South Korea’S Culture Through Entertainment

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Korea is more mountains than anything else, none over 10,000 feet. The Koreans have one of the oldest culture in the world. According to the legends and myths concerning the origin of Koreans, the oldest and most often cited is the Tangun/Dangun. The legend says that Prince Hwanung, the son of Heaven’s supreme deity, descended on Mt. T’aebaeksan/Baekdu Mountain, along with 3,000 servants and built the “City of God” (Facts about Korea, 1963). Korean Literature started 1,500 years before the creation of Hangeul. Their writing and language which was founded or created by King Sejong in 1443 is called Hangeul. Hangeul consists of fourteen consinants and ten vowels. This is an opposition to the Chinese script, Hanja, which the early Koreans use. Koreans are very proud of this remarkable achievement, and Hangeul is a very efficient and easy script to learn and use, according to the book Facts about Korea (2014).

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UNESCO presents the King Sejong Literacy Prize to people who have made a distinguished contribution to the elimination of illiteracy annually. Apparently, most Korean writers preferred using Chinese characters, the Korean alphabet was used mostly by women; resulting in a precious stock of classical romances in popular style depicting the life of women in the royal court or aristocratic households during the dynastic period. The two most flourishing literary styles during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) were Shijo and Pánsori. Brief lyric verses that consist of three-line stanzas that contains compact messages are called Shijo. The verses were often improvised on special themes or occasions, sometimes intended to be sung. The Pánsori, which were more popular among the common folks, in contrast to Shijo favored by the learned gentry, were semi-operatic epic tales performed solo by traveling minstrels at village squares or in rich men’s parlors.

According to Keon (1977), Hwarang of the early Silla Dynasty was a collective movement of young men who devoted themselves in the cultivations of knighthood and comradeship based upon a common creed. In developing personality, the Hwarang movement emphasized the cultivation of benevolence, wisdom, filial piety, and loyalty. These young men also perform whenever they had gatherings and occasions to show support for the royal family. Unlike the Samurai of Japan, who are into battle and death according to Keon (1977), the Hwarang preferred the combination of pen and sword. Korean culture is widely known around the world in this generation. May it be dramas, music, fashion, language, and even food are getting its spotlight today. Many people are becoming interested in Korean culture mostly because of how the entertainment industry portrays them.

Korean Pop and Korean Dramas paves its way to have a “Hallyu Wave”. Hallyu Wave, translates as the “Flow of Korea”, began during 1990’s through music and dramas. It started to be known in other Asian countries around it through music. S.M. Entertainment’s boy group H.O.T. But first, look back at the history of television broadcasting that made the Hallyu possible. It began in Korea in the year 1956 with the opening of a private, commercial station serving the Seoul area. Sadly, the first television station was destroyed by fire 3 years after. Korean Broadcasting System a.k.a. KBS started operating back in 31st December of 1961. TBC-TV or Tongyang Broadcasting Company started back in 1964, TBC-TV merged with KBS-TV in 1980. Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation or MBC started in 1969. However, unlike in the generation today, there are limits in watching the television in the past. The airing time of television programs in Korea runs for 10 and a half hours during weekdays. On weekends, programs run for 18 hours (schedule: 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to midnight on weekdays, 6 a.m. to midnight during the weekends). The peak time for television viewing is 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. and the most popular type of programs include serial dramas, foreign movies, shows, sports, and news.

Most of the students prefer watching sports, movies, comedies, and game shows. Like how this generation adored the dramas and movies produced by these networks, it is similar to the past. Dramas and movies of South Korea also intersects with music and dance. Music and dance plays an integral part in all traditional theatrical performances, according to the book Facts About Korea (1963). A good example of this theatrical performances is the masked dance called T’alchum, half-pantomime, half-dance featuring earthy satire and humor. But as years passed by, dramas and movies overpowered the nation that made theatrical performances out of the limelight. Early Korean movies, like Hurrah! For Freedom (1946), had patriotic and anti-Japanese overtones, which applied to the Korean public suffering under colonial exploitation. These theme of movies and/or dramas are still being produced.

Some examples of it are the Bridal Mask/Gaksital (2012), My Way (2011), The Front Line (2011), and The Admiral (2014). Koreans value their culture by producing such films that will make them remember how they fought against the colonizers that brought suffering for a long time. Korean Dramas, mostly known as K-Dramas, are known worldwide. May it be a timely theme or a historical drama. Historical drama depicts the story of how the early Koreans live in their nation. The Korea also had a monarchy system that controls the nation. The King ruled the nation together with his family.

