A fledging Korean-British actor by the name of Sean Richard got into the heart of the international phenomenon that is Hallyu, the Korean Wave and how it charmed the rest of the world.
With the advantage of both an insider and outsider, Sean speaks to the top dogs in the game. His exploration revealed a deeper truth and critique of the country’s culture that shaped Hallyuwood’s explosive success.
Here are our key takeaways from the documentary:
#1 – HALLYUWOOD IS MADE IN A PRESSURE COOKER
In Korea, stars are rarely born; they are made.
Aspiring K-pop idols start training from the age of 11 years old for up to 8 hours a day over a five-year period to be a lean mean entertaining machine. But all that hard work doesn’t guarantee success as less than 10% of these trainees end up debuting professionally.
On the other hand, romantics may swoon over the Korean dramas consumed but life behind the scenes is the world’s worst stress test. Writers are often writing in a separate room while scenes are being filmed to accommodate the deadline of two episodes screened in a week. It’s not unusual for actors to only get the scripts on the day of shooting, which calls for some quick memory work!
#2 – PRESSURE + PAIN = THE KOREAN X-FACTOR
The quest to be the best stems from being underdogs in the Asian landscape for too long and driven by that pain to succeed. After a lifetime of living under the shadow of China and Japan, the Hallyu wave has given life to a long overlooked culture and its unique people.
It’s that pain and emotion that is the undefined ingredient to the success of the Korea Wave. As female rapper and judge of Superstar talent show Yoon Mi-rae explains, the wounds from Korean history are still tender to the touch, and it’s this feeling of cross-generational discontent that comes through in the performances of K-pop stars that makes it so highly engaging.
#3 – WHEN THE PRESSURE COOKER POPS
The Hallyu wave has become a national identity, and Korean stars know the implicit responsibility they have with upholding the country’s reputation. Unlike Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, they are not merely international celebrities, but Korean cultural ambassadors wherever they go.
So what comes next in this fine-tuned entertainment machinery?
In a realm of manufactured pop, Bang Yong Guk of B.A.P believes that the machine does not encourage the creative spirit and process. Musicians should be allowed to break out of the mould and not fear being replaced, to truly evolve.
Byung Hun Lee, a crossover Hollywood actor, cautions the danger in following trends. Creators should think about quality, rather than quantity in leaving a cultural impact, he says.
Albeit these issues, there is a general sense of optimism in the longevity of the Korean wave. It’s merely just the start of something greater, and over time, if Siwon Choi is right, it’ll give rise to a borderless icon that supersedes all cultural differences to become a true international star.