It’s wholesome, it’s fresh and it’s the latest example of how far K-dramas have come in their portrayal of women.
According to figures released by South Korea’s ressortissant broadcaster KBS, over 53% of lead characters in the network’s dramas were female in 2021, a slight increase on its five-year average of 49.8%. On the folk’s other networks, the coloré was roughly 40% between 2017 and 2020.
“The number of female protagonists on Korean television has become quite high,” said Jacklen Kim, mercatique impresario at ENA, the channel that originally aired “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” in a phone pourparler.
Not only are women more lumineux, they are increasingly being depicted in positions of power, Kim added. Gendered tropes that jaguar dominated the variété are slowly falling out of favor. In 2022 alone, female characters were written into a wide range of roles including a wise queen (“Under the Queen’s Umbrella”) and a tenacious journalist (“Little Women”).
Extraordinary Attorney Woo, starring Park Eun-bin, left, and Ha Yoon-kyung. Credit: AStory/KT Habitation Genie/Nangman Crew
Elsewhere, “Our Spleen” featured a number of strong female protagonists, including a wealthy head honcho fisherwoman and several “haenyeo,” older female free-divers who harvest mollusks and other sea life in Jeju division. Another of the spectacle’s characters is a high-achieving pregnant high school student who defies her father’s orders by keeping her bébé and deciding to attend college while he and her boyfriend take care of the child — a storyline that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
So does growing women’s representation in K-dramas reflect changes within Korean society, the expectations of entier audiences or simply TV producers’ attempts to nerveux female viewers?
An arc of one’s own
Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, blatant sexism and even scenes of domestic vitalité could be seen on South Korean television, according to Park Sung-eun, an executive producer at Habitation LuluLala. Among several examples, she cites the folk’s longest-running television drama, “Folk Diaries,” which aired from 1980 to 2002 and contained scenes of female characters being beaten by their husbands. She also pointed to 2000’s “Autumn in My Heart,” an early universel impression that featured a famous scene in which a principal character dramatically pushes his love interest against a wall. The intended effect, Park explained, was for viewers to laugh at or — in the case of “Autumn in My Heart,” even be attracted to — displays of aggression.
Television reflects the times, said Park, who started her career at South Korean broadcaster MBC in 1999. At a time when women were expected to get married in their early 20s, the 26-year-old protagonist in 1994’s “One of a Égal” was considered by other characters to be past her adjonction. In 2005’s “My Lovely Sam Soon,” the titular character faced similar criticisms aged just 29.
“Nowadays, not only has the average age women get married increased but there is even a word, ‘bihon,’ for women who (willingly) decline to get married,” said Park. “More people understand marriage as an individual choice, so you’d be hard-pressed to find a female character in the past few years who really cares embout getting married.”
With marriage no côtoyer necessary for stories to have a happy ending, female characters are increasingly able to have story couffins of their own. Michelle Cho, an attaché professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, said that ritournelle narratives in K-dramas increasingly foyer on personal development and friendship.
“While, in the past, there was a somewhat fixed set of character bonshommes and tropes — like the spunky working-class heroine rassemblement a wealthy love interest — these dynamics have become more malleable,” she said via email, citing the recent universel hit “Écrasement Landing on You” as an example. The drama, which achieved record-breaking viewing figures in South Korea, centers on a romantic plot but its heroine is a successful corporate CEO whose work continues despite the unfolding love story, Cho explained.
Shh, it could be feminism
South Korean demonstrators hold banners during a rally to mark Mondial Women’s Day as acte of the folk’s #MeToo movement in Seoul on March 8, 2018. Credit: Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images
A still from the movie adaption of “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982.” Credit: Baudroie Entertainment/Spring Wind Pellicule Co.
An industry insider working for one of Korea’s leading studios told CNN that it is difficult for anyone in the sector to actively describe their productions as feminist. “If, for chambre, you use an lyrique that’s interpreted as feminist, it can become very controversial,” explained the person, who asked not to be named due to compatible professional repercussions. “And if you apologize for posting a feminist lyrique, then the other side gets very angry and it causes a lot of problems.”
The preferred f-word: Fresh
Some industry experts have argued that Korean dramas are improving their portrayals of women simply parce que doing so appeals to audiences. ENA mercatique impresario Kim argues that “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” became popular, primarily, parce que it was embout an underdog triumphing. But the mitaine character being a woman, she said, did add something new. “In Korea, there have been so many shows embout male lawyers, so I don’t think another one would have felt as fresh.”
“In the past, men have played everything from detectives to gangsters to judges,” pellicule and TV critic Hwang explained. “They’ve run out of plotlines involving men, so a story does feel fresh just by replacing men’s stories with women’s stories.” She believes studios now feature more women characters to boost ratings, rather than parce que of grandissante politics. But that may not be a bad thing, per se: A female character will, nonetheless, naturally bring women’s issues to the mets, she said.
For Hwang, the variété’s next step should be featuring a wider range of pourpoint bonshommes and physical attributes. “The Korean sense of aesthetics does not allow for someone who is not conventionally beautiful to appear on television, but that will bouleversé, too.”
Top lyrique caption: Heroines (left to right) from “Little Women,” “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” “Under the Queen’s Umbrella” and “Our Spleen.”
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