By Kim Ji-soo
It's hard to see such top Korean stars as Song Hye-kyo
or Jun Ji-hyun
on Korean screens these days. Song is in China, busily learning Cantonese and martial arts for her role in Wong Kar-wai's forthcoming film. Jeon is reportedly working in Shanghai, also with her eyes on a role in a Chinese film.
Their overseas activities is spurred largely by the popularity of "hallyu" or the Korean wave, which began in 2002 in Japan and China. It started as demand for Korean dramas, films and pop music and peaked around 2005 and has spread gradually since then.
"People say that hallyu is gone. What they don't realize is that hallyu has now spread to become part of people's lives and economy", said David S. Shin, director of Korean Institute for Hallyu Research.
Hallyu has come to embody everything from pop cultural content, to food, to "makgeolli". In the case of Central Asia and the Middle East, where Korean pop culture spread after the initial craze in Japan and China, the demand for Korean electronic goods is high, Shin said.
"With makgeolli, the amount of lactic bacterium is high, and its 6 percent alcohol content makes it just right for consumption, so that it's now a part of Japanese consumer's lives", Shin said. There is another drink that's slowly gaining attention: "bokbunja" or Korean raspberry wine.
As the initial demand for popular cultural contents spread over to such traditional Korean products as makgeolli, to "hanok" to "Hangeul", the next generation of hallyu is all about bringing out the Korean spirit.
"When I meet with Japanese and Chinese fans, they all wonder about the origins of the warm-hearted sentiments depicted in the dramas", said Shin. "Of course there has been criticism about outlandish and repeated storylines, but they appreciate and want to know about Korean people, our sentiment and our 'jeong'. "
The Korean sentiment also embodies respect for life, peace, well-being and environment. These ideas are represented in traditional Korean attire, housing and food, including Korea's fermented favorite, kimchi.
"But these need a strategy of fusion, where they are applied with modern designs or technology that will appeal to the international world", Shin said.
There is also the concern that hallyu is a too one-sided push by Korea, which could prompt repercussions in other countries. After the initial fervor for Korean pop culture, Japan and China both went through anti-hallyu phases of what they saw as "high-handedness" of Korean drama-makers as well as a get-rich-quick approach by some. Shin said Korea is not immune to the "Galapagos Syndrome". The New York Times last year referred to the sluggish performance of Japanese cell phone makers in overseas markets as the "Galapagos Syndrome", where Japanese makers made one of the most innovative and creative cell phones but by not adopting international standards their product was limited to the local market.
"We need a cultural convergence between the analog and the digital, the traditional and modern and the national and de-national", Shin said.
David S. Shin, director of Korean Institute for Hallyu Research, talks to The Korea Times about the next "hallyu" or Korean wave.
/ Korea Times photo
by Shim Hyun-chul