I knew I had an anniversary coming up some time so I dug, dug, dug through my email for the first undeniable moment I can say I was a Kdrama fan… and yep, I have the receipt. Ten years ago, back when I was a broke-ass thirty-something living in New Hampshire, spurred on by a bad day, I cashed in a hard-earned Amazon gift certificate and TWODAY AIRED myself a DVD copy of Playful Kiss because the weekend was coming, I didn’t have the internet at my house and I HAD to know how the show ended. From there an obsession was born.
Funny how just last week, ValB was talking about her first year Kpop anniversary and, ten years later… here I am. Like ValB, the time has gone by in a flash! As I often talk about how my own life has changed from that fateful day allllll those years ago, I’m not going to go into that here. What we are going to talk about is how dramas have changed in the last ten years. It’s a decade man, a DECADE. Things have CHANGED, not just the dramas, but how we watch them.
In no particular order…
The Fall of the Fish-eyed Kiss!
I think we can all thank our lucky stars that this trend is less popular nowadays. Sure a few of them still linger, those kisses where a wide-eyed heroine stares in shock at the handsome man attached to her by the lips like the concept of kissing is completely foreign to her. There’s real kissing in dramas! Sometimes even (gasp!) people have sex! We no longer have to wait for our epic romance to end with one open-eyed kiss, the actors standing mushed together (lips only), completely still as the camera spins around them. It’s not like I need a ton of sexuality, R, or heck even PG13 ratings to my shows, buuuttt I don’t mind the idea that after our couple professes their love for each other, that this would also lead to them actually wanting to physically touch each other (even if it’s off-screen).
Leaving, Leaving for ‘America’
THIS STILL HAPPENS. But, like the fish-eyed kiss, it’s happening less and less. Need a break? Tension too high? Not sure what to do with our characters? Send them off to ‘America’ (or any applicable far away country). It’s just lazy writing and for myself, is irritating. Besides? Who’s life is really fixed by being sent away by your parents for two years? You’re right Mom and Dad, that totally killed my feelings for (insert poor hero/heroine’s name here).
Cell Phones No Longer Work Like That
We’ve seen the evolution of cell phones within the last ten years of dramas, each one a bit of nice product placement for whatever newest and brightest phone is out that year. Just this year, Hospital Playlist tried to sell me on the fancy flip phone. (Nice try Samsung, I’ve seen what happens to your screens after a few months of use.) I remember desperately wanting the couple phones they had in Playful Kiss. This all being said, this is NOT the phone trend I think about when I think of phones in dramas…. back in the day, do you remember whenever the hero/heroine had a fight and they’d storm away, not wanting to be contacted AND THEY’D REMOVE THE BATTERY FROM THEIR PHONE??? Tossing it aside in frustration or tears. Of course, this would inevitably put them right in harm’s way, but the whole time I’d be thinking… why remove the battery? Why not just turn it off? How did that become a thing?? It always makes me chuckle wondering what they do today to express their frustration now that they can’t take the battery out?
Less Hong Sisters
Back in the day, I was in the heyday of the Hong Sisters. All the biggest and brightest shows, the ones that everyone talked about, held up as early classics “Have you watched this? You really need to watch this!” was a Hong Sister production. Then… not much. I’m guessing lives happen and they probably couldn’t keep up that crazy pace required for putting series out on a yearly basis. Plus watchership tastes change which could have also been a hand in it. I bet you say The Hong Sisters to newer fans and they aren’t even going to know the term. They might know the dramas, but… who knows.
I’m not sure who gave kdramas the okay to go with sequels but apparently, the word is out and they are running with it. Part of the reason why I got so hooked on Kdrama was the idea that they were a one-and-done. We got in, got the story, got out. No cliffhangers. No next season. But now? I just groan at news reports talking about how this show or that show is getting a sequel. OR worse! The production goes into the last episode, hoping that they get a sequel, set up the ending so it ends on a cliffhanger and then….nothing — a perfectly ordinary show is wrecked. But then again, I got a season two of Hospital Playlist which was lovely, so I guess they can’t all be bad.
