Korean Pop Culture Obsessions: Notting Hill (Updated!)

Notting hill koreans

Ever wonder why in certain dramas people only seem to reference Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie in reference to Hollywood movie stars? Well it’s that train of thought that started me down this pop-culture rabbit hole.  Unfortunately, the “Brangelina Effect” is too tall an order for me to tackle at this moment. Instead, I’ll discuss my findings of another Hollywood treasure, the 1999 Rom-Com Notting Hill.

Now Notting Hill is very near and dear to my heart.  When I used to work for a movie theater, we each had name tags indicating our favorite film, so I went with the “hip” answer by choosing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Royal Tenenbaums, and Run Lola Run. Fantastic films in which to lord over the average theater patron with my faux cinematic pretentiousness, but put a gun to my head and out comes Notting Hill every time.

Because I literally watch this movie once a season without fail, I am fine-tuned to notice any references (be it real or imaginary) that crop up, so when Secret Garden‘s Oska played “She” (Notting Hill’s equivalent of “My Heart Will Go On”), I always wondered if the Korean reception for the film surpassed even America’s or Britain’s.

So this is the result of my exhaustive “research”, and I’ll touch on some conclusions upon finishing, so dig into some tasty mayo yogurt and enjoy!

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Top 5 – Secret Garden References

Secret Garden parody collage

Much too long intro:

Secret Garden was my gateway drug into Korean pop-culture, stemming from randomly watching it on Netflix. I fully embraced the crazy, the repetitiveness, the odd couple(s), and the ridiculata.  It wasn’t till months later I started watching dramas regularly, so I really had no idea of just how crazy popular it was both in Korea and world-wide.  But once you watch three dramas in a row using the Secret Garden OST, suddenly the 8th billed actor is getting their own starring roles, and you see articles from the WSJ on Hyun Bin’s return date from the military, one begins to think that this show might have had some cultural impact.

It will be interesting to see if such similar phenomenon will occur with My Love From the Star, which IMO has been the next drama that enraptured world and provided gangbusters ratings.  Thus far MLFTS has sold out lip-stick, opened drama based-exhibits, and made Jeon Ji-Hyun (and chicken with beer) more popular than what was thought not possible, but I feel it’s star will fade faster then SG.  Mostly because there is so much more material rife for parody with SG.  Simply put, the humor from SG came from a mix between laughing at it, as well as with it, whereas MLFTS has decidedly less mockability.  This may seem like a total take-down, but it’s not my number one drama for nothing.  It’s much easier to remember Gil Rae Im and Kim Joo Won walking at a turtles pace in tandem then even a well-crafted joke or one-liner.  Which is why I took note of the many, many times Korean shows payed homage to the body-switching phenom, and before you can say “but the cheesecake, that was some other bitch” here is number 5.

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Top 5 – Instances of Soccer being used in K dramas

This edition of top 5 is taking its cue from the beautiful game, which will be having a moment in this upcoming little known tournament sponsored by the Football Is Forever Always group.  So in order to spread the word, this post will be dedicated to the times when futbol, putbol, chuggu, voetbal, bola sepak, and yes even soccer became apart of K-dramaland.  Apologies to those who watch K-dramas to avoid watching the thirteenth repeat of a Bundesliga match highlight reel, but unlike 95% of Americans, I can’t get enough, so anytime I can share soccer and its culture I will partake! In fact, during a study abroad trip around Europe several years ago, my go-to small talk “in” was bringing up 2010 cup in South Africa, which did become a problem upon reaching the Netherlands and talking to the Dutch…

6b788__71403042_dutch_gettyBesides the fact Europeans were shocked an American girl wanted to discuss the unfairness of Ghana’s heart wrenching loss to Uruguay (I’ll never forgive you Luis Suarez), it proved a great ice breaker.  Which is also why if I suddenly dovetail into some soccer related story that snowballs into the last match of my high school career, just ignore.  Sometimes you never know when soccer team nostalgia pangs will hit, and when they do, I’ll just remind myself of the good ole days..

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Now onto the list!

