A tsunami of cultural opportunity

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 28 Apr 2019

Trailblazing drama: Winter Sonata was the first Korean drama to be shown on national television here, and quickly became popular among Asean viewers.

THE Korean Wave was the topic of the day at the Asean-Korea Media Forum held in Seoul recently, with experts saying that it has, in fact, enhanced cultural exchanges between the republic and the region.

Under the theme “Korean Wave in Asean: Successful Past and Sustainable Future”, speakers from media organisations, government and academia spoke about ways the phenomenon could be further spread through partnerships in the region.

The Korean Wave, or Hallyu, refers to the global popularity of South Korea’s cultural economy exporting pop culture, enter-tainment, music, TV dramas and movies.

June H.L. Wong, chief special projects officer of Star Media Group, however, felt that the region’s mainstream media did not ride on the first Korean Wave when it hit the region in 2002. It was then that Winter Sonata, the first Korean drama to be shown on national television here, quickly became popu­lar among Asean viewers.

A long-time journalist and Korean drama fan, Wong cited several reasons for this, including the fact that the region’s mainstream media tended to focus on Western products instead, a lack of interest on the part of journalists, lack of access to verified information, and of course, the language barrier.

“It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the media started covering K-entertainment as awareness, access and opportunity improved,” said Wong, in her paper “Asean Media’s Role in the Region-wide Popularity of the Korean Wave”.

The forum was organised by the Asean-Korea Centre and The Korea Herald on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of the Asia News Network, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in Seoul over several days recently.

The ANN is a 24-member media alliance comprising members from Asian nations, set up to provide avenues for co-operation and to optimise coverage of major news events in the region.

Role models: BTS even attended a high level meeting regarding youth during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year. — AP
Role models: BTS even attended a high level meeting regarding youth during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year. — AP

Wong said that by 2011, Asean media had regular coverage on K-pop culture and today, its stories are an accepted part of Asean news content.

Noting that for the millennials, the new mainstream media was social, Wong added that K-idols and their fan clubs have become the supreme masters of these tools to keep in touch and up to date.

She stressed the importance of English as the bridge that connects Korean soft power with the world.

“More pop songs now include English lyrics and more pop bands have English-speaking members, like BTS’ Kim Nam-joon,” she added.

Wong believes that mainstream media will do a lot better in the third Korean Wave, adding: “This is because Asean, with 630 million people, offers the greatest potential for Korea’s pop culture’s expansion.”

Mainstream media, she added, should cover more topics which fan sites and blogs do not cover, including tourist destinations beyond Seoul, Busan and Jeju, and touching on other Korean culture like food, architecture and literature.

During the opening ceremony, Asean-Korea Centre secretary-­general Lee Hyuk said the Korean Wave has become “a crucial pillar” in the strong relationship between the two regions.

“Better understanding of each other’s culture will help us to appreciate and respect each other. We should continue our efforts in fostering a better environment to expand relationships through a lively social, cultural and people-­to-people exchange,” he said.

Asean, he said, is significant in the growth of Hallyu, adding that it is the second-largest market for Korean music and broadcast content, totalling US$86mil (RM356mil) in 2016.

The Korean Wave is expected to play an important role in stimulating greater partnership, coupled with President Moon Jae-in’s New Southern Policy to prosper together with Asean, said Kwon Chung-won, chief executive officer and publisher of The Korea Herald.

Jang Won-ho, a professor at the University of Seoul said the empathy being cultivated among members of the BTS fan club, while idolising Hallyu content, has lead to the creation of a cultural community beyond national borders.

“It should be the future of Hallyu,” said Jang.

He also noted the influence of BTS, saying that since the band saw themselves as a role model, the band has been working with bodies like Unicef to raise funds for the “Love Myself” campaign.

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