Korean melodrama

Korean melodrama refers to a subgenre of melodrama, which drew largely on native Korean narrative and theatrical forms through adaptations of traditional folk tales and pansori. This genre also drew its influences from Japanese theatrical "shimpa" and early Hollywood films.

The term melodrama originally stems from the Greek word melos, meaning music. However, in contemporary Korean melodramas, minimal music has replaced the typical throbbing and seductive tunes. Fifty to seventy percent of films produced in Korea and classified as melodramas and they typically portray the neglected corners of society and its exaggerated feelings and circumstances work to arouse empathy in the viewer.

Korean vs. Western

In contrast to Western Melodrama, the concept of suffering is a fundamental component. It is partly captured in the word han, which is a deep-seated feeling of sorrow, bitterness, or despair that originates in oppression or injustice which accumulates over time and remains unexpressed in the heart. It is believed by some to be a distinguishing characteristic of the Korean culture. Another distinguishing characteristic of Korean melodrama is the emphasis on family. While Western Melodrama tends to focus on the individual, the portrayal of the self in relation to the family in Korean Melodrama is significant. Early melodramatic texts typically dramatize the moral superiority of old values.

In American melodramas, restages of social and cultural values are also pivotal. However, there is more of a tendency to evaluate the rapid transformation of social relations by looking back and consulting the old order of things. In typical endings, characters whose world has collapsed around them usually find another form of personal satisfaction and re-invest their faith in the typical American dream: a classic Hollywood happy ending. Contrast this to Korean melodramas, where the main characters don't recover. When Korean melodrama characters realize they've lost it all, the film usually takes them back to a fleeting memory of past happiness and then ends, eschewing resolution.


Melodrama in Korea has been a dominant genre in the film industry since 1919. With early influences stemming from the Japanese theatrical shimpa (adapted from western melodrama), traditional folk tales such as pansori (an oral narrative poetry expressed in song) and Hollywood, Korean melodrama evolved from the 1920s up until the twenty first century.


  • 1910-45: Japanese colonialism subjected Koreans to violence, humiliation, and mass displacements. However, the Japanese simultaneously introduced shimpa. This new form of theater became widespread by the 1920s and greatly influenced Korean melodrama. Plots commonly revolving around heterosexual love, class differences, social change, and triumphing protagonists were central in both Japanese and Korean melodramas.
  • 1950s: Hollywood films entered the Korean Film industry when the U.S. occupied Korea after World War II. There was a Korean Cinema boom and melodramas became very popular. During this time melodramas focused either on modernization or the issue of "free love"
  • 1960s: Melodramas reached the peak of their popularity and focused on social issues such as highlighting economic struggles and class differences that divided society. Student uprisings were frequent and more grassroots protests for political and economic justice were prevalent which influenced the narration of Korean melodramas.
  • 1970s: Melodramas reached its low point for the film industry. Melodramas focused on the mood of the society in general, revolving around women who served alcohol or worked as prostitutes
  • 1980s: After a relaxation of censorship, melodramas depicted contemporary issues such as Korea's rapid development and the effects this had on the poor.
  • 1990s: Melodramas tended to focus on romantic comedies and action pictures. Also a new concept of melodrama began to form. In 1998, Christmas in August redefined Korean melodrama.

Central features in Korean melodrama

According to "Melodrama Revised," by Linda Williams, melodramas typically portrays five aspects.

  1. Melodrama begins, and wants to end, in a space of innocence
  2. Melodrama focuses on victim-heroes and the recognition of their virtue
  3. Melodrama appears modern by borrowing from realism, but realism serves the melodramatic passion and action
  4. Melodrama involves a dialectic of passion and action – a give and take of “too late” and “in the nick of time”
  5. Melodrama presents characters who embody primary psychic roles organized in Manichaean conflicts between good and evil


External links

About Time (TV series)

About Time (Hangul: 멈추고 싶은 순간: 어바웃타임; RR: Meomchugo Sipeun Sungan: Eobauttaim; lit. A Moment I Want to Stop: About Time) is a 2018 fantasy romance South Korean television series starring Lee Sang-yoon and Lee Sung-kyung. It aired on tvN from May 21 to July 10, 2018 on Mondays and Tuesdays at 21:30 KST time slot.

Bad Guy (TV series)

Bad Guy (Hangul: 나쁜 남자; RR: Nappeun namja) is a 2010 South Korean melodrama television series, starring Kim Nam-gil, Han Ga-in, Kim Jae-wook, Oh Yeon-soo and Jung So-min. Directed by Lee Hyung-min, it aired on SBS from May 26 to August 5, 2010 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 21:55 for 17 episodes.

Big Man (TV series)

Big Man (Hangul: 빅맨; RR: Big Maen) is a 2014 South Korean television series starring Kang Ji-hwan, Choi Daniel, Lee Da-hee, and Jung So-min. It aired on KBS2 from April 28 to June 17, 2014 for 16 episodes.

Bravo My Life (TV series)

Bravo My Life (Hangul: 브라보 마이 라이프; RR: Beulabo Mai Laipeu) is a 2017 South Korean television series starring Do Ji-won, Park Sang-min, Yeon Jung-hoon, Jeong Yu-mi, Hyun Woo, and Kang Ji-sub. The series airs four consecutive episodes on Saturday on SBS TV from 8:55 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. (KST) starting from October 21, 2017.

Glass Slippers

Glass Slippers (Hangul: 유리구두; RR: Yuri Gudu) was a 40-episode South Korean drama series that aired on SBS in 2002, starring Kim Hyun-joo and Kim Ji-ho as the two orphaned sisters.

