Is the ‘Korean wave’ present in the asian film industry?

July 30, 2020 by Essay Writer


  • 2 1.1 Background
  • 3 1.2 Development of the Korean Film Industry
  • 4 1.3 Structure
  • 6 2.1 The Korean Wave
  • 7 2.2 Growth of the Korean Culture
  • 8 2.3 Changes in Korean Domestic Market
  • 9 2.4 Changes in Broadcasting Regulations and Policies
  • 10 2.4.1 Effects of These Policies
  • 11 2.5 Changes in the Film Industry
  • 12 2.5.1 Effects of these changes
  • 13 2.6 Positive Effects of the Korean Wave
  • 14 2.7 Negative Effects of the Korean Wave
  • 15 2.8 The Korean Wave in China and Japan
  • 16 2.9 Factors Supporting the Korean Wave in China
  • 17 2.9.1 Contextual Factors
  • 18 Sino-Korean relations and cultural exchange within Asia
  • 19 Chinese cultural industry
  • 20 Audience
  • 21 2.9.2 Textual Factors
  • 22 2.10 The Future of the Korean Wave
  • 24 3.1 Introduction
  • 25 3.2 Shiri-1999
  • 26 3.3 JSA (Joint Security Area)
  • 27 3.4 Other blockbusters
  • 29 4.1 Introduction
  • 30 4.2 Aims and Objectives
  • 31 4.3 Research Gap
  • 32 4.4 Research Questions
  • 33 4.5 Research Method
  • 34 4.6 Research Limitations
  • 35 4.7 Identity of Research
  • 37 5.1 Introduction
  • 38 5.2 Statistics
  • 39 5.2.1 Factors that contributed to the creation and expansion of the Korean wave.
  • 40 Reflection of the Asian values and sentiments:
  • 41 Asian economic crisis:
  • 42 Depiction of Korean nationalism:
  • 43 5.2.2 Reasons for the deep impact of the Korean wave on China
  • 44 Similarity of cultures:
  • 45 Governmental support:
  • 46 Diplomacy:
  • 47 Economic reasons:
  • 48 5.2.3 The impact of the Korean film industry on the Chinese population and the Chinese cinema
  • 49 5.2.4 Is the Korean wave sustainable?


This dissertation consists of six chapters. The first chapter gives a detailed background of the Korean Film Industry, its origin and development and how it has led to the so-called ‘Korean wave’ or ‘Korean fever”. It also explains this term in order to give a better understanding of the title.

The next chapter consists of literature review, which will form the basis of the findings and the conclusion. The third chapter is a case study, I which the top films of Korea will be discussed and compared with some top Chinese films. The fourth chapter will go on to explain the methodology that will be used in this dissertation to facilitate the findings and arrive at the conclusion. It will explain the methods used in the research and the research questions around which the dissertation revolves. The third and fourth chapters will form the crux of this dissertation. The next chapter provides the findings and analysis of the study based on mostly on the literature review and the research method used. This chapter will deal with the analysis and evaluation of the Korean film industry with respect to the Chinese market and provide the answers to the research questions posed in the previous chapter. The last chapter, that is chapter six, will provide a conclusion, that is, a result of the findings and will be followed by recommendations to ensure that the Korean film industry continues to grow.

1.1 Background

A country’s film industry represents the culture, and lifestyles of the people living in that country. The "Korean fever" or "Korea wave" is normally regarded as the substantially enhanced popularity of South Korean culture all over the world. Besides, it is regarded as Hallyu (Hangul: Hanja: RR: Hallyu), from the Korean pronunciation. In this connection, this term was coined in China in the middle of 1999 by journalists in Beijing, China, surprised by the rapid increase in the popularity of contemporary South Korean culture as well as entertainment business in mainland China.

The Korean film industry represents the film industries of North Korea and South Korea. While both these countries have relatively strong film industries, only the South Korean Industry has been able to achieve international acclaim and recognition. The North Korean film industry still revolves around topics like communism and revolutionary ideas.

As is the case with all other industries and aspect of life in Korea, its film industry has also had to endure the heavy influence of political incidents. Be it the Joseon Dynasty or the Korean War, the governmental influence is evident in the Korean cinema. Since the beginning, the Korean film industry revolved around such scenarios as politics, wars, and even the activities of the government. A number of variables, such as the impact of the strategies undertaken by the most successful Hollywood film producers, the availability of a large budget, and the quality of the films produced in Korea, itself had a profound influence on the film industry of Korea.

