Some thoughts on kdrama quality

I guess I shouldn’t really let half formed opinions loose as they may end up as springboards for someone else’s post. πŸ™‚ It’s a great post with perfectly valid points and in it’s turn made me mull a little more on this topic.

The cynic in me is saying that TV in general is getting dumbed down everywhere. Entertainment is business and the reason for business is to make a profit, preferably with as little cost as possible. Quality takes time and effort, which in turn usually costs more. So why ‘waste’ good money on that when you get better returns with aiming at the lowest common denominator. Why else would there be so many reality shows everywhere? Oh, I’m not claiming that everything in TV was brilliant in the ‘good ole days’ (or has to be brilliant even now) but at least there was an effort to produce more shows that needed more than the attention span of a gnat and brainpower of a plankton. Of course, one could claim that it’s the audience tastes that have changed but I’m not entirely buying that. Isn’t it just one more convenient excuse?

Now, I started watching kdramas by accident at a time I was thoroughly bored and slightly disgusted with what western tv was offering. I loved the limited length of dramas and at the time they felt so deliciously different from what I was used to. Of course, when enough time had passed I realised that kdramas, and dramas in general, have more in common with western shows than I originaly surmised. After all, the themes are pretty much universal. It’s the execution that differs and gives asian dramas the distinct flavour they have, both in good and in bad.

It was in late 2013, after a year of being constantly disappointed with the offerings, that I posed myself a queston “Was the writing in kdramas always this bad? I clearly remember a time I loved what I was seeing and the stories held me totally captivated. Was I just blinded by the ‘new and shiny’ so as not to see the failings?” and came off with ‘don’t think so’ and ‘yup, it’s a factor’. *g* I still think that writing in kdramas has gone downhill. I’ve only seen a small percentige of all the kdramas that aired before ‘my time’ but even with that I feel there is ‘something’ missing in many of the shows in recent years. For the most part at the core of even the most basic, pedestrian plot was a genuine effort to tell a compelling story. Never mind all the stupid attached to it for whatever reason, one could get past that. I’m not averse to watching silly fluff every once in a while, but I’d prefer it to be well made silly fluff. There’s a difference. No need to re-invent the wheel either or use cheep gimmics in order to look fresh or original. Just plain good storytelling, as simple as that.

The production values these days are much better and with the higher picture quality dramas look a lot grander. Unfortunately the bling tends to mask the fact that if you look under the hood, half the engine often seems to be missing. If the shiny surface is all you need, fair enough. It’s just that I want more, an actual story that goes somewhere and has a proper trajectory, has characters worth rooting for, captivates me, gives me food for thought (if it’s one of those shows) or even makes me laugh my head off. And why shouldn’t I? Is wishing for better scripts something I shouldn’t do? Does it make me a pretentious git? You tell me…

15 thoughts on “Some thoughts on kdrama quality

  1. Hello, a first-time visitor here! *waves*

    I agree with a lot that you said, especially “I’m not averse to watching silly fluff every once in a while, but I’d prefer it to be well made silly fluff.”

    It is definitely true that K-dramas struggle with writing mishaps a lot (particularly in the latter half of most series), but I don’t necessarily think that it’s gotten a lot worse over the 6 or so years that I’ve watched dramas. I think we’ve just become more demanding about storytelling and as the production value keeps improving, we expect writing to improve as much as well.

    However, K-drama industry suffers from really intense airing-schedules and dramas rely on ratings a lot, with writing being largely influenced by both. For instance, should a drama be unable to start filming according to initial schedule (due to accidents on set or last-minute cast/crew changes), the writing also suffers in quality. At the same time writing is constantly adjusted to the viewer, in order to get good ratings. So that means the writer’s original vision might be changed a lot just to make the viewers happy, even if that means dumbing down the plot (I’ve seen that way too many times). I don’t know if you’ve seen King of Dramas, but that show shed quite a lot light on issues like that. Of course, while acknowledging all those aspects of the industry, I still take pleasure in cursing writers for ruining dramas half-way for me πŸ˜€

    But K-dramas aren’t the only ones that suffer from bad writing. US shows can be just as disappointing and ruin a good thing half-way because the creators want more profit. Even the shows that I still watch and love (such as The Walking Dead) are plagued by lazy writing, especially since creators try to milk the show as much as possible, while stretching the plot super thin in result. In my experience, only shows that are less dependant on ratings and their fanbase, are able to take the story from point A to point B, without messing up somewhere in between.

    I guess what I suggest is just trying to accept that profit tends to come before storytelling in most cases, but don’t give up hope entirely either. Occasionally, some shows do come along that give you a compelling story that you can enjoy from start to finish πŸ˜‰

    PS: Sorry for the long comment.

