Tuesday, April 22, 2014

House of horrors, Kdrama style

“What do you mean, Yoon Si Yoon is going to cut off all his hair and disappear from public view for two years?”

If I had a dollar for every time someone called me “Debbie Downer” or a variant thereof, I wouldn’t be writing this post right now. I’d be booking a private plane to Seoul, because I’d be the richest woman in the Western hemisphere.

As human beings go, I’m a pretty bizarre combination: I’m completely laid-back and easy going, but I’m also an intense, desperate worrier. I worry about absurd things—What would I do in the event of a zombie outbreak? The unchecked spread of ebola? An alien invasion? I’m the girl who always knows where the emergency exit is. And if that private plane to Seoul made an unscheduled landing, I would know just how to use its evacuation slide. (What’s the point of YouTube if not disaster preparedness, right?)

Of course, dramas are also a source of worries. Here’s a brief list to keep you up at night.

I prefer boys who cuddle teddy bears to ones who emotionally abuse women.

Gong Yoo stars in a Kim Eun Sook drama. Most big-name drama screenwriters seem to have signature elements. For Kim Eun Sook, it’s her male lead: he’s inevitably a creepy, sexually aggressive slimeball that the audience is supposed to swoon over even as he sexually harasses his love interest. It happened in Gentleman’s Dignity, it happened in Heirs, and it happened all over the place in Secret Garden. Lots of people loved those shows, but I was always uncomfortable with their presentation of romance as something forced on unwilling women by men who would not be denied. And then there’s boyishly handsome Gong Yoo, who stole hearts as respectful, kind Choi Han Gyul in Coffee Prince. Even in real life, he’s an upstanding guy who’s known for paying his taxes on time and supporting children’s causes. So what would happen if these two worlds collided? Would all my years of fangirl swooning over Gong Yoo disappear in a puff of misery as he pinned his female lead against a bathroom wall, or made her cry because her purse wasn’t worthy of him?

And to up the ante: Kdrama actors have been known to pair up in more than one show. Think of Park Shin Hye and Jung Yong Hwa in You’re Beautiful and Heartstrings, or Yeo Gin Goo and Kim Yoo Jung in Iljimae and Moon That Embraces the Sun. What if Yoon Eun Hye, Gong Yoo’s Coffee Prince costar, signed on as female lead in my hypothetical nightmare drama? I couldn’t stand watching him terrorize her, no matter how good it might be for their careers. 

Can a site with such badly targeted ads really be long for this world?

Dramabeans shuts down. I bet Dramabeans is more successful than it’s ever been: English-speaking drama fans are becoming increasingly common thanks to recent publicity and the easy availability of Korean television on streaming sites. With the recruitment of new staffers, the site is branching out and becoming increasingly professional. But guess what? Pretty much everything comes to an end, and it could happen to Dramabeans, too. Remember My Soju? How about Television without Pity? Or maybe Geocities, the host for my first webpage? There are no guarantees on the Internet (or in life, really).

So what would the loss of Dramabeans mean to the fan community? A lot. Whenever I’m watching a show that Dramabeans doesn’t cover, the world feels a little topsy-turvy. I look to their recaps for definitive interpretation and insight into things I’d never be able to understand on my own, as someone who knows next to nothing about Korean culture. It’s the Kdrama equivalent of the old-fashioned morning paper—even if you don’t read every article, a scan of the headlines will keep you informed of all the essential news. And then there are the Friday open thread posts, which are great for keeping tabs on what other people are watching and thinking. There are other great drama sites out there (many of which regularly scoop DB), but Dramabeans feels like the heart of the fandom in a way they never do.

Other related fears include that all the new blood at Dramabeans will dilute its fundamental spirit, or that the site will be sold outright to some huge company and lose its scrappy, homegrown soul. So far, there’s no sign that either of these things will ever happen—but who knows what the future holds?

Just say no...to plastic surgery.

