This year, in a concerted effort to consume more international entertainment media, I started watching K-dramas. So far, I’ve watched 6 total. Below, I will talk about the 6 I watched and my short opinions on each, but first, I want to talk about the little I know about the K-drama industry and the Hallyu — also known as “The Korean Wave.”
If you don’t wanna read all of this shit, scroll down to when I start listing the shows I watched
Long story short, the Korean wave describes a concerted effort — much like my consumption effort — by the South Korean government to make South Korea a global leader in the entertainment industry through its state cooperating with private entertainment companies. The goal is “soft power” —the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce — through culture. If you’ve ever played one of the more modern Civilization games, think of South Korea wanting to achieve a “cultural victory” in that game. The Korean wave has not only a cultural influence on the globe, but also an economic influence.
How effective are these influences?
Well, popular K-pop group BTS accounts for an estimated ~4 billion USD to South Korea’s GDP per year. And if we’re talking about cultural influence, BTS had an estimated 90 million fans in 2018. If you’ve used twitter or any social media in general, you’ve probably come across one of the various K-pop fans in the US, which may or may not have been a good interaction.
Again, the Hallyu was achieved by cooperation between the South Korean government and private companies in these industries, and the K-drama industry is not exempt from this.
The reason I found this information important is it makes me wonder how much influence this relationship has over the plots to the various K-drama plots and messages out there, for better or for worse. I imagine the sexually conservative nature of K-dramas compared to some western ones — the many sexual scenes in Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, etc — might have something to do with this relationship, but even beyond that.
Questions arise in my mind like: how accurate is the depiction of the South Korea police departments as a result of this relationship? What is the true nature of poverty? Will the wife from Cheat On Me If You Can hit me up?
These questions and shallow analysis (at the end of the day, I watch shows for entertainment) aren’t to imply the relationship is a bad thing or a completely unique phenomenon to South Korea’s government. A quick skim through National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood illustrates a sample of US government’s vast influence on Hollywood despite Hollywood’s corporate collective being private.
Anyway, I apologize for the rambling, I’ll get to the 6 K-dramas I watched and my thoughts on each. It just makes me wonder!
For example, I thought overall Black Panther was a good movie, but I wonder how much better its plot could have been if it wasn’t shackled by Disney, a company I would describe as conservative and afraid to take any bold risks that often cooperates with the US government. I mean, in Black Panther, there’s a huge plot element where the black protagonists team with the CIA. Around here, we view US intelligence organizations as an enemy to black people. Yikes!
Anyway, let’s get started.
Title: The Uncanny Counter
Year: 2020 — Present
Episodes: 16 —
Where to watch: Netflix
Thoughts: I loved this show! This was the first K-drama I’ve ever watched, and I came away really impressed. The Uncanny Counter is a Fantasy Thriller about a group of reapers called Counters who hunt for spirits that escaped the afterlife and possessed troubled people. These evil spirits seek immortality and power and grow stronger with each kill. Counters are given a strong amount of financial resources and powers to aid them in their hunt. While watching, I was quite fond of the relationship dynamic between the Counters, with the older members being protective and loving to the main protagonist and newest member — So Mun — who lost his parents at a young age. If you want to watch what’s basically a superhero mystery show that includes a wholesome dynamic between its members, I recommend this show.
Title: Psychopath Diary
Where To Watch: Viki
Thoughts: My second K-drama, I kinda was certain I would love this because the premise is so ridiculous, and I’m a fucking visionary, because I was correct. What’s this premise I instantly thought was good? Strap in for this one. Yook Dong-sik, an analyst at Daehan Securities takes the fall for one of coworkers’ failures and filled with shame and a general feeling of uselessness, decides to commit suicide.
While getting ready to jump to his death, he witnesses a homeless man being attacked by a serial killer documenting that he is about to record another kill in his diary. In a struggle to survive and escape, the homeless man knocks the killer’s diary away and it lands to the feet of Dong-sik, who nervously picks up the diary and runs away for his life. While running away in the street, he is suddenly hit by a police car and ends up waking up in the hospital with amnesia. With his phone lost in the accident and the his sole possession being the diary that he ran off with, he is now convinced that the diary is his and he’s a psychopathic killer.
Dong-sik now approaches life with this new identity in mind, unafraid of most things he was afraid of before he lost his memories and more aggressive in his everyday interactions.
This show produced a lot of laughter for me throughout and it contains a lot of references to American films, as the protagonist references many American thrillers to better emulate the psyche of a killer. I recommend this to anyone who loves comedy.
Title: My Dangerous Wife
Where To Watch: Viki
Thoughts: I was attracted to this show for its title. If you follow me on twitter, you probably know that I want a hot woman to murder me. I’ve mentioned this a lot. I’m concerned for myself. So yeah. I have a thing for dangerous wives. But apparently, the flawed male main character of this show does not. Kim Yoon-chul hates and wants to kill his wife. He plots with his hot mistress to poison her and on the night of his plan, his wife suddenly goes missing. He soon finds out she was kidnapped and has to go through a bunch of ordeals to get her back. Through these ordeals, he finds out why his wife is so dangerous. I liked this show overall, but it probably could have been about 4–6 episodes shorter and some of the storylines were a bit unnecessary. Oh, also, I really liked the soundtrack. It had some catchy tunes.
