A tsunami or an ebbing tide?By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Once derided as “Kimchi-novelas,” after the pungent and spicy staple of the Korean diet, Korean TV dramas were the harbingers of the “Hallyu” or Korean wave, a term coined by the Chinese media in the late 1990s to describe the sudden influx not just of Korean TV serial dramas but also of other “cultural products” like pop music and movies. The “wave” lapped at the shores of China and seemingly everywhere else in Asia, the Philippines included. Today, we can find the presence of Korean culture in such diverse spots as the Middle East, Africa, the United States and Canada, and even in the birthplace of the telenovela: Mexico and Latin America.
But, as one panelist asked at the recent forum “Hallyu sa Pinas,” which sought to examine the impact of the Korean wave in the Philippines: “Is the Hallyu a real tsunami or will it, like the tides, rise and fall with the times?”
Already, we are seeing signs of ebbing tides. Ma. Crisanta Flores, a professor at the University of the Philippines’ Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, noted that we are witnessing today a “low tide” in the popularity of Korean TV dramas, nicknamed “Koreanovelas” here, with the number of dramas airing this year on local networks down to nine (so far), a far cry from the 23 dramas that aired locally in 2000, admittedly a year that marked a distinct crest of the Hallyu in the country.
But if Koreanovelas are indeed waning in popularity locally (or is it just a symptom of cost-cutting among the networks?), Korean movies which have been making waves (and winning raves) internationally have yet to create a ripple here. Scan the movie ads pages and you will see nary a Korean (or any other nationality) film on exhibit. Why, just a few years ago, one could hardly spot a Filipino film among the plethora of Hollywood movies that dominate our commercial theater circuit. If you want to watch a movie made in Korea, you’d need to order it from online sources, attend a film festival (like the Korean Film Festival which opens next week), or catch it on Korean cable channels or on Cinema One, which has done a marvelous job showcasing not just Korean but even Thai and Chinese cinema.
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These days, the more visible and popular evidence of the Hallyu on our shores is “K-Pop,” music popularized by Korean artists, who may be solo performers like Rain, but are mainly so-called boy bands or girl groups.
Happee Sy-Go, vice president of Pulp productions, said she and her colleagues first thought of bringing in a Korean group when she happened to ask her younger sister what pop group they should try bringing in next, mainly because Pulp fare before then had focused on rock acts. To her surprise, said Sy-Go, her sister shrieked “Super Junior!” after which the girl started to cry.
That was enough to convince Sy-Go of the group’s popularity, but she said she didn’t know at the time what a “super headache” it would be to produce a “Su-Ju” concert. In fact, they lost money in this first performance which required scoring LED sets and importing equipment and production personnel from Korea and the United States. “But we recouped our costs with the second show,” mainly because the first concert opened the eyes of the previously reluctant sponsors who found in the band’s fervid following a viable market, she said.
Sy-Go and the other speakers agreed that the main actors pushing the popularity of K-Pop here were the fans, or in the lingo of the day, the “fandoms” and the fan community. Katherine Choy of Astroplus, a major music distributor, noted a distinguishing trait of local K-pop fans—“They buy albums to support their idols (one fan worried that her idol may ‘go hungry’ if she doesn’t buy his latest CD)”—as well as the “respect” they have for each other’s fandom.
Indeed, Gigi Yia of Sparkling Magazine, which caters to Hallyu fans, has even tracked the “stages of fandom,” which includes finding a support group or fandom of one’s own, paying a “pilgrimage to Seoul,” and culminating in “giving back” to other fans or to larger society by writing a blog, joining fandoms in outreach projects, or, and this is my own take, simply by growing up.
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What does Hallyu have to teach us Filipinos?
For Rachel Simon of ABS-CBN acquisitions and Jobart Bartolome, vice president of GMA for program analysis, it is recognizing and building on the qualities that draw local audiences, including a powerful story-line, Asian family values, good-looking actors, and superior production values. Indeed, they said, the popularity of K-dramas has inspired local networks to seek to break out of the tired mold of the sluggish dramas to which local audiences were accustomed.
Bartolome also spoke of the “stickiness” factor, with Koreanovela producers almost boiling down to a science the timing of cliff-hanger endings per episode, luring audiences to follow the sympathetic characters’ voyage through life.
For film director and CineManila organizer Tikoy Aguiluz, the government and Pinoy filmmakers could learn a lot from the Koreans’ deliberate and focused program to upgrade the quality of their movies and bring these to world attention. He cited in particular the Pusan Film Festival, which started small more than a decade ago but has since become a “major player,” promoting not just Korean cinema but also the cinema of Asia and the rest of the world. Pusan, said Aguiluz, not just exposed Korean filmmakers to new trends and approaches in film, but also exposed the rest of the world to the new films being made by cutting-edge Korean directors.
“Our neighbors are following in Korea’s footsteps, with their government giving their filmmakers funding to explore more experimental and daring movies,” said Aguiluz. “Why is it so hard in this country?”
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