The Korean wave falters as cultural imports riseKorean soap operas continue to penetrate the world market. Even Arab stations have been buying them because they have less sex and violence compared to shows from the United States and Latin America.
It has been more than a decade since hallyu, or the Korean Wave, began to spread across Asia.
At first it was television dramas and popular music but now hallyu includes feature films, computer games, musicals and sports. This year one big ripple in the Korean Wave has been “Dragon War,” which became the first Korean movie to rank in the top 10 of Hollywood movies in terms of box office sales. It was shown on over 1,500 screens in the United States, the largest ever for a Korean film.
Today there are six Korean baseball players playing in U.S. major and minor leagues. Park Chan-ho was the first Korean to pitch in the MLB, and his appearances helped increase public interest in American baseball.
“As the world becomes more globalized, Korea’s cultural industry had to expand and offer more choices,” said Lee Dong-yeun, a lecturer at the Korean National University of Arts. “This is an inevitable process but even so, Korean cultural products only account for 1 to 2 percent of the global market.”
In the process of globalization, Korea has also become a major importer of cultural products. In the 1990s there was a sharp increase in the Korean content of domestic television with few slots for foreign shows. That has now changed and U.S. shows like “Sex and the City” and “Prison Break” dominate cable channels. In recent months a huge fan base has formed in Korea for the Japanese hit television comedy soap opera “Nodame Cantabile.”
Through legal and illegal Web sites Koreans have been watching Japanese television shows and getting easier access to J-pop.
“I spend my weekends watching Japanese television shows,” said an employee of an online game developer. The 30-year-old Korean woman said she is addicted to the shows because they are entertaining. She also conceded the shows have influenced her taste and style.
“Korean audiences have much wider access to foreign shows now,” Lee said. “The absence of barriers leads to more competition but is Korea really able to compete with well-financed foreign competitors? I don’t think so.”
The same goes for Korean musical producers. Show like “The Last Empress,” “Daejanggeum” and “Jump” have had some overseas success but that’s not enough.
“The musical industry has seen a lot more imports than exports,” said Lee Dong-hyun at PMC Productions, which created “Nanta,” a successful Korean show that made it to New York’s Broadway. “Language is the biggest problem for Korean musicals seeking to make an impact in overseas markets.”
Lee Dong-yeun believes the Korean cultural industry needs to cooperate with the government to strengthen its weak points.
He said the biggest problem that Korean cultural products face is the lack of a basic infrastructure, which includes management, intellectual property protection, sales and marketing.
“To overcome these weaknesses we must continuously educate and nurture intellectuals who are experts in creative thinking,” Lee said.
By Lee Ho-jeong Staff Writer [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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