress working in productions in Seoul.

The forum also put in proper context the popular notion that K-drama and K-pop were instigated by the Korean government—they were not, though national support has been palpable in recent times.

The forum revealed how K-drama and K-pop evolved a content worthy of a global audience significantly because of the growth of the content creators themselves—not only the stars. The writers and directors have gained their own following to their acclaimed body of work. The artists behind the drama productions and pop bands have been thriving in a dynamic, creative environment made more innovative by cutthroat competition.

As a daily consumer of K-drama and BTS, I found KLOY forum highly enlightening. It was my privilege to listen to and share insights with the other panelists: Dr. Doobo Shim, a professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Sungshin Women’s University, South Korea; Dr. Erik Paolo Capistrano, a Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas professor of Business Administration and an associate professor of the Management and Information Systems, and Operations Management from the Cesar E.A. Virata School of Business, University of the Philippines, also a principal investigator for the UP Korea Research Center. We were joined by Filipino actress Cherish Maningat from Seoul. Maningat shared her experience of working in Korean TV productions and theater, and her insights from it.

Moderator was Helweena Sadorra from the Korean Drama Society in the Philippines and the University of the Philippines.

Excerpts from the forum:

Opening the forum, Dr. Alvin P. Lee, the OIC director of Korea Research Center, noted how in the past four years, the UP Korea Research Center has been conducting events including forums and symposia on the shared experiences of the two countries.

He talked about his own K-drama consumption: “With draconian shutdowns in Metro Manila in March, I have already expected the boost in K-pop consumption in the Philippines…. I, myself, took advantage of the lockdown period to watch some of the K-dramas…And indeed, it provided me solace in these distressful times…. I learned that many of my colleagues have been drawn into the world of K-dramas, including my college dean who would excitedly share how she has been enjoying the episodes of Crash Landing on You. So, while it was not on my list, I got so curious and decided to watch it since it seemed to have really captured the hearts of many Filipinos. After watching it, I realized that while it was really good, there were other K-dramas that are, in my opinion, worth more recommending so I came up with the top three K-dramas one would want to watch in Netflix. After posting it on Facebook, I got a flurry of messages asking me about my opinion on K-dramas that are not even available on Netflix. And I was like, “Where are you guys getting it?”….

So, I realized that things exceeded my expectation with regard to K-pop consumption of Filipinos in this pandemic….so when Dr. Kyung Min Bae opened the idea of holding this K-Culture forum, I readily approved it and thanks to her husband, Dr. Sidney Christopher Bata who combined the very appropriate title, Korea Landed on You.”

“Watching more than 100 titles is possible. Good storytelling will always be a mix of the fire in one’s belly and of rigor in using the dramatic tools”

The new director of the Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines, Young-A Im, in a video message, thanked UP KRC, noting how  “through this event, you can have a good chance to discuss and learn Korean drama success and its comparative industry ….”

Prof. Amor Aljibe shared her experience of conducting an unprecedented course, Analysis of Korean Drama Series. She is a professor in the Department of Broadcast Communication, UP College of Mass Communication.

She recalled: “Initially, only one section was opened to  accommodate only 15 students…. After a few days, around 200 students expressed their interest in the class, and by the time we added two sections, the demand was already more or less at 300…. in reality, there were a lot of people who requested for audit or to sit-in in my class. These people come from all walks of life: housewives, mothers, lawyers, interns from the UP College of Medicine, media workers, students, professors….

Since majority of my students are in their 20s, a lot have been watching K-Dramas for at least 10-15 years, with some starting as early as five years old…. What was interesting was that watching more than 100 titles is possible, and watching the same title 38 times apparently is possible too…. It’s about time we as media practitioners put K-drama in our research agenda. Global television has never been this good and it could really be an inquiry on human behavior and what makes a story compelling for people.

My course is about finding out why we are so hooked on these drama series —making us co-producers of Korean culture. I believe films are mythical and so are drama series. We find comfort in familiar themes. There will always be the human urge to repeat story patterns because of our need to explain the mysteries of human behavior and nature. K-dramas have succeeded in putting a twist to these classic tales. Familiar stories that are repeated are seen as refreshing and new. But such thematic structure will never emerge without good storytelling.

Good storytelling will always be a mix of the fire in one’s belly and a significant amount of rigor in using the dramatic tools so that they are not randomly placed but well thought of. We need storytelling principles so we can deliberately arrange the events to reveal the dramatic, emotional, and thematic significance of the narrative. Those are some of the secrets of Korean drama I would like to unravel at the end of my course….”

GIRLS’ GENERATION

Dr. Doobo Shim, a professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Sungshin Women’s University, South Korea, who researched on the  rise of Korean popular culture in Asia, noted how, even as the pandemic takes its toll on the world, “life goes on with regards to the Korean wave of Hallyu. Some aspects of it are taking a new leap forward during these pandemic times.”

 He recalled,  “In the late 1990s and early 2000s, sensational responses to Korean television dramas including Winter Sonata and Dae Jang Geum first in East Asia, then in Southeast Asia, and regions beyond triggered the phenomena called the Korean Wave. Then, its scope and scale expanded further, thanks to the global popularity of K-pop in 2010. Gangnam style became a global phenomenon for its catchy beat coupled with its amusing dance moves. Boy bands and girl groups including BTS, Blackpink, Twice, and Girls’ Generation have arguably become household names all around the world.”