1.2 Development of the Korean Film Industry

The first movie theatre of Korea was established in 1903. Before the existence of this movie theatre, the European and American films kept the Korean film screens occupied. Not only this, but in the period 1926-1930, it was the Japanese who owned, and operated the Korean cinemas. It was during this time that a series of films were launched, that provided the beginning of quality films in China. Despite the fact that the film industry of Korea was at its peak in the 1950’s, yet in the 1970s and 1980s with the country’s rapid economic growth, the Korean government was under pressure to liberalize is import policies and financial markets for all industries. The film industry had depended upon the quota system to gain screen time for its product and to make sure a certain amount of revenue.

The production of the Hollywood blockbuster films, itself, was a continuous threat to the film industry of Korea, not only in terms of its decreasing market share, but also down to the question of its survival. The market share was witnessing a downward trend because the Korean films were produced with a low budget and low quality in the face of the blockbuster films produced by Hollywood. As a result, the market share had dropped to as low as 15% in the late 1980’s. However, soon after that, the transformation of Korean film industry had started, and Korean cinema earned recognition as a commercial cinema outside the country after the success of the blockbusters, such as the film “Shiri”. The movie was produced in 1999, and captured an audience of approximately 5 million people, making it to the top of the South Korean films. The film was so successful that it broke the records for the all time favourite, “Titanic”, and welcomed the entry of the many film producers who were keen to produce internationally repudiated films for Korea. In the process, the market share of the Korean films rose to 39.7%.

A number of Korean films followed the league of “Shiri”, and the fact that the government had introduced a new legislation, allowing a two day weekend for the Koreans, gave rise to the success of the Korean cinemas. In the process, the film industry of Korea was reported to grow by approximately 18% each year, and according to a variety of sources, in a period of nine years only, the market share of the Korean films had grown from 15% to 45.2%. This was taken as a good omen by many of the most successful moviemakers of Hollywood who immediately stepped in the film industry of Korea, in order to obtain licenses so as to reproduce those Korean films that had been the most successful on the box office.

In these connections, the relations between national cinema and history is refraction, fluid rather than reflection, and what is intriguing about contemporary Korean cinema is how the shared political history of the 1980s has become a commercial lure for the audience.

Recently, the popularity of the Korean films, Korean music, and even Korean dramas has been increasing in Asia, with the Chinese being the major viewers of such Korean television programs. With such immense success and popularity of the Korean TV programs in countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, along with other parts of Asia, it is not unusual to find the influence of the Korean culture and traditions, as portrayed on the Korean screens, on the Asians.  Due to this rapid spread of the Korean lifestyle, and culture in most of the Asian countries especially china, the Chinese used the word “Hallyu” to refer to the influence of Korean culture in other countries primarily through the media. This had been initiated by the broadcasting of “Daejanggeum”, a Korean drama, which made China the greatest victim of the Korean influence in 2005.

Soon after, a number of articles on the new Korean wave began to be featured in journals, magazines, news papers, etc. It was even believed that the major reason for the Korean influence lies in the fact that the Korean government took advantage of the Korean screens to step out of the financial crisis, thus taking major steps to promote their film industry, and export their films. The fact that China and Korea share some similarities, not only in terms of their culture, but also down to civilizations and philosophies, explains such a deep impact of the Korean films on the Chinese.

Today, both North Korea and South Korea have extremely flourished film industries. However, when it comes to global acclaim, it is undoubtedly film industry of South Korea which seems to capture the international market. The movies of North Korea focus more on rebellious, radical and insurgent themes.

1.3 Structure

The aim of this research is to evaluate and analyze the relative success of the Korean film industry, and the influence of the Korean cultures in many of the Asian countries, especially China. The focus of this thesis is attempting to summarize and analyze whether and how this "Korean wave" is shaped in China mainland market and how it has impacted to Chinese audiences by critically commenting the latest top five Korean movies compared with the latest top five Chinese movies, reviewing the previous research findings and performing box-office performance analysis in the captured period. This will give information as to how the Korean film industry has impacted the population of China.

