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February 16, 2012

5 Signs That You Are Watching a Korean Drama

If you’re not up on your Asian languages, and aren’t quite sure whether the drama you’re watching is Korean, check first for the ubiquitous presence of food. If there aren’t at least 5 scenes involving food in a one-hour episode, it’s definitely NOT a Korean drama. Here are five more telltale signs:

1). Everybody cries. Men, women, children. Old and young. Heroes and villains. Cops and robbers. And they don’t just cry. They are racked with sobs when life deals them yet another unjust blow, or their eyes well as they confess a love that cannot be, or a single tear slides down their usually expressionless mask as they confront an abusive mentor.

2). Nobody texts. No matter how grave the crisis or imminent the deadline, the only action taken is to call someone’s cell phone over and over, always hanging up without leaving a message. So many tragedies could have been averted, if only they had texted!

3). If a loved one loses consciousness, gather around in a large crowd, and shout at them. There are many paths to unconsciousness in Korean drama:

  • Hunger and fatigue due to working oneself to the bone for oblivious family members or unattainable lovers.
  • Hypothermia due to brooding over upsetting news in extreme weather while grossly underdressed.
  • Being brutally beaten by thugs.
  • Erosion of fragile health due to multiple emotional shocks.
  • Imminent death due to lingering (often hidden) disease.
  • Imminent death due to assassin attack (mostly seen in sageuk).
  • Car accident from speeding on winding roads in heavy rain at night.
  • Hit and run (usually intentional).

But whatever the cause of the collapse, the remedy is always the same. Friends, co-workers, relations, and helpful bystanders surround the sufferer on all sides and scream “Wake up! Wake up!” Just what you need when your head is spinning.

4). Villains are people too. They have tragic backstories, flashes of honorability, even remorse. They only wanted to be loved. You can hardly ever hate them wholeheartedly (sigh).

5). Nobody calls the police. Are there police in Korea?? The exception is when someone is missing, in which case the police will track the location of the missing person’s cell phone, even if it’s only been a couple of hours, and give it out to anyone who calls them.

Apply these simple criteria, along with the food test, and you will soon become a pro at instantly recognizing Korean drama!

Related posts:
7 familiar characters in Korean drama
10 Obstacles to Love in Korean Drama
10 Common Kdrama Phrases, and What They Really Mean

15 comments to 5 Signs That You Are Watching a Korean Drama

  • I can’t believe how right you are. I can’t think of a Korean Drama in which these rules don’t apply! Nice thinking:)

    • That’s good to hear. I’m a drama newbie (1 year) so there’s a lot more to see! I have a feeling this might turn into a series as I watch more dramas and notice more signs :)

      Do you mind if I ask how you found me? Yours are my first comments, so I’m very excited!

      • I’m actually a drama newbie too! It’s been around a year and a half for me. I’ll look forward to more signs if you decide to go in that direction:D
        I just happened to find you without trying actually. I think I searched something like ‘Korean Dramas’ and your blog was one of the ones to come up. I’m not sure what dramas you’ve seen but if you want some suggestions I can give you some.
        Good luck on your blog!

  • 감사합니다 ! Best of luck on your blog as well. Has your interest in dramas led to an interest in learning Korean?

    I have a short list for “next drama.” Right now, it includes Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi (because I’m ready for something a little fantastical), Freeze (because it’s short, and about vampires), Hometown of the Legend (because it has actors I like), and someday, Queen Seonduk, which was the first Korean drama I saw, but I only caught a few episodes. Please feel feel to make recommendations. There are so many, it’s hard to know where to start.

    Don’t you think we are lucky to be late-comers? We will never catch up, so we will never run out of dramas!

  • Since pinkperel is too polite to plug her own blog, kdramageek, let me do it for her. She has taken on a 30-day drama challenge, with a different question about the dramas she has watched for each day. Here is a link to the first page, so you can start from the beginning:

  • I actually have found myself wanting to learn Korean! I know a tiny bit, but not enough to actually feel confident that I’m doing it right. I do love the fact that I don’t have to wait a week for each episode to come out. I only watch it online, since I don’t have the right channels on my television, and its great not having to wait. We drama newbies have an endless amount to watch it seems. =)
    As for suggestions, I can tell you a few of my favorites for when you are at a loss for what to watch next. A few classics are My Lovely Kim Sam Soon and Full House. Right now I’m in the middle of Shining Inheritance (otherwise known as Brilliant Legacy) and it has a TON of drama, almost an overwhelming amount. Let’s see… there’s always the popular ones like Boys Over Flowers, You’re Beautiful, Coffee Prince, and Secret Garden. You’ve probably heard of or seen quite a few of these already.
    Anyways, it’s nice to talk to another KDrama fan! I can’t help but think I’m hopelessly addicted to them. Oh and I looked at some of your web resources for learning Korean and they are really amazing! Thanks for that!

    • Mihansa

      There’s a lot to learn, but even knowing a few things, like levels of politeness and the titles people call each other by, gives me a lot more insight into the nuances of what’s going on.

      Watching dramas online is dangerous, don’t you think? There’s nothing to prevent you from watching ’til you drop, which is what I did with Freeze last weekend – thank goodness it only had 5 episodes! (review coming soon). There’s a reason the word “addiction” pops up over and over in Korean drama blogs and forums.

      I have heard of several of the dramas you listed, but I haven’t seen any of them yet. It’s interesting to read as you consider them from different points of view (story, dialogue, etc.). Since there is such a backlog, I can be picky :)

  • I’m really enjoying, and learning from, this blog. Here the comments here are just as much fun to read as the post itself (which is hilariously on the nose!)