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Top 5 – Character names in K-Dramas

What’s in a name? From what I gather,  traditional Korean names are composed of family, generational, and individual syllables. Often with literal meanings (like intelligent, beauty ect) as opposed to more meaningless English names.  Which is to say that when naming people in Korean dramas, writers can give plenty of information about the character just by the name he/she goes by.  Here are some of my favorites:

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Drama and television viewing habits (narcissism edition!)

Here is a rundown of some of my viewing habits/bias which is probably for my own sake but might give insight into some of my ranking.  In all likelihood its the narcissist in me who needs to be seen.

  1. Characters >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Plot – It’s why Mad Men is my favorite show even with episode descriptions like “A computer comes to the agency while Peggy receives a flower delivery.” Or why I find dramas with mixed receptions like Flower Boy Next Door or Pasta intriguing long after others have deemed them “boring”.  As long as the characters are interesting and well rounded, I will never require any long standing mysteries,  parents or second leads used as plot devices,  or makjang elements to shake things up.
  2. That said, though I prefer my characters to be realistic and 3 dimensional, I don’t really have a similar issue with sci-fi or gimmick elements that become plot devices instead of being thoroughly integrated into the story.  For instance, some of Secret Garden’s complaints (similarly You Who Came from the Stars) dealt with how the body switching/sci-fi element was wishy washy, and never fully explained. I liked that it was used further character development, provided ample comic fodder, and was used enough to add tension and stakes, but not so much as to get annoying or for the audience to lost track of the whose who.  Basically it all comes back to characters. (for an English example, I much prefer the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who, compared to the Moffat reign, as one featured a delightful cast of recurring players, while the ladder had a series of convoluted plots.)
  3. Did someone say comic fodder?  One thing thats is necessary in my TV and can make a average plotted show into complete chamazingness territory is a funny bone embedded into the shows DNA.  The King of Dramas and History of the Salaryman are two of my favorite dramas, and I can easily say both shows had several flaws, missteps, and plot holes.  The single characteristic that kept me throughly entertained was that both were “mother father” hilarious. I recall History did an especially good job of adding humor throughout an episode, no matter how sad or dark things became for our heros (See a Weekend at Bernie’s elevator ride). Breaking Bad‘s pitch black comedic sensibilities were the only things that kept me going during the darkest hours of that depressing show.
  4. Can’t be too long – self explanatory but I’ve never watched a drama longer than 28 episodes. So many dramas, so little time.
  5. Other kinds of dramas I’m not crazily into – the revenge and/or serial killer thriller, ANY medical show (E.R. did  me in when I was 12), the traditional sageuk (though I still need to watch one..), and your standard melo.
  6. Things I totes adore! – slice of life dramas(Coffee PrinceFriday Night Lights) genre hybrid hodepodge (think I Can Hear Your Voice or Chuck), sci-fi or supernatural premises, subverting gender dynamics, biracial characters (mixed baby I am), bromances, shows not set in Seoul, NYC or LA, and of course romantic intrigue!
  7. Interestingly enough, when I choose a drama, its not based on the actors but heavily weighs on the plot description, trailers, and other people’s opinion.  This definitely varies from movies where even if Matt Damon is rocking a fat suit, I’d still buy that ticket.  Guess its really the instance of having a dynamic actor make a 2 hour film watchable vs. suffering through 20 hours of So Ji Sub trying to convince the audience (and himself) that his love for Ha Ji Won is worth it (I wish I never wanted to know What Happened in Bali).  That said, if a drama has two actors I like, it has a much better shot at me watching it even if the description seems average (por exemplo -the two Gongs in Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy).
  8. Now disregard everything I just wrote.  I mean all rules are made to be broken right?  none of these are rules but “It’s more like guidelines anyway.” Another of my favorite shows is Nine Times Travels as it’s possibly the most tightly plotted (and best use of time travel) show in recent memory.  Basically, where is the fun in getting everything you want?

Any show that does right by its acting, writing and directing will be good, and with that surely controversial statement those are  my 8 simple rule for dating  viewing biases,  yay lists!