Many known Korean actors dream is to have a role in a historical-themed movie or drama. Actors like Song Joong Ki, Lee Seung Gi, Lee Joon Ki, Jang Hyuk, Park Seo Joon, Kim Yoo Jung, Park Min Young, and many more are known for playing roles in a historical drama. Examples of known historical dramas are Dae Jang Geum (known as Jewel in the Palace), Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth, Jumong, Gunman in Joseon, The Princess’ Man, Empress Ki, Dong Yi, Lovers in the Moonlight, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, and many more. (Reel Rundown, September 2018). Those dramas above vary from one genre to another. May it be comedy, drama, action, romance, and some are fantasy. I observed that like how they respect their king or royalties, that is how their entertainment culture got affected.

Koreans are used to bowing as a sign of respect to something older than them. This shows the authority that they have over the younger ones. It is the seniority culture. In Korea, there are Sunbae, which means senior, and Hoobae, which means junior. Being older gives you a privilege in using informal words or language when talking to those who are younger than you. However, in a certain field, even though you are older than others but you entered the field later, it means that they are your senior. It is their choice to use banmal (informal language) to you as their junior or use formal language as you are older than them. This creates lots of issues especially in Korea’s show business.

The Philippines, however, is just starting to create such films with the same theme. They are trying to create films that shows the story of their national heroes that died for the country. The country is trying to produce historical films that will open the eyes of today’s generation. Especially now that the country’s democracy is at risk in the current administration. Through films, producers and writers are showing the current generation the phrase, “history repeats itself.”

A Filipino actor posted a comparison regarding the support of the government in the Show Business industry, mostly known as ‘Showbiz’, in the Philippines and Korea is quite different. This actor started as an extra and antagonist in the earlier films, but he was known today as the portrayer of the Philippines’ first president Emilio Aguinaldo, Mr. Mon Confiado. In the actor’s post, he said that he is envious in how Korean government support local filmmakers and lets them use soundstages (studios) for free. I quote, “Now I understand why their Film industry is booming”, said the actor. He also pointed out his own observation about the Korean Entertainment Industry works. From Screen Quota, Korean Film Council, International Film Festivals, Censorship, Funding, etc. According to Paquet (2002), Screen quota system is system that enables local Korean films to be shown in cinemas 146 days a year. In this system, Korea’s local films will have an opportunity to showcase their movie and the mass can also pay attention to the local films instead of foreign films.

Korean Film Council (KOFIC), are in-charge in stimulating and protecting their domestic film industry and is responsible in promoting and supporting South Korean films. The closest Philippine counterpart of KOFIC is the Film Development Council of the Philippines. Its role is to ensure that the economic, cultural, and educational aspects of the film are effectively represented in the country and abroad. International Film Festival is a competition wherein movie entries from different country are judged and nominated for some awards. This award shows a big achievement for a future artist and writers that is behind the success of any film.

The censorship in South Korea’s entertainment is more liberal than the Philippines. They value the intension of the writer and director in including that scene as a part of the movie. Instead, they are relying to the KMRB’s (Korean Media Ratings Board) rating to ensure that they would not influence the viewers that are not in the right age. The KMRBs counterpart is the MTRCB that also gives ratings for any movies and shows. Some countries banned or simply edit out disturbing scenes that could add effects on some part of the movie, but that is not the system in South Korea. They just put ratings and warnings before the show starts or while promoting it. For example, in Korean dramas, they put the age limit that is suitable for the audiences.

Like what has mentioned earlier, South Korea’s government supports local filmmakers, thus they offered or give funding to those that are really passionate in doing the production or movie. They also build new studios for the filmmakers to use freely. They are also teaching basic moviemaking as early as in elementary students. Some schools are fully equipped in movie making tools and equipment. Movie Houses are also build in a remote area or provinces of South Korea. Unlike in the Philippines, movie houses or cinemas are only found in the malls. The Philippines is having a difficult time creating a historical-themed movies or series because most Filipino audiences are not that interested in Philippine History. They prefer romantic-comedy themed movie than a historical movie.

In conclusion to the topic, South Korea’s culture and tradition are continuously preserved through entertainment industry. Some are just transformed, but it is somehow similar to the previous ones that the early Koreans used. The lyrical poems like Pansori, evolves into music of this current generation. The culture and tradition can be seen in historical dramas that they produce. Observing these patterns, thankfully, South Korea likes to record historical events through the means of entertainment and leisure. Like writing a story about how their life went by today, a song about what happened to their country, and an artwork that serves as a miniature of the life in the early times in South Korea.

In addition to records, South Korea also used a ledger that contains all the accounts of the royals, may it be good or not. South Korea gained the heart of Asians and the rest of the world through preserving their culture. It is like hitting two birds with one stone; they preserved their culture through producing historical movies and series at the same time serving as a joy to the audience.

Sources:

  1. Facts about Korea (Korean Overseas Information Service, 1963)
  2. Facts about Korea (Korean Culture and Information Service, 2008)
  3. Lee, P.H. (1993), Sources of Korean Tradition (Vol. 1): From early times through the 16th Century.
  4. Keon, M. (1977), Korean Phoenix: A Nation from the Ashes
  5. The Korea Collection (Korean Culture and Information Service, 2011)
11 February 2020

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