Yoo Ah In gets eyelid surgery. In a recent episode of Secret Love Affair, someone suggested that Yoo Ah In’s character should have double eyelid surgery. I may have hissed aloud in response, and perhaps even thrown something soft at my television set. (Think pillow, not cat.) Precious few things in this world are held sacred, but his lovely, almond-shaped eyes should absolutely be among them.

My relationship with Korean plastic surgery has gone through a few distinct stages. At first I was blind to it, then I was totally obsessed with it, and now I just don’t care—with a few exceptions. There is definitely such a thing as going to far, and I wish people would just stop with the surgery after their debuts. When I already know and love your face, I don’t want it changing. I don’t care what you’ve done in the past, but let’s agree that it’s time to stop after your premiere role.

Are you listening, Yoo Ah In, Yoon Si Yoon, Yoo Seung Ho, Yoon Eun Hye, Gong Yoo, Park Shin Hye, Kim Woo Bin, IU...? If you want, I can even come to Korea and be your Ugly Companion. (That’s like a sober companion, only instead of helping you stay away from controlled substances, I’d make sure you never got within 100 yards of a plastic surgeon. And just seeing my ruddy-complected, zaftig-to-a-fault American self would probably help desensitize you to any perceived personal flaws.)

The tragedy of pay per play might one day be ours.

Dramafever starts charging by the episode. I think the horse is already out of the barn for older shows, but who says that a well-established, much-loved Dramafever wouldn’t someday decide to charge by the episode for newer dramas? In some ways, it’s a miracle that none of the big players have tried this yet. It’s like the streaming ecosystem in America—movies and TV shows start off as pricey, one-off rentals or purchases on iTunes or Amazon, and only then become available on all-you-can-stream services like Netflix.

Right now, the single best bang for your entertainment buck is Korean drama. For less than a hundred dollars a year, you can watch thousands and thousands of hours of commercial-free television on a number of platforms. (Believe me. I’ve done it.) But if a tier system was instated, watching a weekend drama would become a major financial commitment—at the $1.99 per episode Amazon is currently charging, you’d end up paying more than a hundred dollars to watch something like Empress Ki or Wonderful Season.

We’re already seeing a slowdown of Dramafever servers on days of new releases. They could very easily decide to manage this—and make more money—by charging separate fees for those shows.

Winter Sonata: YES!
CSI: Seoul: NO!

Americans become obsessed with Korean drama. It would be kind of fun if America fell in love with Kdrama: Korean-themed products would inundate stores, my local community college would offer classes in Korean, and our entertainment media would actually feature news and review coverage of the shows I watch. With recent coverage in big press outlets like USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, why couldn’t a Korean show be a big hit in America?

Then again, maybe I wouldn’t want this to actually happen. I haven’t conducted any research on this, but I suspect that Korean drama changed in response to Japan’s post-Winter Sonata drama craze. It seems likely that today’s pretty scenery and tragic, ill-fated loves can be traced back that show’s international success, and that these drama elements are still common because they’re used as bait for Japanese companies.

What would Kdrama look like if it was pandering to American viewers, not Japanese ones? I can’t even begin to imagine, but the very idea of it is horrifying. If I wanted to watch ensemble shows with hardly any female characters or procedurals about about cops and lawyers, I wouldn’t have sought out Korean drama in the first place.

On the bright side, it’s totally possible to rock an ROK uniform.

The great flower boy drought of 2015–2017. Here’s a brief list of Korean actors rumored to be starting their military service during the next year or so.

Yoon Si Yoon
Park Yoo Chun
Kim Jae Joong
Jang Geun Suk
Kim Hyun Joong
Kim Soo Hyun
Lee Min Ho
Lee Seung Gi

Essentially every big hit in the international community since 2009 starred at least one of these guys, from Boys over Flowers to Sungkyunkwan Scandal to My Love from Another Star. If they leave us en masse, new actors will certainly rise up to take their places.

But what if this marks the end of the pretty boy trend? Culturally accepted standards of physical attractiveness change over the years. A case in point: When the Lord of the Rings movies first came out, I bought a used copy of Two Towers that dated from the early 80sOn the cover was Legolas: bulky, buff, and bronzed, he had the physique of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and the hair of that guy from the band Warrant. Fast-forward twenty years, and take a look at the version of this character in the films. Willowy waif Orlando Bloom looked more likely to cry over a particularly lovely sunset than kick sand in somebody’s face on the beach volleyball court.