It also aims to analyze the factors that have led to the Korean fever, and to what extent have the Chinese been influenced as the Korean traditions become prevalent in China, and other parts of Asia.

The area of the research will mainly focus on the Korean film industry, as well as the film industry of China, since the top movies produced by both the countries will be compared. The area of the research will also include the other Asian countries, and the Korean cinema influence on their activities.

The research objectives involve analyzing the performance of the Korean movies and the impact that they have had on Asian markets, in particular, China.

The research methodology

The data in this thesis is analyzed using a variety of sources. First of all, the box office performance is analyzed over the recent period, the data obtained from the Korean Film Council. The data captured from this source helped assess the market performance of the Korean films. The data is further broken down into sub-periods in order to evaluate the dynamics of the Korean films’ market performance. Finally, appropriate statistical techniques are used to assist our analysis.


2.1 The Korean Wave

The  “Korean Wave” or  hallyu ( 한류) refers to the time period of 1990’s, when Korean culture was internationally visible, not only in East Asia but even countries like United States saw a rapid surge of Korean values. Television serials, pop music, feature films and other musical forms are all part of the wave phenomenon. As the Korean wave is associated with the spread of Korean culture, it is referred as both national and a trans-national phenomenon.

A great number of researched have been conducted to evaluate why and how pop culture of Korea was famous in other countries. These two regarding the success of Korean wave are distinct but not so related to each other. When government use sales figures of other countries to measure the success of Korean wave, overseas consumers are considered the arbiters of Korean culture. This signifies the ironic impact of the success of Korean culture; not only people in Korea but non Korean consumers are also being entertained by the Korean media. Infact, it was a Chinese journalist who coined the term ‘Korean wave’ or (hanliu 韩 æµ?) to describe the surprising effect of the rapid increase in popularity of contemporary South Korean culture as well as entertainment business in mainland China.

Researchers believe that Korean wave is the interaction of many fields. The variable of pop culture existing in phenomenon of Korean wave has allowed it to be studied in cultural study’s field (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008; Howard 2006). It is also studied along the dimensions of marketing and business, as government, promoters and corporate agents were selling the Korean culture as a commodity in the international arena.  (Cho and Kang 2005; Han and Lee 2008; Kim and others 2008; Lee, Scott, and Kim 2008). It was also evaluated as being an important concept in the political arena. The Korean government undertook measures like subsidizing the cost of reediting for the international market. Such policies and regulations by government ensured that the Korean film industry expanded successfully in other countries. (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008, 28). Suddenly, Korean government started using pop star figures to attract tourists.  (Yu-Shan Lin and Hwang 2008).

2.2 Growth of the Korean Culture

In 2003, when a Korean drama serial ‘ Winter Sonata’ was broadcasted by Japaneses stations, it quickly became popular. Suddenly, yhe Korean mass culture gained popularity in Asian countries ( HAN, 2004:124-125) along with the word Hallyu. The word Hallyu was then associated not only with the rapid spread of Korean culture but also with the economc boom in Korea.

According to G, a researcher at SAMSUNG Economic Research Institutute,  Korean wave or Hallyu was developed through four stages. In the first stage, Korean culture became popular with the increased production of films, and dramas. Second stage signified the increasing demand of products associated with the famous pop idols. In the third stage, people moved on to buy Korean goods and services like electronic products which were not directly related to pop stars. People perceived a desirable impression of Korea in the fourth stage of Hallyus developmental; cycle.

2.3 Changes in Korean Domestic Market

Okon Hwang and Hillary Finchum-Sung are two researchers who were concerned with the

effects of Korean Wave on the local market. Essay written by Okon Hwang title ‘No ‘Korean Wave’ Here: Western Classical Music and the Changing Value System in South Korea’ attempts to evaluate and analyze the positive impact of changing the flow of information on the successful expansion of a country’s culture.