    I loved – and LOVE – Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi although I know there are many who had all kinds of unhappy things to say about it. I think it was the fourth drama series I saw after stumbling upon k-drama and getting hooked a few months ago. My crush on Bae Yong Jun has since tempered, but I cannot help but think of hi with a smile [*sigh…*]

  • Lorim

    Great list! I laughed so hard I had tears (but not running down my face). I bookmarking your site, I like your sense of humor!

  • Yaniah_Sahm

    Where should I begin? First what ought to be first…English is one of my weakest links -since my mother tongue is Spanish and I have been living for almost 6 years in UK- and well, I feel relieved when I found blogs like yours (and Dramabeans)they make me feel that I am not different and I feel even much better when those blogs are being written by people that take it seriously and enjoy at the same time :) Well done

    • Mihansa

      Many thanks for saying that! Since mihansa is in such a small minority of blogs that consider Kdrama in a larger cultural context, I wonder sometimes whether I am taking it too seriously. You have made me feel much better, too :)

      It’s also good to know is at least somewhat intelligible to someone whose first language is not English (though your English sounds pretty advanced). I know I’m pretty wordy, and I cherish my transnational readership, so I worry about that sometimes. I’ve considered installing a translation plugin for readers several times, but each time I’ve concluded my writing style is not well-suited to automated translation.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by, and I hope you will continue to visit, and maybe post some of your thoughts about your favorite (and not-so-favorite) Korean dramas.

  • Yaniah_Sahm

    Let’s say the one that made me hooked was Coffee Prince -thanks to a friend who is a PHD in Cinematography from South East Asia- being the first one and my only near reference was a former Korean co-worker (who didn’t watch dramas) I found myself eager to know more about that totally different universe from the ones that I had more proximity. I am from Venezuela and I think that it is nothing more galactic distant than Latin american and Korean universe, and I am not only making reference to a drama, if not about everything… That was the beginning. Then I cried a river -literally, I expend two hours on my Cathartic process of crying- with Secret Garden, despite that I never understood about Hyun Bin fringe. I have watch a lot and I have not been hooked even one year.
    I can’t deal with only comedy, because even the easy laugh has to have a meaning…
    KD is for me my secret and sacro sanctum Pet peeves! :) (guilty pleasure in USA)

    P.d Please don’t use aN instant translator because has been proved that those little things are possessed with own will which is not other than turn the meaning of you want to say in a joke no one can make sense… You write in English, and in my case I get it spot on :)

    P.d2 I have shared your blog on my facebook page which means that maybe you get ‘somore’ followers… You shine in a beautiful way that reach us…

    • Mihansa

      I am very touched. Thank you so much :)

      And thanks for linking. It is hard to find my special audience, so I appreciate all the help I can get.

      About translators, ROFLO. The Korean-English Google translator has improved a lot over the past two years, especially if you put words in one at a time. But when I feel like I need to laugh, I will paste in a whole paragraph all at once. That is guaranteed to produce something hilarious. Maybe I’ll do a post where I translate my own writing into Korean, and then back to English, and see what I get.

      I hear that Coffee Prince was the first drama for a lot of people. And a lot of my readers have also recommended Secret Garden, though I have been warned about the part that makes you cry. One of the things I like about Kdrama is the way it mixes different genres. In a drama, there is always humor, too. And the comedies have a serious side, so whatever you watch, it is balanced. Except maybe in sageuks. They do have humor, but the brutal endings wipe all memory of that from your mind. It seems like they might be moderating a little, though.

      I was interested in what you said about Venezuela and Korea being opposite. I don’t know very much about Venezuela, but it seems to me there is a certain warm-heartedness and openness about emotions in Latin American culture, and in Korean culture also (within groups, anyway), that is somewhat lacking in American culture. Also, family connections are more central in both countries than they are here in the U.S. What are the biggest differences you see between Korea and Venezuela?

      I had the same reaction as you did to discovering that different universe. The things I didn’t understand in dramas were the things I was the most curious about. Now I know enough to understand things that happen from my mind, but I think the stage of understanding them from my heart will take more time. Maybe a lot more time.

      I’m really happy to be learning about another culture, though. My ignorance about Asia was a pretty big hole in my view of the world. Now I feel more connected with the world outside of the U.S., and I’m also more aware of my own culture.

  • Jimeous

    Great list, heres my observation..
    Love Triangles usually with…
    Arrogant Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Good Natured Supporting Actor
    Arrogant Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Evil Supporting Actress.
    Even if the Korean Drama is adapted from a Japanese Manga or Drama and doesn’t have a Love Triangle, you can almost guarantee that the screenwriter will put one in.

    • Mihansa

      Yeah, it’s hard to get away from that arrogant male lead, isn’t it? He always gets the girl, and although he may learn to see other peoples’ points of view a little bit more during the drama, he usually remains pretty arrogant. I suspect when Korea gets closer to male/female employment equity, we’ll see these arrogant characters transform a lot more during the drama, or start out less arrogant in the first place. It just won’t be credible that a woman who can support herself without a husband and is respected in her career would find that attractive.

      Me, I’d like to see the alternate suitor get the girl once in awhile, since he’s usually more supportive, more perceptive, less selfish, at least as handsome, and just as rich. Yet she always chooses the spoiled arrogant guy with the mental age of a 14 year old. Seriously??!

      Hmm, so Japanese dramas have fewer love triangles? Interesting. I wonder why.

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