Oh, the pain of watching dramas ten years ago. I remember having to get some series on Netflix DISKS. Before we had very few avenues for legal streaming and now the options are crazy! Not only do we have Viki, but Netflix is producing its own shows now! Some smaller networks are producing right for the web or Youtube. Then there are the more niche streaming services like Gagaohlala. You don’t like the options on one service, there are so many others to choose from! I remember, early days, I wanted so hard to watch the Thai version of Playful Kiss, finally found a streaming version, started watching it on my lunch break and it INSTANTLY infected my computer so badly I had to rip it from the wall and take it to a guy to fix it. This was my WORK computer, which wasn’t stressful at all. I think it’s a great example of just how popular these shows are nowadays. (Unlike back in the day where I was the outlandish weirdo who was watching Korean television).
With better access, we now have pretty solid access to legitimate subtitles. I remember watching a few shows I’d bought bootleg copies of off eBay trying to figure out what exactly it was the jumbled-up subtitles meant. I’d watch the show, go to Dramabeans and read the recap so I could actually understand what happened. Where we’re getting these shows many times directly from the production themselves, subs are handily available. Okay, so maybe they aren’t always of the BEST quality, but it is sooo much better than it once was. Good lord. Do you remember the tiny yellow subs of DramaFever? I’d have to park my couch directly in front of my tv so I could read them properly. (I even wrote a post on it back in the day)
Yeeesh… now that I think of it, there are probably kdrama fans out there who don’t even know what DramaFever was!
Rise of the Cable Networks
Remember when the few cable networks out there were tiny and barely broke into the ratings? The big three networks probably chuckled at them behind their backs. Now though? These networks have really helped change the face of dramas and is putting some of the best, out-of-the-box content out there.
What Up, Flower Boys?
Whatever happened to the term flower boys? Did we all just decide as a group to stop using it? (Boys pretty as a flower for those of you wondering.) Is it like saying something is cute AF? Something we just don’t do anymore? Am I aging myself by remembering the phrase? There were whole series based around them! Flower Boy Next Door, Flower Boy Ramen Shop, Shut Up Flower Boy Band… it was a thing and it was hilarious. Though, as I try not to think of any of my heroes as ‘boys’, perhaps it’s okay to let the term fall to the side.
The Scarcity of Chaebol Heroes.
Did the trend of every other hero having to come from a rich entitled family end? You know the ones where the mom or dad instantly hated the heroine for the same reasons the hero originally disdained her for, threatening her family, either slapping or throwing money at her to leave? In my own watching trends, I do not watch many straight Korean romances anymore, so they may still be there, I just don’t see them much in the dramas I watch.
Raise That Production Value
Ooooh, have the production value gone up on these shows! Real money is being spent on these shows and it…shows.
More LGBT Content, Please!
Before there was a gay character here or there, rarely the main character, and even more rare, one with a happy ending. While Korea has been slow to jump on the BL craze, it’s seen the writing on the wall and is starting to put out some quality series. I think if they would put some serious thought and money into producing a full drama (most of them are shorts), they would instantly steal the crown from Thailand for best BLs. Even with the few shorter series they’ve put out, many of them were instant hits to my favorite list. Could you imagine the possibilities??? But baby steps I guess.
Stepping Outside of the Box
As I mentioned earlier, especially with the cable networks, with the rise of shows made directly for Netflix, today’s Kdrama is very different from those of ten years ago. Sure there are still your standard romances, the odd historical, but now there is so much more! My watch history this year is littered with shows like Move to Heaven, Squid Game, Dark Hole, Strangers From Hell, My Holo Love, Uncanny Counter, Sweet Home, Mystic Pop Up Bar, The list goes on and on. There truly is a drama for every taste. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were Korea, taking their quality storytelling and production values then expanding it to other genres was what helped spread the word of Kdrama further than we ever expected it could go!
It’s been a crazy ten years and, as much as I was mocked for it in the beginning, I wouldn’t trade this ride for anything! If you want to hear me talk more about the last ten years of dramas, check out this week’s podcast! What about you? What trends have you noticed starting or dying out during your drama tenure? Anything you’d like to see make a comeback?