Home Sweet Home (2010 TV series)

Home Sweet Home (Hangul: 즐거운 나의 집; RR: Jeulgeo-un Naui Jip) is a 2010 South Korean television series. The mystery melodrama starring Kim Hye-soo and Hwang Shin-hye aired on Wednesday and Thursday nights on MBC from October 27 to December 23, 2010 at 9:55 p.m.

Mama (2014 TV series)

Mama (Hangul: 마마; RR: Mama) is a 2014 South Korean television series starring Song Yoon-ah, Hong Jong-hyun, Jung Joon-ho, and Moon Jung-hee. It aired on MBC from August 2 to October 19, 2014 on Saturdays and Sundays at 21:45 for 24 episodes.

Marriage Contract

Marriage Contract (Hangul: 결혼계약; Hanja: 結婚契約; RR: Gyeolhon Gyeyak) is a 2016 South Korean television series starring Lee Seo-jin and Uee. It aired on MBC from March 5 to April 24, 2016 on Saturdays and Sundays at 22:00 for 16 episodes.

Miss Ripley

Miss Ripley (Hangul: 미스 리플리) is a 2011 South Korean television drama series, starring Lee Da-hae, Park Yoo-chun, Kim Seung-woo and Kang Hye-jung. Loosely based on Shin Jeong-ah's case, it aired on MBC from May 30 to July 19, 2011 on Mondays and Tuesdays at 21:55 for 16 episodes.

On the Way to the Airport

On the Way to the Airport (Hangul: 공항가는 길; RR: Gonghangganeun Gil) is a South Korean television series starring Kim Ha-neul, Lee Sang-yoon, Shin Sung-rok, Choi Yeo-jin and Jang Hee-jin, about married individuals who meet by fate and become more involved in each other's lives. It aired every Wednesday and Thursday on KBS2 at 22:00 KST for 16 episodes.

Passionate Love

Passionate Love (Hangul: 열애; Hanja: 熱愛; RR: Yeolae) is a 2013 South Korean weekend television drama series starring Sung Hoon and Choi Yoon-young. It aired on SBS from September 28, 2013 to March 23, 2014 on Saturdays and Sundays at 20:45 for 47 episodes.

Pure Pumpkin Flower

Pure Pumpkin Flower (Hangul: 호박꽃 순정; RR: Hobak-kkot Sunjeong) is South Korean television series starring Lee Chung-ah, Bae Jong-ok, Jin Tae-hyun and Jang Hyun-sung. It aired on SBS on Mondays to Fridays at 19:20 from November 15, 2010 to May 13, 2011 for 124 episodes.

Sad Love Story

Sad Love Story (Hangul: 슬픈연가; RR: Seulpeun Yeon-ga; lit. Sad Sonata) is a 2005 South Korean television drama series starring Kwon Sang-woo, Kim Hee-sun and Yeon Jung-hoon. It aired on MBC from January 5 to March 17, 2005 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 21:55 for 20 episodes.

Secret Love (South Korean TV series)

Secret Love (Hangul: 비밀; RR: Bimil; lit. Secret) is a 2013 South Korean television series starring Hwang Jung-eum, Ji Sung, Bae Soo-bin and Lee Da-hee. It aired on KBS2 from September 25 to November 14, 2013, on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 21:55 for 16 episodes.

Summer Scent

Summer Scent (Hangul: 여름향기; RR: Yeoreum Hyanggi) is a 2003 South Korean television series starring Song Seung-heon, Son Ye-jin, Ryu Jin, and Han Ji-hye. It aired on KBS2 from July 7 to September 9, 2003 on Mondays and Tuesdays at 21:55 for 20 episodes.The series is the third installment of season-themed tetralogy Endless Love drama series directed by Yoon Seok-ho. It had an average viewership rating of 10.7% and reached a peak viewership of 11.6%.

The Birth of a Family

The Birth of a Family (Hangul: 가족의 탄생; RR: Gajokui Tansaeng) is a 2012 South Korean daily drama about an adopted woman who struggles to make a family. It starred Lee So-yeon, Lee Kyu-han and Lee Chae-young. The daily drama aired on SBS on Mondays to Fridays at 19:20 from December 5, 2012 to May 17, 2013 for 115 episodes.

The Most Beautiful Goodbye

The Most Beautiful Goodbye (Hangul: 세상에서 가장 아름다운 이별; RR: Sesangeseo Gajang Areumdawoon Yibyeol; lit. The Most Beautiful Goodbye in the World) is a 2017 South Korean television series starring Won Mi-kyung, Choi Ji-woo, Kim Young-ok and Choi Min-ho. It is a remake of the drama of the same name by Noh Hee-kyung that aired in 1996 on MBC. The series airs on tvN every Saturdays and Sundays at 21:00 (KST) for 4 episodes.

This is My Love

This is My Love (Hangul: 사랑하는 은동아; RR: Saranghaneun Eundong-a; lit. Beloved Eun-dong) is a 2015 South Korean television series starring Joo Jin-mo and Kim Sa-rang. It aired on JTBC from May 29 to July 18, 2015 on Fridays and Saturdays at 20:40 for 16 episodes.Prior to the first episode, five 15-minute prequel webisodes were released every two days beginning May 18, 2015.

When the Devil Calls Your Name

When the Devil Calls Your Name (Hangul: 악마가 너의 이름을 부를 때; RR: Agmaga Neoui Ileum-eul Buleul Ttae) is an upcoming South Korean television series starring Jung Kyung-ho, Park Sung-woong, Lee Seol and Lee El. It is inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's work Faust. It is set to air on tvN in the second half of 2019.

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