Korea and the world – culture and entertainment – the Hallyu – part 1

March 26, 2010 at 11:55 am 4 comments

I will try to post a series of articles about the 한류 (Hallyu), first defining what it is for people who are new to this phenomenom, and then trying to analyse some of its components, what kind of conclusions we can draw from it, etc.

1- What is the Hallyu ?

Where does the term come from and what does it define ?

If you are not familiar with Korean entertainment and culture, you may not have heard of the term “Hallyu” until now. Let’s start by saying that it’s pretty sure it’s because of this phenomenom that I became interested in Korea in the first place – and everything that followed (I am very fond of this country, its people, its food, its culture, everything … well, almost (too much confucianism can be quite heavy to bear)) !! Without that, I doubt I would have travelled to Korea. And I wouldn’t have been able to see the results of this phenomenom with my own eyes in several asian countries.

So, now, have I triggered your curiosity ?

Well, if we just look at the word :

– ‘한’ (“han”) is the character meaning ‘Korea’ (as in ‘한국’ -> Korean country, ‘한국어’ or ‘한국말’ -> the Korean language, …) – it is also the character said to define the very unique Korean feeling (the “Han”), the supposedly very essence of what Korea and being Korean is, but it’s not the topic here,

– and ‘류’ (“ryu”) appears to be a Sino-Korean term (a big part of the Korean language is derived from Chinese characters) that means  ‘current’ (like current in the water, or the current of time), meaning a ‘flow of something’ (in this case, a ‘flow of Korea’), but it is more commonly translated as ‘wave’ in this case.

Therefore, if you put the two characters together, you get “Korean wave” – that is the commonly used translation of this word. And it’s actually quite a suitable term for what it defines : a Korean wave that reached the shores of pretty much every Asian country, and even made its way to the West (USA, Europe) – just not as strongly as in Asia, and even reached Middle-Eastern countries !

It’s not surprising that the word used to describe this case comes from the Chinese language (mandarin, to be precise) … since it is said that it was the Chinese journalists themselves who first used it (created it) to describe what they observed, back in the late 90s ! The Korean people then started using this word too, and so now it remains the only word used to describe this phenomenom.

So, let’s dig deeper now, and see what this whole “Korean wave” is all about.

Here’s a short definition of it that I found on the Korean Internet : 1990년대 말부터 동남아시아에서 일기 시작한 한국 대중문화의 열풍 (1). According to it, the Korean wave is the sudden popularity of Korean mass culture observed all around Asia since the late 90s. Basically, in 1996, Korean dramas (TV series) were being exported to China (I don’t know if it was the first time or if it had occured in the past), and there, they were met with a huge success, and within two years a ‘Korea frenzy’ had started, as Korean singers had also started to be appreciated outside their own country.

Winter Sonata : the drama that triggered the Hallyu in Japan. (2)

Photo credit : http://movie.naver.com/movie/bi/mi/photo.nhn?code=39492#ps

.

But it’s not all about China : Japan had its share in the process. Korean tearjerking drama “Winter Sonata” (겨울 연가, 2002 – I haven’t seen it but heard so much about it !) won the hearts of countless Japanese women, starting the Korean frenzy in Japan. To give you some idea about how big its success was, I saw with my own eyes tons of Japanese magasines with Bae Yong-joon, the lead actor of “Winter Sonata”, on their covers in Japan, in 2009 – several years after the drama first aired ! I also noticed places in Seoul clearly targeted at Japanese tourists since they also use his image to sell. Here’s a picture I took in Seoul this fall :

Proofs that the Hallyu is still on... (photo by Nathalie Veldhuizen, do not copy without permission)

The man on the poster in the middle is no one else than Bae Yong-joon, and he is surrounded by products with images of other famous Hallyu stars.

So, to sum it all up : ‘Hallyu’ is the expression created by Chinese journalists in late 90s-early 2000 to describe the Korean cultural success across Asia (and the world). Its most visible manifestations are all the Korean cultural products (TV series, movies, CDs, …) and stars (actors, singers, multi-entertainers) that are famous all around Asia (from Japan to Malaysia, through China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Philipines, …). In the West, it’s mostly through Korean movies (in Europe), or Korean idol bands that the Asian-American young people like, that we can see the Hallyu. But the Hallyu has also reached the shores of South-American countries, Russia, Central Asian countries, and even the African continent … The Korean Wave sure is a big wave !

I will explain more about things like the developpement of the Korean wave, its key players, the strategies adopted by Korea to use this phenomenom to promote their country, and other aspects of this huge and interesting topic in upcoming articles (hence the “part 1” on this article’s title).

Sources :

(1) http://100.naver.com/100.nhn?docid=771137

(2) Photo credit : http://movie.naver.com/movie/bi/mi/photo.nhn?code=39492#ps

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Creative Commons License
Korea and the world – culture and entertainment – the Hallyu – part 1 by Nathalie VELDHUIZEN is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 France License. (except the pictures)
Based on a work at eyeswideopen21.wordpress.com.

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