    • Hi there! *waves back*

      Oh, I agree on all the points you mentioned. I just wish there were more of a balance between pandering to the punters and quality writing. That goes for shows from any country actually. I hardly watch western shows anymore as it’s very seldom I find one that interests me enough to bother checking them out. And when I do find one they almost without fail get cancelled with no resolution. XD What I do like about Asian dramas is that most have a fixed episode count so you know there is a beginning, middle and end to it. Of course the ending may suck like a hoover but that’s another matter. *g*

      I do enjoy long comments, so no need to aplogise. πŸ™‚

  2. I just saw your blog and read this and I’m in super agreement with what u said and even commenter Evelyn. I don’t even know what to say because I will repeat everything you all just said. But my own small contribution….I have been recently watching old dramas as compared to new ones that are coming out because the old ones are full of life and have a meaty story to it. Yes everything is clichΓ©, but life is clichΓ©. Anyways, when I watch those dramas I’m like er, there is a recent drama with an identical plot not I’m like ah plagiarism. ..hehehe…because it feels like writers are using out of those ideas and trying to spin it in a new way…probably think that viewers will forget the old shows where these actors starred in or was a breakout role for them.

    It is not easy to write a play or even a 16 or more episode drama…and truthfully, I applaud the writers and try not to criticize their work as I used to, but now I think they just want to capitalize on a drama just because and you can def tell on that either by the actors the cast (inexperienced idols as leads, for example) or the obvious flop in writing that begins medicore and ends so bad you wish you can go back in time and slap yourself silly for thinking of wanting to watch the drama you thought will turn out okay.

    I’m not saying old dramas had it all, but that’s was why we drama lover feel in love with dramas today…because those dramas might be far-fetched from reality, they still made sense in the drama world. They didn’t go off scriot based on what the viewers think who the OTP is and do a quick switch a roo on us. And even if they did, it was still acceptable.

    Okay, I just realized this is not a short response. Hahaha. My bad! 😁😁

    • Well, I do wish kdramas would stop recycling plots ad nauseam. I don’t actually mind if they tell a similar story but with a slightly different take on it or a change to the point of view. A skilled writer and/or PD can spin even a basic plot in a way that makes you think it’s a new story and often the changes are not even major. Whether the story is something new or an old chestnut I’d still want the story make sense and have a proper ending based on what went on before. There have been quite a fiew recent dramas that confuse the heck out of the viewers, which probably wasn’t what the makers were aiming at.

      A lot depends on roping the right actors/actresses in the roles as well. I don’t think I’m ever going to understand why they think giving main roles to untested noobs or idols is a good idea. I mean, even those with natural talent are usually better off staring out small, in side or supporting roles. Acting is a craft and you don’t learn it overnight. “No-one becomes a smith at birth”, like they say here. πŸ™‚

  3. Hehe thanks for your patience, reading all that! πŸ˜€

    Yup! I’m the same. I’m all for pretty faces and nice bodies. But yeah, that’s not enough if the plot and characters suck. I don’t get it either!! I have totally given up on shows only to visit forums etc with fangirls ranting on and on about how good-looking this and that actor is. And they will keep watching just for them etc. =/

    YES. and LOL @ pointy objects! And usually when love triangles or whatever happen, I’m left wondering what on earth do the two characters actually see in the third character to warrant them fighting over him/her. Cause I would think that the character at the centre of the love triangle would be such a compelling one that literally everybody would be attracted to them and fight over them. But usually that isn’t the case, so it just comes off very strange to me. Also, they really need to cut out the lame romance ‘co-incidences’, or any other co-incidence really. It’s like, in almost every other drama, X will be dating Y who happens to be an ex-gf of Z who is the son of A and whose company Y and X is also working in; and A is X’s mother’s long-lost lover and they re-ignite their love when they “accidentally” bump into each other in the company elevator when X’s mother comes over to deliver a bento set to X….Or some convulated thing like that. I mean seriously, this doesn’t exactly happen in real-life all the time (or at all), so I’m not sure why I’m seeing it in quite a number of dramas. Even the ones on the cable channels tvn and jtbc; which people claim have ‘better’ scripts, have things like these in their dramas too!

    Same here! I’ve been turning back to j-dramas lately too, after being away for 10 years. Mostly cause my mum has been watching them alot lol. But i find that even their medical dramas (which Korea loves to produce) have a much higher quality – in terms of characters, writing and plot conflicts. I would love to see K-drama explore those types of relationships too – like friendship or teamwork or like a drama where you see characters grow and overcome hardships – without having to fall in love with each other to do so.

