When Lee Eun-hye, 24, a college student went on a trip to South America she certainly didn't expect this. Every time she introduced herself as a Korean, the locals would greet her eagerly, mentioning the Korean drama "Dae Jang Geum
" (English title "Jewel in the Palace") and the lead actress Lee Young-ae
. The same thing happened in Japan and China. People there would list the names of Korean celebrities like Bae Yong-joon
and ask her about the latest news in Korean entertainment.
She also met people who were studying Korean during her stay in Paraguay. When asked what motivated them to study the language, some told her the Korean dramas they watch made them feel close to Korean culture. Others found Hangeul (Korean characters) cool.
Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, has so far done more than enough to upgrade Korea's image, with television drama content leading the way. One of Korea's best hit dramas was "Winter Sonata
" (2003). It starred Bae Yong-joon
and its popularity in Japan became a social phenomenon, particularly among older, married women. "Dae Jang Geum
" was first aired overseas in China and then began to sell like hotcakes to Africa, Europe and some 60 nations, becoming Korea's first drama to travel around the globe.
However, it is also true that some of the enthusiasm for Korean drama and cultural content has waned a little. The heavy reliance on famous (and expensive) actors and budgetary constraints are some of the reasons why Korean dramas are partly to blame for hallyu losing steam.
The Korea Creative Content Agency (KCCA) of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has decided to spend 2.4 billion won to subsidize the production of a total of nine quality TV contents that include drama, documentary and movies. Two of the TV dramas in particular will receive funding of 500 million won each.
That's how "Swallow the Sun
", Korea's first drama to be filmed on location in Africa, was born. The drama aired in July and was introduced at the International Film and Program Market for TV, Video, Cable and Satellite in Cannes, France, in early October.
Other state-assisted dramas waiting to be released early next year include "Jejungwon", a story about Korea's first modern hospital established in 1885, and "The Fair Love
", about a middle-aged man meeting a woman 26 years younger.
"We have been assisting production of good quality TV dramas since 2002. We are now looking to widen our scope of assistance, now that even privately owned production companies have become eligible to receive our funds", KCCA researcher Seong Im-gyeong said.
Nonverbal performances from Korea
Live stage performances are another contributing factor to Hallyu. Word has spread not to miss performances of non-verbal shows like Nanta and Jump when visiting Korea.
Last month from Sept. 12 to 27, the Korea Tourism Organization hosted the 2009 Korea, Sparkling Festival that brought the country's big brand performances together.
The festival, which embraces Asia Song Festival and Korea Traditional Arts Festival, had its sixth year this year. Asia Song Festival is a festival that brings famous Asian singers from Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and other neighboring countries to perform. The Korea Traditional Arts Festival showcases a number of folk performances from old Korea.
Breakdancing, or b-boy competitions were also held around that time. The R-16 Korea, Sparkling Incheon 2009 Competition, held from Sept. 25 to 27, was participated in by 16 b-boy teams from 15 nations.
Hangeul is another proud brand name that is gaining steady recognition from abroad. The unique Korean characters have been earning praise from linguists from around the world as the most scientific and easy-to-learn writing system. The biggest news on Hangeul this year has been the official adoption of Hangeul by an Indonesian minority tribe in Bau-Bau city on Buton Island. The tribe produced its first textbook in Hangeul spelling for some 40 elementary kids and 140 high school students to learn.
Following the example of Hangeul, the Korean language must also secure its competitiveness. Last March, the Presidential Council on Nation Branding selected 10 tasks for spreading Korean. In line with the decision, the culture ministry came up with a unified brand name "Sejong Hakdang" (Sejong Institute) for Korean language education institutes around the world and decided to establish a total of 350 institutes both at home and abroad by 2015. For the first time, the ministry held a convention for Korean language instructors around the world to discuss ways to globalize the language and establish a network among participants.
Hangeul as a design has grown popular too. Fashion designer Lie Sang-bong demonstrated how to make fashion out of Korean characters through the debut of his Hangeul collection in a Paris fashion show in February 2006.
Inspired by Lie, many at home started to take part in making commercial designs out of Hangeul calligraphy. The King Sejong the Great Memorial Society, sponsored by the culture ministry, has held an idea competition for unique Hangeul designs since 2005. A Hangeul-shaped ruler, Hangeul-name stamp for foreigners, memo pad designed in the shape of Hangeul vowels and consonants, Hangeul-emblazoned cell phone holder and brooch are some of the times that made it to the finals. These products are expected to be commercialized in the near future. "The society has also been developing a number of calligraphy styles for Hangeul since 1993", Cha Jae-gyeong, the head of the Memorial Society said.
Hansik, Korean food
The annual survey conducted by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy and Presidential Council on Nation Branding from 2006 to 2008 showed that many people think of technology when asked about the image of Korea, followed by Korean food.
Kimchi and bulgogi are representative vegetable and meat dishes of Korea, respectively. Last April the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced a concrete plan to further develop and globalize Hansik, or Korean food. The projects include ways to make an industry out of competitive dishes, ways to upgrade the image of Korean food and ways to make Korean dishes more accessible.
Last June, a related taskforce presented Korean ribs (galbi), bibimbap, spinach-bean paste broth and other Korean delicacies at an OCED meeting held in Paris, France and elicited favorable reviews. Also on Oct. 9, the team prepared a kimchi-making and tasting program for Japan's First Lady Miyuki Hatoyama, who was accompanying her husband to Korea for summit talks.
Hanbok: Korean traditional dress
Hanbok, the traditional Korean garment, is also a big part of Korean traditional culture. The traditional Hanbok dress worn by Korean beauties in the Miss Universe Competition has always been the talk of town among Korea's internet users.
To boost the fervor for Hanbok, the culture ministry has held a Hanbok Love Festival since 2008. This year's festival takes place on Oct. 23 and 24. "We plan to present the elegance of Hanbok and show the time-honored tradition behind it", the culture ministry official said.