So if all these pretty young men disappear at once, might the delicate Kdrama ecosystem be damaged so severely that a whole new look will become trendy? I love my flower boys, and I’m not ready to lose them.

Restricted internet access—that’s a real nightmare.

The end of net neutrality ends streaming as Americans know it. Here’s how wikipedia defines net neutrality:
Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.
The U.S. government used to enforce this: All Internet traffic had to be treated the same way by service providers. Thanks to January a ruling from a federal appeals court, though, this practice is coming to an end. Internet service providers can now slow user access to specific sites or services at whim, essentially holding hostage content they disapprove of. The benevolent ISPs say they would never do anything horrible like this—even if it isn’t illegal—but a recent story about Netflix speeds rising after it paid ransom to Comcast might just prove otherwise.

Netflix and Hulu are big companies that can take care of themselves. They’ll pay what it takes to provide decent service, and our rates will rise accordingly. But what does this mean for a comparably small-potatoes service like Dramafever? Or Singapore-based Viki? Will they pay money to an assortment of American ISPs to ensure we can stream from their sites? Maybe they’ll just give up on us altogether, and the era of all-you-can-stream Korean drama will be gone forever.

(As my fellow obsessees probably know, Secret Love Affair was pre-empted this week for coverage of the Sewal ferry tragedy. If you need a fix, you might try the short fanfic I wrote this week. It’s PG-13-ish and is set between episodes 10 and 11.)


  1. I feel the same way you do about PS, after you become famous please do not change your face. If it was good enough for you to become a star, keep it that way. I'm not worried about military service, as you said it is an opportunity for other actors to get lead roles. I kinda wish female leads had the same turn over, I feel we see the same 20s aged actresses in every drama. SLA not being covered by Dramabeans forced me to seek out other sites for discussion, I think I could survive without it now.

    1. Totally agree with you. For every single big Kdrama hit, there is a rotation of male actors but it's always the same few 20s actresses. It hurts more when some just couldn't act well enough. I'm honestly sick of Yoona, Suzy and Park Shin Hye. I acknowledge that they are popular, but I would really appreciate better acting rather than just inserting idols as a draw tactic. Yoon Eun Hye, Moon Chae Won, Han Hyo Joo, Jung Yoo-Mi (I Need Romance 2012), Go Ara, Moon Geun Young are GREAT actresses, but we don't see them often in Kdramas. And even if we do, I hope more younger female actresses could have a shot.

    2. And because not many new 20s actresses are given a chance to star in female leads, there is a drought in good and consistent 30s actresses as well. It's always the same old few...Ha Ji Won, Lee So Yeon, Son Ye Jin, Han Ji Min, Song Hye Kyo. But they are really great at what they are doing, so I shall not complain. :)

  2. Great, now "net neutrality" will keep me up at night! DD:

    I feel the same way about plastic surgery. I'm not that great at spotting PS in the beginning but now that I'm a lot more immersed in Kpop culture I can detect it a lot easier and it makes me sad that these already attractive ppl need to "tune" themselves up. Also it freaks me out cause I'll be all "wahh! What happened?!"

    Lastly, hello! *wave* ...new lurker and first time to comment here! I so enjoy your blog! ^_^8

  3. Amanda,

    Great post as always! I completely agree with worrying about DramaFever and the flower boy drought...life without Lee Min Ho ugh!

    I thought I was the only one that excessively worried about things such as:
    1. What if someone were to burst into the movie theater and open fire (I have my exit route down to a science)
    2. (Weird One) What if the one day I decide to wear mix matched bra and undies and someone decides to rob a store that I frequent and asks everyone to strip down to thier undies!! (This is really a re-occuring nightmare for me)
    3. What I will watch when SLA ends!!!! ***there are no words to describe how obsolete my life will be***

  4. I was not the only one who hates the male leads in Kim Eun Sook dramas! And going berserk at the mention of double eye lid surgery for our precious Sun Jae.
    And I hate Comcast and their horrible service! I'm worried they might monopolize the internet service industry and I'll have to be stuck with them. I hope the currently ongoing merger deal with Time Warner falls through, please, please, please!

