The Korean entertainment industry is booming. They started by conquering Asia and are now in a phase of expansion in the rest of the world, either with music (and, for example, the fireproof BTS), cinema (and those Parasites of Bong Joon-ho taking the Oscar to the best picture) and the television fiction. There were those who saw the K-Dramas as a rarity in the Netflix catalog and, following the collective obsession with The Squid Game, possibly this perception changes.
Seeing Korean fiction means entering a terrain where interpretations can go from utter blankness (because they can be very restrained people) to indulging in eccentric comic visions. It involves watching slow romantic plots. Entering into romances where the patriarchy does nothing but put up obstacles. And it also implies seeing a hybridization of genres and stimulating themes. Here are nine current recommendations to get started in the field:
‘DP: Defector Hunter’
If we have to talk about the latest gems that South Korea offers, this is one of them. It was released shortly before The Squid Game with a first season of six episodes that focuses on the military service, compulsory in the country and that lasts for two years. DP: Defector Hunter focuses on Ahn Joon-ho (Jung Hae-in), a secretive young man whose turn it is to hunt down young deserters who leave the army during training.
It is a surprising series for its hybrid condition. It has moments of comedy, especially when the protagonist shares scenes with Han Ho-yeol (Koo Kyo-hwan), an eccentric corporal. But it is also clearly dramatic when the series delves into Joon-ho’s traumatic past (it is not reserved for that matter) or the themes that the play wants to touch such as toxic masculinity, physical aggressions and humiliations in a military service that Korean youth can not give up, or suicide.
‘Romance is a bonus book’
The thing about this series is a scandal: the jackets, the kitsch, the chemistry between the actors, the book editions. Kang Dan-hi (Lee Na-young) discovers that returning to the job market after a failed marriage is a nightmare. She must fight to get an internship job (when she is much better qualified) at the publishing house where her best friend, Cha-Eun-ho, works, a writer younger than her and who does not know to what extent Dan-hi does not even have to pay A rental.
We can say that Romance is a bonus book It tells us about the patriarchal system that leads women to abandon their careers and then leaves them in the lurch when things don’t work out. But, in reality, it is a love letter to love, friendship and literature: a romantic comedy in a state of grace, aesthetically sweet and with a gallery of secondary ones that work like a shot (among them is Wi Ha-joon , now fashionable for squid).
And, well, it also serves to discover a detail of Korean fiction: romantic series can repeat musical themes with very little embarrassment. If you happen to like any of the songs, don’t worry: you’ll hate it until you want to remove it from your eardrums.
‘It is good not to be good’
The pilot episode of It is good not to be good exude originality with a few minutes of animation. It is the story of Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), a male nurse who loses job after job due to having to take care of Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se), his older brother who has autism. When he meets Ko Moon-young (Seo Yea-hi), an author of popular and twisted children’s stories, and she becomes obsessed with him, his life will change.
Mixing romantic comedy with a mental health theme isn’t necessarily new. We have had recent examples like You’re the worst or the Anne Hathaway chapter in Modern love. But it is refreshing to have a leading lady with antisocial personality disorder. It is interesting to see their approach to reality and how the parameters of what is correct had to be constructed in a different way from other people.
‘Chief of Staff’
It is possible that Chief of Staff be one of the easiest Korean series to place right now. For what reason? Well, because it has Lee Jung-jae, the indebted protagonist of The Squid Game, who had spent a decade dedicating himself to film until he decided to return to television in 2019 with a leading role.
He plays Jang Tae Joon, the chief of staff of an ambitious deputy who aspires to be Minister of Justice. And Jang does not hesitate to do everything possible to bring his boss to the government, aware that he has promised him his post as a deputy if he gets the post. It is a political thriller about competitiveness and betrayals in the political system where the representatives are capable of anything to carry out their agenda.
‘Something in the rain’
It is a pity that this series has the title of Something in the rain when the original Bap Jal Sajuneun Yeppeun Nuna it means Pretty sister who buys me food. It is a romantic drama about an impossible relationship. Why? Jin-ah (Son Ye-jin), who has been in her thirties for some time, falls in love with Joon-hee (Jung Hae-in), her younger brother’s friend. Since Joon-hee is a minor and comes from an unstructured family, Jin-ah is aware that his family would never accept the union.
Sometimes it is slower than watching paint drying on the wall, but it also has a hypnotic element: the way in which she recreates romantic drama without having to invent soap opera plots, always focusing on the love of the two of them, the relationship boiling over. slow fire and a few clear obstacles right from the start. And above all it is interesting because of what it exposes about South Korea: the way in which classism and family pressure interfere when it comes to finding a partner. It is not a fictitious problem.
In this sense it is also recommended One Spring Night, where the conflict resides in the fact that the hunk in question (Jung Hae-in again) is a single father and therefore not suitable for a successful family woman and professional of good.
Watch Mr Sunshine is to realize to what extent we do not know the history of the planet, unless it is linked to Europe or the United States. It is not taught in school. The period series centers on Eugene Choi (Lee Byung-hun), who was born as a slave and, after fleeing to the United States, returns to Korea. He falls in love with a young woman from an aristocratic family and is involved in a Japanese conspiracy to occupy the territory.
The production values of the pilot episode (XXL duration, like almost all Korean series) are impeccable. It is a good method to be interested in Korean history, especially since it is difficult to understand the historical context from our European and Western-centrist mind.
And, if we talk about series that arouse interest in the historical context, we also have Kingdom, an unpredictable combo: a period horror story during the Korea of 1600, just after the Imjin War, when the Japanese tried to invade a Korea that was then a vassal of the Ming dynasty. The flashy? There are both political conspiracies against the Joseon dynasty (which ruled Korea from 1392 to 1897) and a zombie epidemic.
This is possibly the Korean Netflix series that first garnered international media attention for its impeccable artistic direction and combining an unknown historical moment in the West with the walking dead. At the moment it has two seasons and a spin-off in the form of a film, Kingdom: The Ashin Story.
‘Crash landing on you’
This is one of the latest romantic phenomena and it takes advantage of the constant tension between North and South Korea to create an impossible relationship. Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) is a billionaire heiress who, when she parachutes and disappears, is left for dead by her family. But she is more than alive, unintentionally landing on North Korean soil and being at the mercy of Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), an attractive and military leader who houses her in his home, risking his own life.
There are 16 episodes that go from less to more and that, as happens in good romantic comedies, wins whole by the infallible secondary gallery. The North Korean people in which the heiress ends up is not wasted and received good reviews precisely for trying to reflect the reality of a country as hermetic as that of Kim Jong-un. And, if we talk about series that know how to squeeze and fall in love with their love story (and finish the job with a maximum romantic climax), Crash landing on you is the perfect series.
Prosecutor Hwang Si-mok (Cho Seung-woo) loses empathy and other social skills while undergoing surgery. When Han Yeo-jin (Bae Doona) joins the police to investigate a murder case, they stumble upon a plot of judicial and political corruption. An ideal series for lovers of tense thriller, serialized plot and a peculiar lead duo but with the right chemistry. It features Bae Doona, whom many will know for her work on Sense8. At the moment there have been two seasons of 16 episodes each.