Filipinos love Korean pop culture, a fascinating realization when I got into the Philippines. From music to film to television, most observers pin the blame on Koreanovelas why the Latin American telenovelas’ popularity fizzled out.
It’s an interesting observation how, upon closer look, most of these K-Dramas (short for Korean dramas) have plots similar to local teleseries. If this would be the case, why most Filipinos are willing to turn their backs on local soap operas in favor of K-Dramas?
1. The plots are simpler.
Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They separate. Girl gets amnesia and they meet again. Boy is disheartened that his lady love can’t recognize him. Boy has a clingy admirer who acts as if she’s the girlfriend. Girl has a clingy admirer too. The only thing lacking are guns, goons and gold. And this is the plot of “Stairway to Heaven”.
Switch the roles where it’s the boy who gets amnesia and girl is disheartened that he doesn’t recognize her. Same clingy baggage though. Same result – they still end up falling in love and the amnesiac ends up remembering everything. Still, no guns, goons and gold. And that’s the plot of “Winter Sonata”.
The closest thing that a K-Drama could get to a goon would be found in a different soap, “All About Eve”. Other goons are found in large numbers in sageuk dramas, the Korean equivalent of period dramas. In typical romance dramas like the 2 dramas mentioned as examples, if ever there is violence, it would be either the clingy girl or the clingy guy that would provide the action. No backup needed as either villain is already psycho.
2. It can get surreal without going too surreal.
Dead characters come back to life, new identities forged, babies switched and vengeance plotted. Just remove the baby-switching act and you have the gist for the hit K-Drama “Temptation of Wife”. Put back the baby-switching act and you get a nice summary of “East of Eden”. Both dramas are not fantasies.
It’s like having the mind-blowing plots of Melrose Place in a Korean setting, just remove the sex and skimpy clothing. Staged death scenes, cat fights and identity theft all in the course of presenting a story that’s beyond your imagination. It’s crazy but the kind of crazy where you can get some believable acting. In fact, some scenes are filled with restraint that it can get you thinking that no matter how stunned and shocked the characters are, the restraint is still there. Also, less guns, goons and gold for the same reason how psycho the villains already are. The only way the lead characters can possibly outplay the villain is by going crazier.
3. Familiar plots get tweaked
Usually, the adopted daughter is poor and her biological parents are rich. In “Autumn in my Heart”, it’s the rich girl who ends up adopted and the social climber classmate who hates her is the biological daughter. K-Drama doesn’t hesitate putting depressive spin on plots that we are already familiar with.
Also, “Temptation of Wife” is more like the classic Tagalog film “Babangon Ako’t Dudurugin Kita” (I Will Rise Up and Crush You). The man dumps his wife for a prettier and richer woman. Wife gets lost and finds fortune in her new household. She then uses her vast resources to avenge herself against her estranged husband and the woman who took him away from her. Again, no guns, goons and gold since all that is left for the estranged wife to do is watch the competition break down by itself. Also, she ends up falling for her knight-in-shining armor. At least she didn’t return to her husband after accomplishing the revenge plan.
4. Gender benders
While Japanese drama (or J-Drama) is already rich with gender-bending plots from manga. K-Drama has a way of making some remakes their own. It’s easy to see anyway how male Korean actors are so beautiful, they already look like androgynous models. So when “1st Shop of the Coffee Prince” (released in the Philippines as “Coffee Prince”) soared to the top of the ratings, you could tell how the market is ready for gender bender soaps.
The coffee shop owner wanted to avoid the dates that his grandmother keeps setting for him. So he asks his barista (that he mistook for a guy) to pretend to be his gay lover. The barista accepts the deal since she needs the money. Of course they fall in love which begs the question – if the barista is a guy for real, would the coffee shop owner still love him?
It’s the same conundrum that occurred in the K-Drama “You’re Beautiful”. A girl was asked to pretend to be his twin brother after the latter’s cosmetic surgery operation got botched. It was an ill-timed incident as he fronts a K-Pop band with a career ready to launch. The girl agreed since she thought she is helping her brother this way. She ends up getting too close with a band mate and you can see how effed up it could get.
Even the sageuk genre is not spared from the gender bender type of stories even just partly. The largely fictional version of the life of the Hermit Kingdom’s first ever female head of state, Queen Seon Deok, featured the young Deokman (the Queen’s nickname) as a street urchin who got into the palace and got passed off as a young boy. She entered the military and only discovered her true identity as the next in line to the throne. Of course her fellow private end up falling for her which really got him confused as to his sexuality. It must have been a big relief the moment he discovered the person he fell in love with is a woman after all.
Predictability is good. But simplifying them because you have a story to tell instead of trying to improve an already interesting story is way better when it comes to presenting these KDramas. Luckily for the local productions though, the popularity of KDramas is already waning. It can be either saturation point or even Korean producers run out of tricks. Either way, most Filipinos today would still settle for the KDramas than what is offered at the moment on primetime TV because some story-tellers knew better how to present their productions. Could this be a new breed of colonial mentality?
Analyzing the difference between local soaps and K-Dramas helps learn about the market that it is catering too. It turned out to be more interesting than initially predicted. It must have been the final pointer that really set off the interesting factoids. I enjoyed scanning through the comparisons as much as you do. Just don’t forget to like my official Facebook page, Kuya Manzano FanClub. Gracias.