According to statistics, there has been a rapid increase in the Korean TV programs exported since 1988. This growth rate of export was more evident during the spread of Korean wave and with a sudden decrease in the foreign TV program in Korea. Since the launch of broadcasting industry in Koreas, majority of the shows broadcasted were American programs. Factors like lack of technical skills, experience and technological equipments hindered the production and the broadcast of local TV shows. The national broadcasting station of Korea was established in 1961, and since then it was dependent on foreign TV programs to fulfill the entertainment needs of the population. It was America that introduced TV sets, radio, transmitters and colored became possible when international firms gained a consensus to stop the manufacturing of monochrome TV sets. (JOUNG AND JANG, 2000:142)

An audience rating survey in 1996 reflected that American programs were most popular among the Korean population. The time allotted to the broadcast of these shows increased till mid 1970’s, after which more local TV programs were broadcasted. Although American TV shows like wonder women, six million dollar man, bionic woman were very popular during 1970’s, but at the same time local shows increased in quality and the audience rating for them surged rapidly. A fall in the import of American TV programs was not only due to the improvement in production and broadcasting technology, but government regulations contributed significantly to reduce imports.  An order of military government to broadcast limited number of shows resulted in a competitive race between the broadcasting stations where each and every station was striving hard to increase the ratings of domestic shows. The audience rating thereby, compelled broadcasting stations to improve the quality of local shows, develop a better infrastructure and acquire superior equipments. Moreover, Asian games and Olympics held in Seoul contributed a lot in increasing the audience rating of the local programs.

While Korean TV shows gained popularity in 1980’s, the market share of Korean films did not increase till 1990’s. From the 200 movies that were produced during 1970’s, only a few of them were able to break the records. Contrasting to the broadcasting industry, film industry produced movies since 1960’s and was exposed to the stringent control and regulations by government. The government not only controlled the production and distribution facilities of films, but the censor department limited the freedom expression by controlling the content of movies. The establishment of the ‘law of cinema’ reduced the number of production firms from 70 to less than 20 and import restriction made it difficult to acquire imports without the permission of government. The year 1984 proved to be a turning point for the Korean film industry. It was during this year that censorship standards and import regulations were revised. Moviemakers were able to release movies simply after filling a permission form and foreign films gained an entry in the Korean market escalating the competition level.

2.4 Changes in Broadcasting Regulations and Policies

The following section has categorized the growth of Korean broadcasting industry into five stages and explains the policies of government during those stages.

In the pre-takeoff stage, the TV broadcasting was not considered very important. A small number of studios existed and number of TV viewers was also limited. Authoritarian regimes existed in Korea during this pre-takeoff stage and throughout this time local media was used according to government objectives and mission. Only those dramas and movies were broadcasted which were I n line with the aims of the government. The interests of state were valued more than the interests of public (KWAK 2009). The government controlled the entry, the content and the distribution channels as well. The laws such as ‘practice outline’, ‘administrative advice’ and ‘purification of the broadcast’ ensured that government controlled each and every stage of broadcasting from production to distribution of movies and dramas. In 1945, the Japanese movies, music and dramas were banned in Korea which compelled local broadcasting stations to improve the local dramas.

During the transition from pre-take off to take off 1 stage, the broadcasting stations expanded rapidly, and government started imposing rules and regulations. The government control was also backed up by the military control of the government. In the takeoff stage 2, all stations were unified into two networks. In the maturity stage, the democratization of politics greatly affected the cultural industry.  Commercial broadcaster entered the industry and government viewed this industry as a potential one in terms of supporting the economy. There was a shift in paradigm and government undertook several policies in 1990 to support the industry. These included:

  • Ownership for commercial broadcasting
  • Outsourcing production programs was allowed
  • Human resource training of broadcasting professional
  • Participation in trade fairs was encouraged
  • A broadcast video industry promotion plan was introduced

All these policies supported the broadcasting industry to move from the maturity to the expansion stage.

2.4.1 Effects of These Policies

The control of foreign flow of information and the supporting policies contributed immensely to the growth of the cultural industry. Allowing the outsourcing of production programs meant that there an  increase in the independent production companies which created a competitive environment causing different station to find ways to increase the quality and standard of services if they were to remain in the industry. The infrastructure facilities supported the growth of small firms which handled operation for the independent companies. The ban of Japanese programs proved as an incentive for the local producers.

However, some other government policies like increasing the participation in trade fairs was not effective as many negotiations were done outside the fair. The direct financial supported did not have any significant impact on the export of domestic programs as large proportion of it was given to the documentary programs.