Dr. Eric Capistrano recalled how he got drawn to K-drama and K-pop: “.…I also have a fanboy side. I’m actually an administrator of the Philippine chapter of Soshified Philippines, one of the big fandoms for K-pop girl group Girls’ Generation, and I’ve been a fan since 2010. And 10 years and 13 concerts later in Bangkok, Taiwan, Korea, and Manila, I’ve come to a point where I have also started doing research on them.

“My father is also a big Korean drama fan, starting all the way back to the Dae Jang Geum, Winter Sonata…. In my case, Girls’ Generation actually helped make me through my PhD studies. I am glad to see younger people becoming fans as a way to cope, especially with today’s pandemic.”

He added,We know the Korean drama has been around for a long time. Even before Netflix, there were illegal sites, the DVDs sold in Divisoria or  Greenhills which met our need for Korean dramas. So what makes it a phenomenon is that there’s something very new and sometimes disruptive content. For instance, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay tackles a taboo issue, even in Korea— mental health, especially for males ….

I recently finished Hospital Playlist and I’m already on my third round of watching it again. It’s very refreshing in that it’s about five people and five doctors, and their daily lives. So, it’s a fresh and refreshing take on common themes ….

….the Korean dramas have been evolving and being distributed in channels outside the usual broadcast channels, making them available to all of us. It’s also a very robust system…. that enables it to be executed in such a way that it can communicate to us and to various audiences…. It also has a very far reach…. KBS has a YouTube channel that constantly streams Korean content…. we see more and more K-pop idols becoming actors and actresses….

“Lastly, you have very loyal fan bases to keep everything going.”

JI CHANG-WOOK

I recalled in the forum how I got hooked on K-drama and in the pandemic, on BTS.  It was my interview with Ji Chang-wook in Seoul. I didn’t know much about him, so I just got questions from a JCW diehard fan and newspaper colleague, Nikko Dizon.

Meeting Ji, I was impressed by how warm, candid and thorough he was. That face time piqued my interest. I wanted to see what K-drama really was, so I watched his Healer and that led me to Gong Yoo, and so on.

The Filipino audience is a highly active and engaged one, so that we, in media, would be wise not to ignore this phenomenon.

K-drama and K-pop provide a digital diet bolstered by this pandemic. Why do we watch? It’s not only the famous actors and actresses. It’s the marriage of technology and content and very human values. It must be because Korea has been able to use technology to project what is human and to get the global audience very involved— crying, laughing, and escaping their routine.

My generation grew up on Hollywood and the British youthquake. This generation is growing up on Korean pop culture. Like what a businessman friend said, his twins could sing Korean and would buy BTS merchandise in Weverse— to be sure it’s not fake—”They don’t like fake.”

While our parents didn’t share our love of the Beatles, we are sharing our children’s love of the BTS

The difference is, while our parents didn’t share our love of the Beatles, we are sharing our children’s love of the BTS. Some parents even outdo their children, and unlike the Beatles in the late ‘60s, the BTS global phenomenon cuts across age demographics.

Also, the ecosystem of K-pop and K-drama is obviously dynamic. The competition among the various entertainment companies, among the producers and the content creators, makes sure that content generation goes on.

Excerpts from the rest of the forum:

Sadorra (moderator): Is there an exchange of Philippine and Korean cultures, or is this an invasion? How about the Philippine media coverage?

Professor Shim: It’s always asked whenever I’m in a seminar overseas. To a certain degree, I understand why the local people feel there is a crucial invasion, but we must differentiate between cultural imperialism and cultural relations. In the Korean case, it is not colonialism as America or other European colonial powers have done the past centuries. As Korean cultural industries are growing, they are willing to share their ideas, experiences, and techniques which have boosted the Korean culture overseas, with other Asian countries like the Philippines.

The author: Media follows the story. We go where the story is, so if people like to read about Hyun Bin, or Crash Landing On You, we write the story. It leads to the coverage of not only Korean dramas, but also Korean music, beauty products, fashion.

I just hope that in future interviews with Korean actors and K-pop groups, Philippine media will be given access the way American media and Japanese media are.

Korea itself also tapped into Philippine culture. In 2015, the Lee Min-ho movie Gangnam Blues used Freddie Aguilar’s Anak

On the “invasion”— it’s an invasion in the sense that Hollywood was an invasion. I mean, we’ve consumed Hollywood and continue to consume Hollywood and foreign culture. Why? because I think culture is not an exclusive entity. There’s osmosis. Korea itself also tapped into Philippine culture.  In 2015, the Lee Min-ho movie Gangnam Blues used Freddie Aguilar’s Anak as its  official sound track, in Tagalog at that.  So as early as then the Korean entertainment industry was already open to the Filipino artist.

To go global or not is a moot question now; we should have asked it decades ago. It’s not a mere choice. It is already there, and we can only make sure that we bring our national identity to the global table the way Korea does. For instance, even if their themes are universal, they eat Korean food, they talk about their Korean-ness. I think it’s a good healthy marriage of what is national and what is international.

I think we should see the popularity of Korean culture in the Philippines in that context. Asia is on the radar now, and the Filipino culture could be included in that. If the global market is there, the local industry is uplifted. If the industry is uplifted, the audience is uplifted.

About author

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After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.
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