Clones, aliens, dystopia: Korean dra­mas go sci-fi

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Tv - By RUMY DOO Cir­cle

GENRE dra­mas fea­tur­ing in­creas­ingly su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments, long seen as lack­ing main­stream ap­peal, are flood­ing Korean tele­vi­sion re­cently.

Time slip has now be­come a sta­ple de­vice in both mys­tery thrillers – last year’s hit Sig­nal re­volved around walkie-talkies that con­nected its users to the fu­ture – and even in ro­man­tic come­dies such as To­mor­row With You, where the male lead was a time trav­eler.

Hit The Top, which be­gan air­ing in South Korea re­cently, fo­cuses on a K-pop idol singer-song­writer trans­ported to the fu­ture.

Dystopian worlds, aliens and clones have also be­gun pop­ping up in Korean dra­mas, tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated by love stories and pe­riod pieces.

Cir­cle, which be­gan air­ing on May 22 in South Korea, shows col­lege stu­dent Woo-jin (Yeo Jin-goo) in­ves­ti­gat­ing odd cases prompted by the ar­rival of aliens on Earth in 2017. De­tec­tive Joon-hyuk (Kim Kang-woo) lives in the year 2037 in a “smart” Earth where hu­man emo­tions are un­der strict con­trol.

The show’s pro­ducer Min Jin-ki wanted to tackle a story that would be “re­fresh­ing to view­ers,” he said at a re­cent press con­fer­ence. The pro­ducer of sci-fi drama Duel, which also be­gan air­ing re­cently, took on the topic of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in light of Korea’s grow­ing in­ter­est in ro­bot­ics. “I wanted to in­fuse clones with emo­tions,” he said.

In Duel, de­tec­tive Jang Deuk-cheon (Jung Jae-young) chases two sus­pects who pos­sess iden­ti­cal DNA and are di­vided into “good” and “evil” coun­ter­parts. In the com­ing episodes, the se­ries will un­ravel who is hu­man and who is a clone.

The new set­ups don’t nec­es­sar­ily in­di­cate that the bulk of Korean view­ers are over the K-drama for­mula of ro­mance and fam­ily melo­drama – cur­rently lead­ing rat­ings is KBS’ Lovers In Bloom, about the life and love of a fe­male cop. But they do hint that view­ers crave new ways for time-worn stories to be told, ac­cord­ing to cul­ture critic Jung Deokhyun.

“In Korean dra­mas, sci­ence fic­tion el­e­ments tend to be­come Korean-ised, jux­ta­posed with the melo­drama,” he said. “It’s a way to over­come the te­dious­ness (of K-dra­mas), but the themes of love and fam­ily still re­main very at­trac­tive to Korean view­ers.”

He gave the ex­am­ple of last year’s mas­sive hit Guardian: The Great And Lonely God ,a love story be­tween a su­per­nat­u­ral and hu­man be­ing.

At the same time, the diversification of gen­res seems to re­flect Korean dra­mas’ need to reach a larger in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence, es­pe­cially in light of tight­ened re­stric­tions on Korean con­tent in China that be­gan in 2015.

“Amer­i­can TV shows tend to be­come ref­er­ences for Korean thrillers,” said Jung, re­fer­ring to crime-solv­ing shows such as CSI and Medium.

Some Korean view­ers in their late 20s and 30s say they no longer find so­lace in sac­cha­rine love stories, and choose to de-stress through the thrill of mys­tery-solv­ing.

“I am tired of deal­ing with in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships in my ev­ery­day life, so I don’t want to see them in a drama se­ries,” said 29-year-old Lee Ji-won, a fan of Amer­i­can Net­flix se­ries such as Sense8 and Stranger Things.

“It’s not pre­dictable,” said 30-year-old avid drama viewer Choi Hyun-joo who’s a fan of Cir­cle.

“The set­ting of a fu­ture world stoked my cu­rios­ity. I like the feel­ing of not be­ing able to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on and wait­ing to see how it will turn out.” – Korea Her­ald/Asia News Net­work

shows a col­lege stu­dent in­ves­ti­gat­ing odd cases prompted by the ar­rival of aliens on Earth. — Handout

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