Is the rise of Korean entertainment threatening Hollywood?

The rise of Korean entertainment threatens Hollywoods longstanding dominance in the industry.

Emily Wong

The rise of Korean entertainment threatens Hollywood’s longstanding dominance in the industry.

Emily Wong, Arts and Entertainment Editor

With the surging popularity of Korean entertainment overseas, it challenges Hollywood’s long standing dominance in the industry.

Hollywood has led the way for the entertainment industry since 1915, being the first to introduce movies with sound to the world, and kept viewers hooked with different styles of production such as musicals, dramas and documentaries.

With Hollywood movie stars becoming idolized celebrities, Hollywood gained their huge reputation of fame and inspiration. However, with the rising global success of Korean entertainment, viewers should see for themselves how the focus of global influence is shifting from Hollywood to South Korea.

The Hallyu wave, the term describing the popularity of Korean content, has turned the tide in the worldwide entertainment industry As the consumption of Korean entertainment overseas increased these past few years, Korean dramas and K-pop slowly made their impact to the world outside of their native country.

South Korea made its major breakthrough in the film entertainment industry with the global success of Netflix’s most streamed show of all time, “Squid Game”, marking a total of 1.65 billion hours viewed the first 28 days the show was aired. The nine-episode show, released on Sept. 17, 2021, follows the male protagonist, Gi-hun, as he and 455 other financially struggling players risk their lives to play children’s games with the chance of winning 45.6 billion won. 

The unique storyline and enthralling emotions evoked through each character built a deep connection with the viewers. This exceeded the cast’s expectations as it instantly became a massive hit; the series reached top 10 in 94 countries and led Korea to be ahead of the game. After this groundbreaking phenomenon, fans from all over the world were on the lookout for more Korean dramas that could capture their attention like this show did. 

Since the release of “Squid Game”, more dramas topped the Netflix charts for several weeks, including “All of us are Dead” in 94 countries, “Hellbound” in 93 countries, “My Name” in 91 countries, “Narco-Saints” in 82 countries, “Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area” in 77 countries, “The Silent Sea” in 77 countries, “Business Proposal” in 58 countries, and “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” in 57 countries.  

In contrast, well-known American shows on Netflix such as “Bridgerton: Season 2” reached Netflix’s Top 10 chart in 93 countries, “Stranger Things” also in 93 countries, “The Office: Season 2” in 16 countries,  “Riverdale” in 31 countries, and “Grey’s Anatomy: Season 17” in 23 countries. 

Before the recent worldwide success of K-dramas, Korean entertainment was confined within their country and only a few films and shows made it to the western media.

Before the recent worldwide success of K-dramas, Korean entertainment was confined within their country and only a few films and shows made it to the western media. Netflix was introduced to Korea in 2016, but “Mr. Sunshine”, the first-ever original Korean content made by this company, was not made until 2018. The change of setting and cinematography set the bar for future shows to be just as good, or even better. With the increased Korean viewership, Netflix decided to invest in more original Korean content.

The enticing romance action drama, “Descendants of the Sun”, was the most popular South Korean television show in 2016 and was the first show to air simultaneously in two countries, starting the rise of Korea’s global popularity. 

Other shows that were massive hits in Korea were not introduced to the west until much later. For example, the dark fantasy show “Hotel Del Luna”, starring K-pop soloist IU, was added to Netflix in September 2021 despite being released in 2019. Other than Netflix, new original Korean content series and older K-dramas are being added to western dominated media platforms, including Disney+ and Hulu.

Korea’s rising popularity that stems from their high quality production and creative plots comes to no surprise- the shows are well executed with beautiful cinematography and directory, and the compelling actors and actresses captivate the viewers to form a strong attachment with the show and relatable characters. The detailed storylines range from heartwarming and healing to life or death scenarios in apocalyptic shows, intriguing viewers with the originality and predictability of the plot. 

Through the mixture of romantic and gory elements, Korean dramas highlight societal problems in any universe, including the dark fantasies filled with zombies, monsters, and other supernatural creatures. The different approach of how characters interact with each other and how the plot unfolds with these bonds in K-dramas is refreshing to see, as Western viewers are used to the nudity and obscene language of American shows. 

As the Hallyu wave continues to expand towards the west, the rising popularity of Korean culture in America diminishes western culture and promotes greater diversity. Embracing this wave encourages people to learn more about Korean culture by learning about their history, language, and film, even convincing them to visit their country. 

With all the attention around Korean entertainment, maybe it’s time for you to check out what the hype is all about! You might find yourself laughing along with the characters as they tease each other over a meal of Korean fried chicken and maekju (beer), or you may even find yourself reaching for the tissues as your favorite goblin dissipates into the air.