  5. *sigh* I am glad to know that I am not the only one who worries about some of these things. I think I would cry if YAI got plastic surgery for his eyelids T T I LOVE and ADORE single eye lids and I will never understand the obsession for double eyelids. Yes, I have heard many reasons, but I will never understand it.

    And Internet neutrality being lost is something that terrifies me. And all the stricter and stricter controls that the DMCA is enforcing to stranglehold the Internet and hold it hostage are the stuff of nightmares. I wish that the original spirit and ideas of the creators of the Internet were still in force.

    And thank you for articulating what so many of us feel Amanda.

  6. What?? Geocities is gone?? What about my precious piece of crap website I created when I had no idea what I was doing??? *wails* Well, you see how much I know about times a'changin

    I was happily reading along but now shit, I think I'm going to have nightmares about the net too. It worked Amanda. Your article worked and now I hate you.

    *grumbles off*

  7. Great points, especially about Dramabeans. Crossing my fingers that they'll be around forever. Just out of curiosity, does anyone know how Dramabeans makes revenue? I never see any ads on the site, so I wonder how they make money.

  8. Yes - Soju was my first foothold into kdrama, and I remember when that site went down. Now I am more adept at finding links, but I was seriously bummed for a while. I still don't understand why dramabeans isn't recapping SLA. For a mediocre year, SLA is an award winner. Of course, we all say that now, not knowing what crap the writers have in store. Please-- no cancer, amnesia, birth secret or bad loans. You are above that all.

    1. It might be that they want to enjoy themselves watching it. Sometimes recapping kills the love. At least dulls it.

  9. Amanda, I sincerely hope you don`t have bouch kabrit (goat`s mouth = prescience) because you outlined a number of horrible scenarios. TGFBD15-17 is the worst on my personal scale, for obvious reasons LOL, closely followed by net neutrality. We get our internet from the USA so I would be affected too. Bad enough that, with geographic restrictions, I can`t see most of the US streaming stuff (like Hulu or Dramafever)...*shudders*

  10. This is an AWESOME post.

    And we are possibly sisters from different mothers because I have been known to wake up at 0 dark 30 with epiphanies such as my apartment is NOT defensible against zombies, and there is no way I can fix this. I know all possible evac routes in my area, how to get off the local interstate and re route my destinations by surface roads (multiple routes), and the crap I have in my purse and my vehicle.....

  11. First of all, I always sit facing the exit so that I can have a few extra seconds if zombies come barging through the door. I don't want them sneaking up on me!

    Second, regarding the Great Flower Boy Drought, Lee Min Ho and Kim Soo Hyun are officially sticking around for now. Instead Yoo Ah In and Choi Jin Hyuk have confirmed that they're leaving this year. As someone who likes LMH less and less as time goes on (and YAI more and more as time goes on), this makes me very, very sad. All I can hope is that YAI and Song Joong Ki will star in a buddy show together once they're both back. A girl can dream, right?

  12. I don't think you need to worry about the flower boy trend. Koreans will continue to love their pretty boys. It's just a part of the culture. Has been for a long time.

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  17. It's 2018 and have you come back to look at your prophetic post. We now have Kocowa which has resulted in Viki Plus (which is very much a minus) and Drama Fever having way less content. Netflix has entered the Kdrama game which is not a plus for me and people like me who'd rather watch week to week so we can discuss the shows as they air with the rest of the international community. And that brings us to Dramabeans... who knows what's going on over there but it certainly isn't the same with far less relevant news posts and recaps; and many of the long-term bloggers have vanished without an explanation. If I try to find somewhere to blame, I can squint real hard and say this post lines up time-frame wise with just before these occurrences. Next time don't put your worries out into the universe. Although, I'd welcome the demise of the lipstick wearing flower boy look. πŸ˜‰πŸ€—