    Yes, Mawang will always have a special place in my heart, along with Goong and Delightful Girl Choon-hyang. I used to be a fan of Joo Ji Hoon haha and dislike UTW in Choon-hyang, but he completely won me over in Mawang. Oh I haven’t! Was Resurrection good? I watched and liked him in Queen Seon-deok, but the story didn’t really engage me.

    Oh I’m watching Valid Love now, it’s not my cup of tea either. And I’m kind of regretting ever watching it. I dislike the female lead character and I start to feel really violent whenever she appears on screen lol. It’s like she’s such a hypocrite and says the most nonsensical stuff that I always wanna reach in and strangle her. I’m also appalled at how many people are in favour of the affair just cause the Carpenter is ‘hot’. I’m like…really? His expressions of ‘affection’ and general behaviour border on sexual assault and give me serious rape-y vibes but people are ok with it?? Also too much focus on the affair that I started to fast-forward all their scenes. Alot of bits I found to be rather ridiculous too, almost to the point where at times, I was half expecting the characters to turn to the camera and tell us whatever just happened was just an April fool’s joke….

    And oh no, another long post!!! =/

    • Oh, the tightly hemmed in kdrama world where everyone is connected with everyone else and with The Only Company in Town, The Only Cafe in Town, The Only Bar in Town, The Only Department Store in Town… LOL! I mean, Seoul is a pretty big city so how come they all end up in the same places, no matter what part of the city they hail from? I guess that is the Korean penchant for ‘fate’ at work right there. Could do without that too actually. πŸ™‚

      For some reason I’ve always been more in tune with kdramas, despite of the rather apparent flaws. Jdramas on the whole have been more of a hit and miss, only now I find I’m craving for stories that are more slice-of-life and with characters who feel more real. The thing I really appreciate is that many of the lead chars are older and look their age too. It feels like Japan isn’t as biased for youth and (plastic) beauty as Korea.

      Resurrection is great! It’s a tad too long, which kinda shows in places, but the story is gripping, the cast wonderful and UTW just rocks. XD I think it’s his best drama role to date and the one that really put a spotlight on him. Are you familiar with the plot? If not, I’d suggest diving in without any prior knowledge. It starts rather slow but once the revenge story proper gets going it’ll be full steam ahead for most of the journey. πŸ™‚

      Qeen Seon Deok… or Queen Snore Duck as some of us used to call it, is one of the most boring dramas I’ve ever watched, LOL! I suffered through all 62 episodes for UTW. Never again! It’s no surprise to read that people who got aquanted with our man through QSD, didn’t think much of his acting ability or charisma. That was the most inspid and flat I’ve seen him in anything before or since.

      Well, everything I’ve read about Valid Love makes me glad I didn’t pick it up. I wasn’t all that interested in it to begin with and as I skimmed through the 1st ep it just didn’t feel… right. I tend to trust my gut feeling and my gut didn’t like Valid Love, ha.

      Oh yeah, another long post. Yay! ;P

      • Hello again! I meant to reply earlier but life got in the way. Am enjoying our conversation:)
        Yeah, the fate thing. I actually think that some of these stuff that I get annoyed with at times are kind of culturally rooted. It’s like the types of things I suspect an average Korean viewer in Korea would be aye-ok with. That includes stuff like man dragging woman by the wrists, kissing her forcefully and against her will, evil mother-in-law, candy girl, rich arrogant chaebol etc. All these tropes/roles happen so much in almost every other drama that I’m starting to think it isn’t really co-incidence =/

        True.. recently, I think J-drama land has been full of idol dramas/manhwa adapted stuff like you mentioned above. I do agree about the looks thing though. The one thing I find that slightly irritates me at times when I watch Korean shows is how alot of them (especially the women) just look very eerily similar. In J-dramas there’s less of that cookie-cutter look to the cast and people look more diverse.

        I would definitely check out Resurrection thanks alot for the recommendation! I skimmed through your review of it (oops!) but it is definitely my type of genre. Need to find some time to watch it! Yup he was really flat in there, actually none of the cast were that interesting. Or maybe it was the writing, I couldn’t make it through a full episode in one seating past episode 12. =/

        Good for you! I have this horrid OCD thing of having to finish whatever I’ve started ugh! But it seems that similar dramas that are written about affairs (Wife’s credentials? secret love affair?) were much better received. I have yet to watch them but they sound very interesting. I don’t know why such a huge difference in audience interest though – probably the writing?

