10 Little Things I Learned Watching K-Dramas

Entertainment TV and Movies

My oldest daughter is trying to save money by living at home while attending college, and this means sharing a house with a 20-year-old who is fully committed to her current passions, mainly K-Dramas (Korean dramas).

She wants everyone else in the house to catch the bug as well.

This was not something I wanted to even get into. I thought Korea’s fare couldn’t compete with my favorite Japanese anime and movies like One Cut of the Dead or Tokyo Drifter. The idea of the sappy K-Drama to me just seemed like an extension of Hallmark Movies, which I have a hard time stomaching. I’ve only watched two Hallmark movies in my life, and they both starred Bruce Campbell.

My daughter convinced me K-Dramas were, in fact, about as cool as anything from Japan, then reminded me about the movie Train to Busan and the series Squid Game, the latter of which was kinda sorta a big deal in 2020.

I decided to sit down with her and watch the first one. I liked it, but no, I didn’t need to see any more. Well, I walked on her watching the second episode of another one… and I became invested in the story and characters. Long story short,  I am now juggling around six or seven K-Dramas, have favorite actors, and have downloaded a handful of soundtracks on Spotify.

Everyone has heard of ‘Squid Games,’ but there are plenty of K-Dramas out there. I learned some cool things from all of them. All drawings and images: Lisa Tate

I didn’t want to get hooked, but I did. I know the inside jokes and the quirky flaws, and I learned a few things from them I will share with you all.

Old-school practical effects are still amazing.

Some K-Dramas have state-of-the-art CGI and green screen effects, but others still make very cool and nostalgic use of practical effects. One monster series I just watched had some Harryhausen-style stop-motion creatures mixed in with some newer special effects. The creatures had such a creepy, choppy vibe to their movements; they were as scary as any computer-generated monster.

Don’t get too attached.

If you’re used to comic books and all those “multiverse” superhero movies, the death of a major player often means they might come back in a new dimension or by some miracle means of revival. In many K-Dramas, even sci-fi, the sacrifice of life means something. With few exceptions, once someone goes bye-bye, they are gone. Have your tissues ready for some ugly crying.

The zombie movie genre is really quite diverse in terms of storylines.

Zombie outbreaks can happen anywhere in any era, from high schools to commuter trains, from the distant future or back in time 500 years. There are a lot of zombie storylines in Korea, and they are all cool.

You don’t have to be over-the-top to get a point across.

Many movies and television shows like to share a message or commentary on events of today or the past, but no one, no matter their views on an issue, want to get beaten over the head with it. K-Dramas do occasionally insert messages on current concerns (like plastic surgery, social media reliance/addiction, or suicide) in their stories, but it hardly ever interferes with or overshadows the story. Even when the “message” is a main part of the plot, character, and storytelling still take center stage.

People are complicated, and not everyone is what they seem. Be careful who you trust.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Looks are deceiving, and often dangerously so. This is a trend I have noticed in some of my favorites. Think about that sweet young girl, kindly old man, quirky and lovable side character. You know those characters we all love. They just might be the snake-in-the-grass or evil mastermind of the story. Proceed with caution before you want to be their pal.

Opening credits can be an art form all their own.

There are some cool opening credits on American and European television, but some of the artistic direction on these K-Dramas is next level. I have taken to capturing screenshots of a few of them because I want to make fanart. They are just that cool.

There are a bunch of webcomics out there.

I have never really gotten into webcomics, but many K-Dramas are based on them. Korean webtoons (manhwa) have their own style and are more than just Korea’s version of manga. They are read like western books (left to right), and more often than not are in full color. Like manga, however, they cross over to several genres, appealing to different ages and lifestyles. Plenty of inspiration for K-Drama writers.

The opening credits of shows like ‘Sweet Home’ can be fantastic examples of design.

You don’t have to be sleazy to be sexy.

You only have to watch a couple of K-Dramas to realize you can be attractive without wearing a ton of makeup, too-revealing clothes, or acting overtly sexual. This is true for both female and male characters. I didn’t realize how sexy a nice turtleneck under a big overcoat could be, especially walking toward you under an umbrella in the rain. For those who want to point out some K-Pop stars’ tendency towards the racy, that is an entirely different world. I’m just sticking to the K-Dramas here.

It’s okay to be corny.

One thing about K-Dramas I had to get used to is the sometimes awkward way they try to blend slapstick comedy with some really dark horror, suspense, or action scenes. There are often unnecessary music queues to let you know “yeah, we’re making a joke here.” The K-Drama humor queues remind me of the Moonlighting or Remington Steele era of American television. It goes from cool to dorky really fast. Yet, when you look at how overly serious we take our dramas in the U.S. and U.K. today where everything is dark, gritty, grungy, and no laughing matter, I appreciate the lighthearted break we get from the action occasionally. Even though it can sometimes be cringe to watch.

Patience really is a virtue.

Love and romance often figure into the K-Drama world, but they treat it so much differently in Korea. If you’re shipping a couple, the romance won’t hit for several episodes, and it might just come in some sweet hugs and goo-goo eyes when it finally does. Often a big kiss won’t hit until the end. It isn’t just romance. If you’re waiting on some vengeance, butt-kicking, a blowout action scene, or big plot twist reveal, you’ll be waiting a bit. Those things come to viewers who have stuck with the show. Somehow, that makes a story more satisfying.

I don’t know. After watching enough of these K-Dramas, maybe there’s a hidden romantic in me somewhere as well… and I bet he’s standing in the rain in a nice overcoat.

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