In 2014, “My Love From the Star,” featuring Kim Soo-hyun as a charming extraterrestrial and Jun Ji-hyun as a loveable actress, caused a sensation throughout Asia. In 2016, military romance “Descendants of the Sun,” starring Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo, swept fans in the region off their feet.
Earlier this year, “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” propelled its lead Gong Yoo to global fame, despite a de facto ban in China on entertainment from Korea.
The Korea Herald asked experts for their forecasts for the K-drama industry in the coming years. The consensus is that the scale of production will inevitably become larger and storylines more diverse.
Family drama, romantic comedies here to stay
|“Guardian: The Great and Lonely God” (tvN)|
In terms of content, K-dramas originally rose to fame for their detailed descriptions of family life and ideal love stories. Though topics are becoming increasingly diverse, experts predict these staples will remain fixtures of K-drama in the years to come.
“Even if family structures are changing these days, the fantasy that family dramas offer will not wane,” said culture critic Jung Deok-hyun. “It’s like how we thirst for the analog as we evolve deeper into the digital age.”
The family dramas to come in the future will, however, have to accommodate the changes in the average Korean household, Jung added.
Currently, TV dramas boasting the highest ratings in Korea continue to be weekend series aimed at middle-aged and elderly women, such as “My Father Is Strange” (27.9 percent) and “Band of Sisters” (17.6 percent), which focus on the dynamics of marriage and multigenerational households.
Outside of Korea, romantic comedies such as “The Heirs” (2013), featuring billionaire high schoolers’ entangled love lives, continue to draw in the bulk of younger viewers in their 20s and below.
“Viewers are becoming more sophisticated,” said Park Hyun, CEO of global K-drama streaming site DramaFever. “The younger viewers who were with us nine years ago have now aged. They’re savvy about Korean culture and access information quickly.”
The streaming site, acquired by Warner Bros. last year, was the sole global platform to stream “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.”
Though the show is darker than a typical romantic comedy, intricately mixing drama and fantasy, it drew in fans.
“It became our most-watched and re-watched Korean series,” Park said.
Several recent K-dramas have been genre series, such as gripping investigative thrillers and time-traveling science-fiction.
Thrillers such as “Signal,” “Tunnel” and most recently, “Stranger” have received rave reviews among viewers and critics alike.
“‘Stranger’ is the most outstanding result that inherits only the best of the Korean genre drama, which has undergone a long trial and error period,” drama critic and TV personality Heo Ji-woong wrote in a column this month, citing the history of past acclaimed genre dramas such as “Sign” (2011) and “Nine: Nine Time Travels” (2013).
Starring Bae Doo-na and Jo Seung-woo, “Stranger” tells a well-constructed story of an unfeeling prosecutor and passionate police investigator.
Heo went on to comment that the subtle tonal balance the drama achieves is “almost like a performance.”
“It is not predictable, but it also appeals to the general public.”
The show was the debut work of scriptwriter Lee Soo-yeon, spotlighted as a promising talent.
The Korean brand of genre dramas is beginning to be recognized abroad as well. Scriptwriter Kim Eun-hee, who penned “Signal,” is writing a new drama series called “Kingdom,” to be produced by global streaming giant Netflix.
Based on webtoon series “Land of the Gods,” “Kingdom” will combine a Joseon era setting and modern concept of zombies. The series is to be helmed by director Kim Sung-hoon (“Tunnel,” 2016).
From film to drama
The boundaries between film and drama are increasingly becoming blurred in Korea, reflecting global trends.
TvN series “Criminal Minds,” a remake of the American police procedural crime drama of the same name, kicked off last month with film director Yang Yoon-ho at the helm.
Other filmmakers such as Jang Hang-joon, Hwang Ji-seung and Kwak Kyung-taeg have also jumped into the TV landscape in the last several years.
“There is a demand for more epic, film-like scenes in Korean dramas,” said Jung Tae-won, CEO of Taewon Entertainment and a producer of “Criminal Minds.”
In 2014, film distributor Next Entertainment World participated in the production of “Descendants of the Sun.”
“Overseas shooting know-how and making scenes on a larger, film-like scale created synergy,” a KBS official said.
As K-dramas evolve in both cinematography and audience reach, viewers are thirsting for greater spectacles and higher quality scenes, experts say.
By Rumy Doo (email@example.com)