        And an interesting conversation below! I thought I was the only one who seriously mind seeing all these idols/singers/models in leading roles. Whenever you say something like that on forums, some fangirls get so defensive and pissy lol. But real, true acting is a very serious skill that needs to be honed over time. Maybe it’s cause cause I’m kind of in the theatre scene in my country…but sometimes I’d watch theatre actors who are just so so so good in their roles. And I’d be thinking, they deserve to be on a bigger stage, be known for their talent. But it’s so sad that most will just spend their lives in theatre, not really being known in any way, never being famous and not even being paid a tenth of some of these actors on TV. And then I sit myself down to a k-drama episode and see crappy acting from some idol or someone who wasn’t even properly trained but got cast in a lead role for their fanbase/looks..and I’m like.. SIGH.

        Oh, btw do you watch k-movies loads? What are your thoughts on them?

        Another long post!! πŸ˜€

        • Well, stands to reason that kdramas cater to the Korean audience, so a lot of the tropes are culturally rooted, like you said. Though I do think that the audience preferences are changing in Korea as well and things that used to be a big crowd pleasers aren’t working so well anymore. The networks just haven’t caught on yet.

          I learned to drop dramas pretty early on. No need to waste time on those that don’t work for you. πŸ™‚ ‘A wife’s Credential’ is great and not just about an affair either, e.g there’s a rather chilling peek at Korean education. I warmly recommend it. ‘Secret Love Affair’ is perhaps not quite as good but it’s by the same PD/writer combo and it shows. Their dramas always cover more than just one topic. I’ve watched 3 of their collaborations and so far they’ve delivered each time. Good reviews for both dramas: AWC / SLA – in case you want to know a bit more.

          Fans can be scary, ha. There are many who are seriously blinkered and get all huffy if you utter something even slightly negative about their darlings. I’ve seen so many nutty rants and attacks on people over the years, that I’d think twice before posting an opinion @ the more popular blogs/forums. I swear, there have been instances when I’ve wondered if the fan in question isn’t a few sandwiches short of a picnic. *g*

          I do sometimes watch k-movies but most of them are not my thing at all. They tend to be either too OTT, too violent, too depressing… just ‘too’ something or other. They are skewed in some way, there’s not enough balance. At least for my taste. πŸ˜€

          • I checked out some reviews on AWC and oh boy, the dark side of their education system, if I may call it that, is an exact blueprint of what kids in my country experience (I’m from a small Asian country). Gosh, I never thought there would ever be a drama centred around such a theme! Will definitely have to check it out, thanks so much for the recommendation!

            LOLLL. “Few sandwiches short of a picnic”! I think that way about fans like 99.9% of the time πŸ˜‰ I do agree, which is mainly why I steer clear of alot of forums (allkpop/soompi) etc etc. I just can’t deal with the overzealous ‘shipping’, the random interjections of Korean words in their conversations, the over-emphasis on the superficial etc. Feels like I’m back in middle school or something…

            Oh yeah, talk about OTT. I do find the ones I’ve watched to be usually too violent or too.. sexual? Like their sex scenes are very, very explicit and raw (even more so than Western ones in some cases), and I feel really uncomfortable watching that kind of thing. The violence is also usually pretty gory. And I just find the whole thing kinda perverse. I don’t know, its like Korea holds it in for their dramas and makes it (mostly) look tame and nice but then let themselves go in the movies.

            I see that you have scholar who walks the night on your list, I personally can’t wait for it too. First drama where I already kind of like 3 of the 6 main actors in the cast. Always like me some Lee Joonki in Saeguk getup haha, I just hope the story doesn’t bomb. And have you seen the bts pics of the 3 men? They are looking gorgeous. Makeup seems to be on point! lol.

  4. Hello Timescout! My first time commenting on your blog though I’ve been stalking for quite abit (oops). I like your reviews and opinions as you are really articulate, you discuss the deeper stuff and don’t fangirl on the superficial as much (oppa is soooo handsome!!!!!! omg i love seeing shirtless oppa!!!!! <3<3 – that really annoys me). I felt compelled to comment here as this is exactly what I have been thinking the past couple of years. I do think there is a decline in the quality of k-dramas over the last… 5 years? I mean there are some gems here and there, but I feel that they don't get as much of the promotion, hype and exposure as the others. I live in South-East Asia, and the k-dramas that get shown on TV are the usually the over-hyped ones (Heirs – ugh), or the looonnnngggg weekend type/family-drama/makjangs which really bore me (Smile Dong Hae, Jang Bo Ri is here). I think there's a huge decline in quality, to make way for all the more blingey, superficial stuff. I do agree production values have increased, but alot of dramas seem to rely on the same old tired drama tropes (poor candy girl meets rich boy, poor boy falls in love with rich girl, super tyrannical chaebol father in law, super evil mother in law. on and on this goes. Could some of these be cultural, I wonder?), and themes (romance…romance…romance). Like, can we get something that doesn't largely revolve around romance? There's so much of stuff in life that can be explored! Also, alot of dramas seem to rely on getting big names to carry the production. Or attractive people – my personal pet peeve. Just include a few big-name actors/actresses, throw in some idol-actors, a few shower scenes, violent kisses and tada!! Who cares if the script doesn't make sense??

