Wednesday, April 15, 2020
DAY 32: ECQ
One thing is for sure: Koreanovelas are not only impressive. They are not only substantial in their content but are visually stunning.
I am not even talking about the grandeur of their production design in historical dramas.
I am not even including the excellence in the way their KDramas are photographed, the choice of locations and costumes and even details including food props and atmosphere characters.
I am talking about television materials which are of world class caliber. If Filipino viewers are in awe of the amount of investment plonked into these productions compared to the local counterparts, then let us explain.
It is all about the market.
(10) Production value is given utmost premium in Koreanovelas because it has got everything to do with branding.
You know you are watching a KDrama because you can immediately identify the look. Money is funneled into giving worth and value to every scene shot. Sure, you've got these terrific actors who are focused on delivering varied roles per project, exquisitely written plots that make familiar tropes look new. But all these are topped by a look ... a brand ... that makes the Koreanovelas distinct from their other Asian counterparts.
The cross-cultural invasion began with Chinovelas crossing borders and claiming a chunk of what used to be (for instance) the lion's share of Latin telenovelas in our tv landscape. When the Taiwanese series Meteor Garden (2001) brought in the world of Dao Ming Su and friends to Filipino audiences, the focus suddenly swung to Asian soap series which are as identifiable and emphatic to an audience that is suddenly turning regional if not one-global.
But it was 2009 that Boys Over Flowers introduced Lee Min-Ho and squad to Filipinos that Korean popular culture (together with music) penetrated contemporary cultural consciousness.
This is primarily why production value equates with branding. In a highly competitive market you have to look expensive.
Locations in Koreanovelas are idealized, shot like tourism ads highlighting both the qualities of the metropolis like Seoul or the richness of its modern architecture. For instance, in Itaewon Class, a specific district of the city is highlighted as the center of trendy urban culture, showing shops, restaurants and pubs which give you a glimpse of their millennial lifestyle.
Similarly traditional architecture and scenery are shown to emphasize the culture of Korea, whether it is in modes of dining, choice of cuisine or even simple depictions of traditional ceramics and folk art. This is craftily embedded in scenes to remind us that what we are watching is also a celebration of an evolving culture.
But again we also have to understand why they spend so much for these productions for technical excellence, polish and impressiveness. Remember, their market is not Korea alone. Their market has become regional --- to say the least --- and international, at most.
Notice that Netflix in the Philippines is literally stuffed with Koreanovelas. No one can deny that their audiences are not native Koreans alone --- but Asians and perhaps to a certain extent those who belong to other races all over the world.
That is also why it is useless comparing Koreanovelas with our local productions. Mga madlang people, they have transcended national boundaries to provide worldwide entertainment. It is only necessary that they up the ante. Not that I am belittling local productions as there are certain Filipino telenovelas that have also crossed national boundaries and are aired in subtitled versions in other countries both Asian and otherwise.
However, we have not reached that league wherein Filipino telenovelas have achieved a brand that would warrant a substantial audience of non-Pinoy viewers. In order to get there we must advance if not evolve into thinking beyond Aleng Tacing and her baranggay and start imagining that ... uh, there is a bigger world out there that should be given a better taste of what Filipino talents can still accomplish.
We cannot keep getting stuck like flies on sticky paper on what we predict as the papatok taste of the masa ... or better yet, belittling the
(11) Production design is of premium importance.
One of my Twitter respondents wrote something that had me rolling on the floor with laughter:
"Sa Koreanovela hindi sila natutulog na naka-make-up."
"May taste yung mga damit nila. Hindi sila mukhang binihisan ng walang class na designer."
One thing that is most notable of South Koreans is their sense of style and fashion. Distinctly different from the Taiwanese and Japanese, Koreans carry themselves with an aura of taste and authority --- so much so that even their derelicts look fashionably --- uh, dirty. If you see their telenovelas and the visual messages they send us, two things are made clear.
First, the characters are all aspirational.
You look at them and you want to look like them. The women are always dressed impeccably and the men look like they are about to be set up in a fashion pictorial. Regardless of station in life of the characters, they are made to look beautiful, almost inaccessible but someone to aspire for.
This is serves as another selling point of the shows because people do not simply want to see ... they want to look at everything the show has to offer and absorb this visual delight as part of their sense of fulfillment.
Again, one asks why this is important: how can fashion play a major role in the selling of programs. The answer is simple: these shows, despite the weight of subject matter or the intensity of emotions --- are fantasies. Fantasies can take you to another world where everyone is beautiful --- including the villains. You do not mock the ugly but instead celebrate beauty in all its possible forms.
Yet the way characters are dressed or made up are befitting of the characters that they play. They are never meant to be tacky or kitschy but an extension of the role that the actor is portraying.
Case in point: I was delightfully surprised to find out that two actors from Bong Joon Ho's Parasite was in the series Crash Landing on You. I did not recognize Lee Jeong-eun as the rich matron in the KDrama whereas she was so well-marked as the scheming replacement maid in the Park home in the movie ... or Myeong-hoon Park as the husband in the basement and the uncle in the CLOY. Costumes, make-up and the total commitment of the actors make them unrecognizable in every role that they play because production design revolves around credibility and not just presenting something pretty.
Lastly, one very important observation that most the Twitter respondents provided.
(12) Koreanovelas are still basically conservative.
Yes, they may deal with controversial subjects, delve into plot lines of revenge but the crux of the problem always centers on honor and dignity.
The characters do not feel lust: they show love. There may be passion but it is controlled and emotions are expressed through detail and not excesses of physicality. The kisses and touches are tender. And there is a great amount of premium given to respect.
If there is one thing that the Enhanced Community Quarantine has taught me, it is to appreciate a form of popular media which I used to look at from a distance and never completely understood.
I am still a neophyte at this and at the rate things are going, I do not know when the quarantine will be lifted or what kind of normal awaits us when we are all set free from our self-imposed house arrest. So that means I have more time to consume these brilliant little episodes of Korean storytelling.
I do not have the resilience of some of my friends who can finish sixteen episodes in one sitting. I think that is something for the books.
I can take as much as four at max ... but then let us see. I have come to realize that these shows are, at first, engrossing ... and then addicting. And it all started because somebody told me that I should catch Crash Landing on You ... and somebody insisted I see Pinocchio ... and now I am hooked and I want that hairstyle of Park Seo-joon (called chesnut according to my nephew ) as my post-Quarantine look.
Soon I have to explore Thai and Turkish mini-series as well. What a beautiful and useful way to utilize confinement: to discover that there is a whole world out there to analyze even from the burden of quarantine and the imperative of social distance.
O, tama na. I have to go back to Netflix.