Hallyu and Bae Yong-Joon
The Korean Wave, or ‘Hallyu’ as they call it here in Korea (할유 in Korean), is the term used to describe the popularity and influence of Korean entertainment and entertainers overseas: Korean pop music and singers, movies, television dramas, Korean actors and even products.
One of the most popular of the Korean dramas that ever hit the Philippines is Winter Sonata, whose lead actor, Bae Yong-Joon, has achieved a god-like status in Japan, where women of ‘a certain age’ (you know what I mean) worship him like, well, a god! They call him Yon-sama, a name that denotes the highest respect, and if you don’t know who he is, just visit a Faceshop store. His face is all over the place; he was the guy in a white shirt and spectacles, holding a bouquet and flashing that perfect smile which welcomed women, enticing them to buy Faceshop products.
The success of these Korean dramas usually results in a windfall for its lead actors who are offered lucrative endorsement contracts for products marketed in Korea or in another country where he or she has won fans through the drama.
In Seoul, even if you’re not a fan, you would still know if the current TV drama is a hit because the lead actor’s face is all over the city. Lee Min-Ho, who played Gu Jun-Pyo in Boys Over Flowers, was on posters plastered at donut shops. Other successful actors would be seen on TV selling products ranging from coffee, clothes, make-up, cell phones, apartment units and of all things, insurance.
And aside from the dramas, Korean pop music also has its own following, although it’s mostly for the younger generation represented by grade schoolers, teenagers and fans in their 20’s, who I’m sure can always pronounce the tricky Korean names of the individual members of the girl and boy bands. Some solo artists though have unique names: Rain (or Bi in Korean), Se7en (yes, the number) and BoA (not the reptile); and members of boy bands such as Big Bang (not the theory) such as G-Dragon (not the string) and T.O.P., which are easier to remember. I guess since the real Korean names of these entertainers are very common in Korea, they opted for foreign-sounding ones in order to stand out.
And when it comes to naming a group, the talent management companies have to come up with unusual names like Mblaq, SS501, Shinee, Super Junior, Big Bang, FT Island, CNBlue, TVXQ for boy bands; and Girls Generation, Wonder Girls, Jewelry, Secret, 2NE1 (Sandara Park’s group), and T-ara for girl groups, to name just a few, because with so many bands (I think one debuts every other week!), the fans should be able to remember the ones with unique names; although I’m not too sure as to the logic behind the naming of the two boy groups, 2AM and 2PM. I guess they were created within 12 hours of each other.
And when they have cute names, these members should also look pretty and handsome because that’s what the screaming fans like. With these boy groups trying to outdo each other in terms of costumes, hair style and makeup, they almost look androgynous; while the girl bands compete as to who has the biggest hair, thickest makeup, shortest skirts, sexiest choreography and catchiest tune. And some groups having eight or more members, they look like cheering squads on stage, instead of singers.
And did you ever notice that all members of these girl bands seem to look the same? In addition to their vocal coaches, costume designers, choreographers and makeup artists, they also have their cosmetic and dental surgeons to thank for.
And speaking of K-pop music, who can forget that song Nobody, Nobody from the Wonder Girls which was played everywhere? One time, I was on a bus here in Seoul when that song played over the bus’ radio when I noticed a girl in her high school uniform on the front of the bus moving to the tune while seated with her hands dancing to the choreography. The song was almost over when she realized she missed her stop! She frantically pushed the ‘Stop’ button and loudly asked the driver to let her off. She did get off, but didn’t finish her performance.
Let’s go back to the dramas.
Korean drama fans
And just like most of the Korean drama fans in the Philippines, the ones in Korea never forget the time slots of their favorite dramas. They either watch it at home, in their cars, at restaurants, at the gym while on the treadmill, or at their mobile phones (through digital mobile broadcasting) while on the bus or in the subway on their way home.
And for the international fans who can afford, they travel to South Korea to visit the locations where the dramas were filmed. Nami-seom (Winter Sonata), Hongdae (Coffee Prince), Namsan Park (Lovers in Paris), and of course, Changdeokgung (Jewel in the Palace) are just a few locations where fans head to. And most of them also visit the Namdaemun Market where they buy their Korean drama souvenirs to bring home.
The Philippine-South Korea Free Trade
But one fan in Manila, Cielo, who happened to be a good friend, could not get enough of her idol, Bae Yong-Joon, that she asked me to buy his poster and have it sent to Manila in return for a dozen Mary Grace ensaimadas, which she learned was my favorite. I told her the ensaimadas were enticing, but buying the poster would involve a certain amount of embarrassment for me since I was a guy and was worried how would the shopkeeper at Namdaemun Market think of me as I buy another guy’s poster. She immediately doubled the quantity! And in return, I bravely bought it and had it flown to Manila!
With this, I realized that all these years the trade between the Philippines and South Korea actually does not just involve tourism, agricultural products, manpower, cars, electronics, minerals and English lessons. With the involvement of Hallyu, new trading partnerships are created! Though not between huge corporations, it’s still a trade! While Cielo was ecstatic with her Bae Yong-Joon poster, I enjoyed the Mary Grace ensaimadas, which she sent through a friend flying to Seoul.
There may have been other countless trading partnerships between the Philippines and South Korea involving Lee Min-Ho, Girls Generation, Super Junior, Kim Bum, Shinee or Won Bin posters, and some Philippine delicacies. The two countries have been friends since 1949, and that friendship, strengthened by economic, cultural and social exchanges throughout the decades, has been even made stronger by Hallyu, Bae Yong-Joon and some yummy ensaimadas.
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(This article was written for AIM Leader, the Alumni Magazine of the Asian Institute of Management.)