    Onto the script and writing, I do tend to agree that there has been a decline in writing as well. Alot of scripts just…don't make sense. And while I'm all for plots that are unrealistic to offer some form of an escapism for the viewer, I just think the majority of dramas and scripts just aren't realistic. To the point where it's just plain ridiculous for me. And I'm someone who NEEDS some form of 'realism' in my drama – for the relatability factor. The characters these days aren't written too well either. They usually come across very one-dimensional – plain evil, plain narcissistic, plain superficial or just plain dumb. In many dramas I've watched, female characters tend to come across as overly-emotional airheads and the males come across as narcissistic a-holes. Is it too difficult to inject a little bit of layers and nuances into these characters? Humans are complex people so why are these characters in dramaland the total opposite of complex??

    I don't know… I find that it's relatively easy for me to drop dramas these days because I don't feel engaged with the plot and the characters. Also, drama discussions in fansites/forums tend to largely be around the actors looks or whatever, which is a HUGE turnoff for me. There isn't a huge amount of in-depth analysis. I don't exactly blame the posters (though quite a significant majority of them seem to be the types who are drawn into dramas just based on the looks of the cast etc). When the script is relatively shallow, there isn't actually much to go on about the drama, so the audience focuses on superficial things too.

    I've read that you are a fan of 'Mawang' which is one of my all-time fav dramas too!:) Being an UTW fan, did you watch Valid Love recently? I'm curious about your take on it. I'm super sorry about this rambly wall of text!!! I just got super excited reading your post and thought I could share my thoughts too. πŸ˜€

    • Hi there! *waves* You are quite welcome to ramble on, I rather like long rambly posts. πŸ˜€ You know, I was reading your reply and kept nodding and nooding in agreement with just about everything, ha. You touched almost all of the topics I’ve ranted about here and there over the years.

      Well, I do dip my toe in the shallow end every once in a while but a pretty face has never been enough to keep me glued to the screen if the drama does sucks otherwise. I just don’t really understand why someone would watch a show just for the pretty.

      A big resounding YES to the overload of romance! Like you said, there is more to life than lovey dovey. And while they are at it, they could finally ease on the love triangles, quadrangles and other pointy objects. I’d love to see more stories centered around e.g. friendship or camaraderie in general. I’ve been turning to jdramas a lot lately as there among the never ending procedurals and school dramas they still manage to make an occasional story that is both engaging and wonderfully down to earth.

      Yay! Another fan of Mawang. It’ll probably always have a special place amongst the dramas I’ve loved. Have you watched Resurrection? Unfortunatley Valid Love wasn’t my cup of tea. In fact all recent UTW dramas have been a bust for me for various rasons. I’m still patiently waiting for something of his that I’d love to watch all the way through.

      • Kdramas have something to learn from jdramas, jdramas have much more variation and as you say, are more “down to earth”, even if they also have the more crazy fun manga based dramas. I watch both kdramas and jdramas, just because it’s a nice variation.

        • I’d say jdramas used to have more variation. These days it seems like most of them are either procedurals or idol dramas. A lot of those that look more interesting and a bit different never get subs, so…

  5. YES. A proper story with engaging characters. That’s what I look for too, in a drama. And they ARE out there.. Just, not in as great a number as we would like, of course ^^

    I remember watching very few dramas in 2013.. Partly coz I was writing those epic reviews on a regular basis, and probably partly because 2013 was simply one of those years where there weren’t that many good dramas.. A reader on my blog mentioned something along the lines of the years of plenty, and the years of.. not, in kdrama. It does seem to make sense, in that 2012 was a year that I found quite a few dramas to enjoy, while 2013 wasn’t, and then I had a better drama year in 2014. So when that question hit you in late 2013, it probably wasn’t just you – dramaland really hadn’t had a great year, I think.

    Also, that “something’s missing” bit.. I feel it too, with some dramas. In my mind, that translates into heart. I feel like there are dramas that feel hollow, when what I look for in my dramas is heart. Not sure if that’s what’s missing for you too πŸ™‚

    • There is definitely ebb and flow with kdramas. Drama draught was pretty bad in 2013, while the years before and after were relatively much better.

      Yes, you could well be on to something. ‘Heart’ may be what is missing in quite a few dramas these days. πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.