Deep Dive into K-Dramas with Jennifer Kapral
Asia Society at Home
Discover your newest binge and get to know our staff a little better with the Asia Society Texas Center team's favorite ways to stay entertained indoors! With our Deep Dives each week, we take you on a journey into the obsessions of individual staff members for an in-depth look at a specific art form or cultural production.
Jennifer Stephan Kapral is the Director of Education and Outreach at Asia Society Texas Center. An educator at heart, she loves learning, teaching, and obsessing over which K-drama or J-drama or C-drama to watch next. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, spending time with her energetic toddler, and working on her novel.
Why I love K-dramas
Hollywood is late to the Korean entertainment phenomenon: Korean dramas and films have been a hit across Asia for decades. With Netflix and other streaming services bringing K-dramas to a global audience, it's never been easier to immerse yourself in the global phenomenon of K-dramas with a good show binge.
I started watching Korean dramas about two years ago, and am still riding the "hallyu" wave! Becoming a K-drama fan not only developed my knowledge and understanding of Korean culture, but it's been a springboard into cultural learning experiences for my family. When I'm deeply absorbed in a drama, I'll get super hungry (K-dramas involve lots of eating), so I'll take my family out for Korean food in Houston's Asiatown. My toddler loves dancing to K-pop, and my husband now requires bulgogi on the regular. I learn something new in every drama, and love that it's sparked new learning for my family too.
"Once you overcome the 1-inch barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films," said director Bong Joon-ho as he accepted his Golden Globe for Parasite this year. K-dramas have enriched my life, and I know they can enrich yours too. Embrace the subtitles and dive in!
What I am currently enjoying
I'm currently enjoying The King: Eternal Monarch, one of the most anticipated K-dramas of 2020. The story features a modern-day Korean king who passes through a portal to a parallel world where he meets a lively homicide detective mysteriously linked to his past. K-dramas are known for blending fantasy, science fiction, history, and reality, and The King tapes into all of these genres with a plot penned by screenwriter Kim Eun-sook, who wrote K-drama smash hits The Heirs, Descendants of the Sun, Guardian: The Great and Lonely God, and Mr. Sunshine. The King's mythical storyline and strong cast guarantee an epic story that will undoubtedly have us reaching for boxes of tissues.
Find it on: Netflix
As I'm waiting for new episodes of The King to drop, I'm cycling in a re-watch of Crash Landing on You. The plot is absurdly fun: a billionaire South Korean woman accidentally paraglides and crashes into North Korea and meets an insanely handsome army captain who must help her get back home. The classic star-crossed lovers plot quickly takes off as the show explores its take on the economical, societal, and cultural differences been North and South Korea. This show blew up the ratings in South Korea and was a delightful emotional rollercoaster that never left me worrying for too long.
Find it on: Netflix
What I find myself returning to again and again
There are days when I want to watch a feel-good show that also has wit and depth, and that's when I go back to Romance is a Bonus Book. While a major plotline of the show is focused on the romance between successful author Cha Eun-ho and his long-time best friend/crush, Kang Dan-i, Dan-i's journey takes center stage as we follow her struggles to re-enter the competitive Seoul workforce in her 30s, reeling from a divorce after years as a stay-at-home mom. Her struggles and perseverance feel honest, real, and inspiring, something many women connect with as we feel her pain and cheer for her triumphs. As her story unfolds, the ensemble cast shines as we are drawn into rich subplots and complex characters that explore the challenges and successes of a small book publishing company.
Find it on: Netflix
Projects I am looking forward to
I love a good zombie thriller, so I've been thoroughly enjoying the second season of Kingdom, which is based on the webcomic Land of the Gods by author Kim Eun-hee. Set in Korea's Joseon period (1392–1897), the costume design is based on real Joseon fashion, with its featured Joseon-era hats becoming an Internet sensation as obsessed fans scoured the web to learn about the importance of and symbolism behind the hats. These incredible costumes and the beautiful set design provide a stark contrast to the violent and disturbing zombies (boy, they can run), making for enthralling cinematography. This second season was another huge success, so many of us are hoping for and anticipating a third season.
Find it on: Netflix
I've also been closely following the buzz around a drama that will release in the fall, Here. There's a lot of talk but few details about Here, which will tell the story of an international NGO. The all-star cast includes Lee Byung-hun, who most recently gave a stellar performance (i..e, had me sobbing nearly every episode) as the lead in my favorite sageuk (historical drama), Mr. Sunshine. Other cast members include Han Ji-min, Shin Min-ah, Bae Sung-woo, Nam Joo-yuk — all huge names in the K-drama industyr.
Find it on: Kdramapal
An artist that excites me is
I love the work of director Ahn Pan-seok, who directed One Spring Night (reviewed below), the stunning and beautiful Secret Love Affair, and my favorite K-drama I love to hate, Something in the Rain. His work permits dramas to go to dark and uncomfortable places as we explore characters and their relationships, questioning what we think and know about love. Through his work, I've learned a lot about Korean cultural norms, taboos, and family generational conflict, all topics that I can find points of connectivity to while adding more nuances to my knowledge of Korean culture. While I don't always love every scene or ending or plot point, his work always leaves me thinking (and usually rushing to analyze and discuss with other K-drama friends). He has a talent for incredible casting, as actor performances are riveting even when they're maddening.
My wildcard recommendation
My friend Jihye recommended this drama to me, and I am forever grateful to her for the recommendation! One Spring Night is quite different from other K-dramas in that it's gritty, realistic, and unravels unhurriedly. Lee Jung-in is a librarian, bored and uninspired in her current long-term relationship when she meets Yoo Ji-ho — sparks fly, causing her to question, then end her long-term relationship. Jung-in and Ji-ho become friends before eventually beginning a relationship. What makes this drama so interesting is that we get to see what happens when the characters realize that initial attraction is not enough, that they both have baggage they need to work through, and that most importantly, they need to learn to be honest and communicate. This messiness of being a new couple is rarely explored in any dramas, and I found it deliciously slow, deliberate, and compelling.
Find it on: Netflix
Business and Policy programs are endowed by Huffington Foundation. We give special thanks to Bank of America, Muffet Blake, Anne and Albert Chao, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Nancy Pollok Guinee, United Airlines, and Wells Fargo, Presenting Sponsors of Business and Policy programs; Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, and Leslie and Brad Bucher, Presenting Sponsors of Exhibitions; Dr. Ellen R. Gritz and Milton D. Rosenau and Wells Fargo, Presenting Sponsors of Performing Arts and Culture; and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Presenting Sponsor of the Japan Series. General support of programs and exhibitions is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Hearts Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, Inc., the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, McKinsey & Company, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, Vinson & Elkins LLP, and Mary Lawrence Porter, as well as Friends of Asia Society.
About Asia Society at Home
Though Asia Society is temporarily closed, we are dedicated to continuing our mission of building cross-cultural understanding and uplifting human connectivity. Using digital tools, we bring you content for all ages and conversations that matter, in order to spark curiosity about Asia and to foster empathy.
About Asia Society Texas Center
With 13 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and West. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach.