Why Do Dramas Do That? Part 1

Why Do Dramas Do That? Part 1 - Javabeans, Girlfriday

Short and to the point, the first part of Why Do Dramas Do That? is a fun overview of the wide expanse of Korean dramas. From culture specific terms/honorifics to common filming locations to the overuse of clichés, the two authors do their best to explain the cultural norms and expectations that might be impenetrable to non-Korean audiences.

The book could easily be divided into three sections: the first discusses important language functions and ideas that not have English counterparts, or least exist differently in Korean than they do in English. By far this is the most well organized section of the book, and the authors use very good examples from popular K-dramas to prove their points. It would have been very easy to write dry and dictionary-like explanations of the terms and concepts--and I have no doubt that I could hop on Wikipedia to find just that--so the efforts put forward an entertaining tone into the educational nature of the book is greatly appreciated. It's very apparent that both Javabeans and Girglfriday are quite knowledgeable about the topic.

From language conventions, the book moves onto "behind the scenes" trivia, which was the most interesting to read altogether. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Korean television industry is the complete opposite its American counterpart in every single way, in both execution and philosophical conception. Learning about the practices of live-shooting, for example, was extremely illuminating to terms of how dramas are created and how Korean fans affect the production of a show. Additionally, a substantial amount of time is spent describing the urban housing market of Seoul, the reputations that its various neighborhoods have, and how it's reflected in Korean drama. I personally would have liked to learn a little bit more about non-Seoul or more historical locations, but it didn't hamper my enjoyment of the book.

My praise, however, ends with the final half of the book. The meat (and selling point) of Why Do Dramas Do That? is answering questions about frequent cliches or archetypes within Korean media, and the book unfortunately falls flat. Too often, questions are answered with "well, it makes for good drama!" followed by a few examples of shows that utilize the stated cliché. There is very little explanation given for why certain aspects resonate so well with its native audience. It's a shame, because when the book actually does explain why Koreans like certain elements so much (f'ex, why Cinderella-esque narratives are so common), it's genuinely interesting. While it's understandable that the authors wouldn't want to rely to much on cultural generalizations or stray too far from drama-related facts, it ultimately ends on an underwhelming note.

Because of the short length and the amount of general information that can be found elsewhere, I would recommend waiting to buy this book when Part 2 and Part 3 are released. However, if you're the type of person who is mildly interested in the topic and you have a free afternoon to spend, it probably wouldn't be a disappointing read.