ARTS + CULTURE
Crashing into the heartening Korean Wave (Hallyu)
2nd March 2021
Hallyu is a Chinese term that, when translated, literally means ‘Korean Wave’. It is a collective term used to refer to the phenomenal growth of Korean culture and popular culture overseas. The wave includes everything from music (K-pop), movies, online games, and Korean cuisine, to name a few. In 2012, President Obama, on his third visit to South Korea, even referred to the term in his speech at the Hankuk University, which struck a positive chord among the students on an otherwise policy laden speech. The rapid growth and spread of Hallyu has been a blessing for South Korea and helped to pave the way to develop its ‘soft power’.
I ventured into watching K-Dramas thanks to the uncertain times all of us were forced to face since early last year. Amidst lockdown, while stuck at home with nobody around, streaming websites became a friendly place to escape. ‘Crash Landing on You,’ as the title suggests, was an unplanned accident. What caught my eye was the fact that the story was about South and North Korea. The hugely successful show is a pleasant adventure that allows you to savour precious, heartfelt moments of romance, family, friendship, and food!
So, what is the show about?
A South-Korean heiress/business executive crash lands in North Korea after her paraglider is caught in a freak tornado. She ends up falling out of a tree, straight into the arms of a North Korean army captain. The captain, instead of turning her in, agrees to keep her safe and help her return home. The popular series- whose writers include a defector from the North- has earned worthy praise for its nuanced portrayal of North Koreans who were often otherwise depicted as stereotyped drab caricatures. It is interesting to note that the North Korean writer in the writing team had until 2004 served with the Supreme Guard Command, the elite security force which protects North Korea’s ruling Kim family. He was even assigned to work overseas. On one such trip back to Pyongyang, he found out that one of his friends in Moscow had reported to their bosses in Pyongyang what he had said in a private conversation which would have got him into trouble. So, he decided to defect alone, leaving behind his wife and son in North Korea, explains BBC Korea’s Subin Kim. Kwak had spent time learning about filmmaking in the 1980s. The North Korean film industry was booming back then because of the then-leader Kim Jong Il’s well-known love of art. Kwak, having undergone part of his resettlement process in South Korea, had mentioned his skills in filmmaking and was soon referred to a famous filmmaker by South Korea’s spy agency, and the rest has been history.
“the writers have taken enough interest and care to showcase an eye-opening account of the village life involving a group of women who eventually prove to be loyal to each other hence succeeding in squashing the typical portrayal of North Korea as an emotionless place.”
There are numerous daily chores and habits we take for granted, like a hot shower in the winter months. But for a North Korean, bathing in winter meant hanging plastic sheets over a tub of hot water to create a steam bath. ‘Crash Landing on you’ brought back childhood memories of a North Korean defector Noel Kim who says, ‘ That’s how I took a bath my whole life, especially in winter when water is scarce’ in a YouTube video. Most defectors have said that the drama is 60 per cent accurate in portraying North Korea and has been thus garnering praises across Asia and the United States. The show carefully ensures to treat with respect the otherwise easy material for stereotyped comedy wherein a wealthy South Korean woman is forced to live in a North Korean village. Therefore, the writers have taken enough interest and care to showcase an eye-opening account of the village life involving a group of women who eventually prove to be loyal to each other hence succeeding in squashing the typical portrayal of North Korea as an emotionless place. Some of the scenes from the TV show depict the marvel and surprise North Korean defectors may experience. These scenes are not portrayed to show the materialistic life of Seoul but rightly points at something much more than that, which is sheer excitement. The elites of Pyongyang proudly modelling various European designer goods takes the viewer to a completely different side of North Korea. The rich-poor divide is a harsh reality, and it seems as though it is no different in North Korea as well.
Although this sensational drama got most defectors excited, some have accused ‘Crash Landing on You’ of glamorising North Korea. A common example cited is that the villagers in North Korea seem to have plenty of food but, food shortages have been a recurring problem. Characters of K-Dramas are often featured eating together and scenes are rarely edited allowing mundane real conversations to carry forward the narrative. Korean dramas are extremely slow-paced and often actors miss out on their breaks. Hence, ‘eating scenes’ are conveniently added to the screenplay which allows actors to eat scrumptious meals albeit on-screen. Despite, the occasional criticism, this show brings in a fresh take on the portrayal of North Korea and encourages the audience to understand the complex yet lovable and relatable people and is a must watch if you have the time!
Crash Landing on You is available on Netflix and you can watch the trailer here.
Featured Photo from Netflix