Title: He Is Psychometric
Where To Watch: Viki
Thoughts: Have you ever played Ghost Trick (2010) for the Nintendo DS? You haven’t? Well fuck you. Now I have to explain this. He Is Psychometric is about a young man with the ability to read a random portion of the memories of anything — yes, thing, objects and humans — he touches. This includes being able to touch corpses and potentially find out what happened before they died. If you’ve ever played Ghost Trick, it’s a bit similar, as in that game, the protagonist has the ability to find out what happened to a victim 4 minutes before they died. This ability was gained the night the protagonist lost his parents in an apartment fire that he was rescued from by another inhabitant in the apartment who later ends up functioning as his older brother.
Similar to Uncanny Counter, I loved the family dynamic between the protagonist and the older figures in his life. The constant bickering between him and Detective Jisoo resembled that between a younger brother and an over-protective older sister. And one funny dynamic with the protagonist’s personality is despite the fact he has a such a cerebral ability, he’s a complete himbo. Without the intelligent women around him like Jisoo and his girlfriend that he has a cute relationship with, his ability would be useless, as he completely lacks any critical thinking skills.
With his powers and friends around him, he navigates through various clues and connections that lead back to the original case that killed his parents years ago.
Overall, this is another show I enjoyed, but I did find the ending to be lacking a bit.
Title: Cheat On Me If You Can
Where to watch: Viki
Thoughts: Remember when I said I find dangerous women hot? Well, that hasn’t changed in case you theorized that somehow like 6 paragraphs later I would have changed my mind. This show has a lot of similarities with My Dangerous Wife, from the fact it has a husband who constantly cheats on his wife, to the fact he fears said wife(though this husband has a better reason for it) and the fact both husbands want their wives dead at one point.
Cheat On Me If You Can is a show about a murder-mystery writer (Kang Yeo-Joo) married to a divorce lawyer (Han Woo-Sung)who she has a contract with. The nature of that contract is: If he ever cheats on her, she has the right to kill him. Somehow, this is extreme contract doesn’t stop this husband from constantly cheating and giving his attention elsewhere. Did I mention said husband is a celebrity known for being a loving and loyal partner? Yikes.
There’s something more to Kang Yeo-Joo however, more than just being a wife who hates cheating and writes murder-mysteries about women who kill men. She’s being investigated by intelligence agencies who consider her dangerous and a force to be reckoned with.
This show ended up being a lot more than what I thought it’d be, the plot was everywhere and chaotic but controlled enough to continue to be cohesive and sensible and I found myself not knowing what the hell to even root for until the very end. Great show. I’d love to have an attractive wife who would murder me if she found out I cheated. I’d never cheat of course, but I love the energy.
Where To Watch: Netflix
Thoughts: This is the last K-drama I watched so far, and it probably won’t be the final one. Vincenzo is wonderful, and potentially the best of the 6 shows I’ve watched so far.
Vincenzo is about a Korean-Italian mafia member named Vincenzo Cassano of the Cassano family. T̶o̶g̶e̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶M̶a̶r̶i̶o̶,̶ ̶L̶u̶i̶g̶i̶,̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶P̶r̶i̶n̶c̶e̶s̶s̶ ̶P̶e̶a̶c̶h̶, Once his family’s leader dies and is inherited by the leader’s idiotic son who hates Vincenzo, he flees Italy and heads to Korea to obtain a stash of gold — 1.5 tons to be exact — that he helped a chinese tycoon bury under a plaza years ago.
In order to retrieve this stash, he has to demolish the building that resides above it. During his struggle to convince the inhabitants of the buildings to leave so he can proceed with his plan, a real estate company under the extremely powerful Babel Group attempts to take over the building for their own plans. Vincenzo notes that they operate like the mafia and teams up with the justice-based Jipuragi Law Firm in the building to oppose Babel Group.
One thing about Vincenzo that stood out to me is the fact it engages in what appears to be genuine political commentary at times. For example, there’s a scene where Vincenzo implies that working with a “good” prosecutor isn’t exactly possible because the system they work in is corrupted, so everyone who operates under said system is also corrupt. There is even a scene I’d imagine many Marxists would nod at that implies the working class people in the plaza are too busy working to be fully politically engaged as they should be.
Between the political commentary, hilarious cast, Vincenzo talking about learning how to fight to defend himself against racist Europeans, and simply the satisfying feeling of seeing a giant company be villainized as opposed to being spun as a positive gain for society, I highly recommend Vincenzo to anyone and don’t regret watching it at all.
Anyway, thanks for reading pals!