The Korean Wave, dubbed Hallyu by Chinese journalists, is the export boom of Korean pop culture to Asia and the rest of the world. From TV dramas to music, video games and fashion, a substantial audience for Korean-made entertainment is deliberately being courted in countries like China, Japan, the South-East Asian nations, and even in North America, enabling South Korea to be one of the top ten cultural exporters in the world.
It all started with the K-drama Winter Sonata, which won a huge following in China and Japan, as well as other Asian countries. This TV show, replete with good-looking actors, familiar themes of Confucian-style love and family, as well as portrayals of upscale modern lifestyle, led to a demand for more shows, which Korean producers gladly provided. Now these qualities have long been embodied in Japanese pop culture (especially in J-doramas), but Korean pop culture has made in-roads in countries adverse to Japanese influence, due in part to its aggressive colonial past. Thus, this surge of interest has helped push offshore sales of Korean movies and albums aka K-Pop, and sparked a tourist boom in the South Korea. Nami Island is one such example: after being featured in Winter Sonata, this scenic, tree-lined destination has since been crowded all week long by fans of the show as well as regular visitors. Korean actors are now the highest paid entertainers outside Hollywood, aside from Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and some are breaking into Hollywood, like singer and actor Rain. Some countries like The Philippines have made local versions of K-Dramas, like My Name is Kim Sam Soon and Full House, and Korean expat entertainers have become popular in their respective host countries.
Korean brand consumer products like LG, Samsung, and Hyundai have also benefited from the Korean wave. In many Asian countries, it is easy to spot trendy people sporting hairstyles, clothes, and makeup inspired by Korean fashion. Korean food has also found new attention, as people want to sample cuisine they saw on the drama shows. And Korean festivals all over the world saw attendances rise as Korean culture grew in popularity in the past years.
The boon of ready K-dramas allowed Asian networks to reduce cost by reducing production of their own shows, which made Korean shows all the more ubiquitous. And a major force that is driving the wave are women, who are taken by the soft, almost effeminate look of Korean actors and musicians. These factors have created a backlash in Asia: some entertainers in China and Taiwan are calling for a limit in K-drama imports (especially when they notice that South Korea doesn’t import other countries’ shows in turn), while manly men are decrying the softening down of the traditional qualities of male attractiveness. Mix this in with the recent under-performance of movie and album sales, and some might think that these are signs that the Korean Wave has already receded.
This may not be a bad thing, because it would mean that now would be the perfect time to visit your favorite Hallyu destination in South Korea without having to deal with crowds of your fellow fans. If you, for example, want to see Nami Island (as seen on Winter Sonata!), take a train from Seoul to Gapyeong Station, then ride a cab to the ferry wharf at Gapyeong Parking Lot, a board a ferry to the self-styled â€œisland of magic and fairytalesâ€. And if you are interested in visiting other Hallyu attractions located in Seoul, the city government has thoughtfully provided the Seoul Hallyu Map which points out the most famous places where significant scenes from your most-loved K-dramas were filmed. These include Choong Ang High School from Winter Sonata, Changdeokgung Palace from Jewel in the Palace, and Myeongdong from 200 Pounds Beauty. The Hallyu map can be acquired for free at tourist information centers within the city.