Korean dramas are the quiet cousins of Kpop in the Hallyu Wave. Kpop has been shouting and screaming ‘look at me’ to the world for a while now and is admittedly making inroads in a number of regions. Then there is the quiet cousin – Kdramas. Kdramas have experienced a certain amount of popularity in the rest of the world for a long time, especially in the US and other locations with large ex-pat populations or cultural similarities. Netflix US has even had Kdramas on it!
One of the problems Kdramas have is time investment. To give a Kpop song a chance takes 3 minutes of your life in the black hole that is Youtube, but to give a drama a fair chance can take hours of your time. Kpop is music and, as many people point out, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t understand the lyrics and often it’s even better if you don’t, whereas the idea of following subtitles is really off-putting to some people. Let’s say you have overcome that, there is just the overwhelming amount of dramas out there, spanning so many genres. So you pick a generic recommendation at random and then try to work out where the hell you can watch it subbed. At this point, someone with a vague casual interest has given up and is watching Orange is the New Black, Kdramas forgotten.
This is where Kdramas’ baby brother comes in (yes, we are still trying that family analogy, I will MAKE it happen!) the web drama. Web dramas aren’t a completely new thing, but 2014 was the year they really started to take a hold in the Korean entertainment industry.
The first thing web dramas do is minimise the time sink trying them out is. Each episode is usually no longer than 20 minutes and there are usually no more than about 10 episodes. Contrast this with the hour long episodes, twice a week for 25-55 episodes of traditional dramas. Suddenly, that seems a much more manageable thing to try right?
Because these shows are much shorter, the filming schedules are less demanding and this means that these dramas can use big names from other areas of the entertainment industries as a draw and Idols have commonly appeared in them. For the idol it’s an opportunity to test their acting chops without investing in it full-time and for the web drama it’s a big name to sell to viewers.
Web dramas often solve the issue of accessibility, too. They are viewable ‘on demand’ via web portals, meaning Korean viewers can view them when convenient to them and I-fans will find subbed mirrors easily usually, although subbing of the original upload is now also becoming more common.
The way people access media is changing too and web dramas play right into this. More and more people use a smartphone for a large portion of their internet and media consumption and web dramas are easy to stream on a phone or tablet.
Of course, it isn’t all smiles and roses with web dramas, due to their short, bite-size nature and the fact they are normally aimed at younger viewers, the plots can be a little simple “Oppa, Oppa Saranghae” style.
At the beginnings of their boom in Korea they were heavy with rookie and idol actors, but as their popularity has soared, heavy-weight acting names have waded in. 2014’s ‘Love Cells’ served up a cast that wouldn’t look out of place in a full drama including Kim Woo Bin, Park Seon Ho, Kim Yoo Jeong and Jihyun of 4Minute.
All in all, the boom of web dramas does not look like it’ll be letting up any time soon, with even companies like YG jumping on board with their webdrama ‘We Broke Up’ showing the acting talents of two of their label members, Sandara Park (2ne1) and Kang Seung Yoon (Winner). I’m sure that you will be seeing some more in depth discussion from me in the future of specific dramas and I look forward to hearing how these web dramas make some of you feel.
So are web dramas the future? We will definitely be seeing more of them, but I, for one, do not think they will ever replace real dramas, but will just branch out to appeal to an audience who are not interested in traditional dramas. Some stories just can’t be told in ten ten-minute chunks.
With the rise of the web drama, maybe dramas will stop being Kpop’s quiet cousin and come out of their shells a bit!
Do you have a favourite or least favourite web drama? Let everyone know what it is and why in the comments below!