Sunday, May 5

The Korean Wave: Why in Asia, “cool” is spelled with a “K”

SEOUL | Talk a few triple whammy.

In 2019 “Parasite” turned the primary foreign-language movie to snag a “Best Picture” Oscar. In 2020, boy band BTS dominated the music charts and drew comparisons to The Beatles. And a 12 months later, the culture-shaking TV sequence “Squid Game” turned the most-watched present ever on Netflix.

All three hail from South Korea, a nation that has set international benchmarks for “zero-to-hero” surges in each laborious and gentle energy.

South Korea and its cultural output have been nearly unknown in worldwide society earlier than the Korean War. The devastated nation was subsequently seen as a basket case within the Fifties, as an unlovely bastion of metal-bashing within the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies, and as a scorching spot of fiery political protests within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties.

Millennial South Korea, nevertheless has develop into a byword for cool — with a capital “K.” Credit goes to “Hallyu” (“Korean Wave”), a time period coined by a Chinese journalist in 1999 to explain a unprecedented outpouring of home pop-culture Ok-drama, Ok-pop, Ok-film, Ok-gaming — that was simply starting to swamp Asia.

Since then, “Hallyuwood” has swept the world, producing outsized inventive affect and a focus for a rustic of simply over 50 million folks.

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“Hallyu has been instrumental in enhancing Korea’s national brand on the global stage,” stated Yang Sun-mook, former authorities advisor who promotes South Korean “silver” trend globally.

It gives a wanted identification when your nation is sandwiched between two cultural superpowers in China and Japan.

Seoul officers are “riding the coattails of Hallyu because they understand that soft power is better than hard power when you are a small country between the world’s second and third largest economies, both with much larger populations,” stated CedarBough T. Saeji, who teaches Korean and East Asian research at Pusan National University.

“A ‘Made-in-Korea’ tag once conjured up images of poverty or, in extreme cases, despotic leaders and nuclear missiles,” added David Tizzard, who teaches Korean research at Seoul Women’s University “Now, Korea is not just winning the hearts of people though its cultural content, it’s also writing its own national identity and securing legitimacy in its struggle with the North.”

It has additionally been good for the nationwide economic system.

“According to the Korea Foundation, the Korean Wave has generated approximately $100 billion in revenue since its inception in the late 1990s,” Mr. Yang stated. “Tourism has been positively impacted, with the number of foreign tourists visiting Korea increasing from 4.7 million in 2001 to 17.2 million in 2019.”

Stimulating creativity

Some abroad observers credit score Hallyu like Korea’s industrial and technological leaps to good policy-making. In actuality, a fancy spectrum of things deserve credit score.

The 1987 democratization wave noticed censorship lifted and South Koreans freed to journey and research abroad, the place they enrolled in movie faculties and binged on MTV. The authorities started pushing artistic industries after seeing the success of Hollywood’s “Jurassic Park” franchise.

The 1997-1998 Asian monetary disaster proved a good larger stimulus, forcing outdated, established firms out of the leisure enterprise and permitting new expertise to fill the vacuum. The disaster hammered the forex, and as cable TV got here on-line throughout Southeast Asia, South Korean drama producers noticed a possibility to undercut Japanese rivals.

There was additionally sweat fairness. Borrowing “corporate warrior” paradigms, South Korean expertise businesses put potential stars by means of rigorous, cross-training regimens: singing, dancing, performing, modelling, selling.

Language coaching was included. In recognition of the home market’s modest measurement, South Korean cultural content material was consciously aimed towards Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asia audiences.

Meanwhile, Seoul had invested massively in broadband. Fast-digitizing South Koreans embraced the web, overturning old-school advertising and marketing and distribution mechanisms that had dominated international movie and music.

The consequence: a kaleidoscope of unleashed creativity, savvy administration, new-technology mastery and an openness to worldwide influences.

From the late Nineteen Nineties, Ok-pop and Ok-drama, populated by engaging, “nice guy/nice girl” stars, started attracting fan bases throughout Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Public funding helped, however analysts say Hallyuwood’s success was bottom-up, not top-down. “Government did not become involved in supporting K-pop until after K-pop had already been making international inroads,” stated Mr. Saeji.

As the expertise pool expanded, South Korean choices turned extra subtle. Western audiences tuned into edgy, gritty Ok-films like violent thriller “Old Boy” (2003), and Psy’s catchy rap “Gangnam Style” (2012). It was solely a matter of time earlier than “Parasite,” “Squid Game” and BTS took London, New York and Paris by storm.

“What Korea has successfully done is to create the next big stage for a modern, industrialized Asian country,” stated Keiko Hagihara-Bang, who heads Bang Media Group and who notes that Hallyu is an asset for conventional Ok-products.

“Every second on the screen is a chance to generate interest in [Korean] fashion, design, food, cosmetics, tourism, electronics — even cars,” she stated.

Hallyu’s versatility additionally has vaulted South Korea forward of earlier Asian cultural powerhouses.

“While Hong Kong had its movies and Japan had its anime, … this is happening in Korea across multiple mediums – food, music, movies, beauty, fashion, computer games,” stated Mr. Tizzard. “In a non-Western, non-English-speaking country, that has not really happened before. We are in uncharted territory.”

Uncharted and inclusive.

“This ability to transform creativity into an interface for a country is most extraordinary,” stated Ms. Hagihara-Bang. “I don’t think there’s another country in the world that has an entire society — government, business and civic forces — build a national brand in this way, without coercion.”

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