2.5 Changes in the Film Industry

This section has grouped the development of film industry in four stages. The film industry existed for many years unlike the broadcasting industry. Expanding the domestic market size of film industry proved to be difficult because of the different economic environment of the film industry. The advertisements were the most important source of revenue for the broadcasting industry; thereby it was related to economic development of country. However, the source of revenue for the film industry was sales in box office and for that it was necessary to produce some block buster movies.

In the pre- takeoff stage, government introduce ‘law of cinema’ to support the industry. It believed that it was important to increase the size of production companies and for that it restricted the entry in film industry. It became essential for companies to have a certain amount of production facilities and equipments before they could enter. Moreover the policies related to censorship made it difficult to export film in foreign countries.

In the take off stage, theatre entrance fees was increased, which contributed to the expansion of market size. Although the strict policies of censor existed as well as other government’s controls, still the market was seen to expand with just the increase in entrance fees. In 1984, when restrictions were removed, the film industry moved to the maturity stage with number of film companies increasing, talented people were attracted and it appealed the electronic companies as well. Foreign distribution companies entered the local market, increasing the standard of competition. In the expansion stage, the quality of Korean movies increased significantly and various Korean movies won international awards.

2.5.1 Effects of these changes

The introduction of screen quota system ensured that a certain budget and screening time was allocated to movies.  The educational support by Korean Academy of Film Arts supported the industry by providing talented actors. Indirect financial system such as loans proved to be an incentive for moviemakers. The foreign distribution policies such as supporting filmmakers to participate in international festivals helped in making global networks.

2.6 Positive Effects of the Korean Wave

As mentioned above, Korean government contributed a lot towards the development of the Korean wave. The government aided the media industries, broadcasting stations and networks to expand and promote the Korean pop culture internationally. The main aim behind this action was to boost up the Korean economy and develop a positive national image. The government was successful in achieving both of the aims.

Korean pop stars attracted attention of viewers all over the world. Korean government took advantage of their increasing popularity and used them to gain attention for other commercial sectors such as the tourism sector of Korea. The success of TV drams like “Winter Sonata” attracted tourist from around the world who visited Korea especially to see places where this drama was filmed. Businesses like travel agents were also taking advantage of the situation by customizing the themes of group tours according to the themes of different dramas for e.g. a tour was titled “Best of Korean drama trailer deluxe tour”.

Pop idols or drama stars revolutionized the consumer culture of Korea. Food and fashion trends (including make-up, clothing) were changing and consumers all over Korea were suddenly following their favorite drama stars. Theses consumers called themselves the members of ‘Korean tribe’. Consumers not only imitated the fashion style of their idols but went ahead to look like their idols with the help of plastic surgery. The posters and pictures of Korean stars were seen everywhere, from backpacks to notebooks and the wall.

For example, Inlingua School in Singapore reported a 60% increase in the number of students willing to learn Korean in 2003 as compared to 2001 because of the attention generated by Korean movies and dramas.

Almost every organization in the Korean economy benefitted from Korean wave. Pop stars were used to sell different goods and service. Celebrity endorsements were used extensively to promote superior brand image. Pop idols took advantage of their gaining popularity through several means. According to news, Actor Kwon Sang Woo charged $200 for some seats at a fan meeting in Tokyo. Tickets were also auctioned online for as much as $500. Moreover, according to a match making service, the role of pop stars as being romantic lovers led to the perception Korean men were generally like that in real life as well. It was due to this fact that more than 6400 female required match making services to find suitable Korean lover for them.

The impact of the Korean wave was not only limited to the Korean economy, but it affected the lives of pop idols themselves. After Korean wave, Korean male celebrities like Bae Yong Joon were one of the highest paid actors in the worldwide film industry. 

There are some positive impacts associated with the consideration of Korean wave as a transnational phenomenon. Apart from earning foreign currency for the local economy, it helped in improving the foreign relations of Korea. Korea had a long history of diplomatic frictions with the neighboring countries. Korean soldiers fought against the Liberation Army of Vietnam and it established ties with Beijing in 1992 at the cost of its relations with Taipei.

2.7 Negative Effects of the Korean Wave

Korean wave has been criticized due to several reasons. It isbelieved that it was introduction of foreign films in Korean cinemas that threatened the Korean culture. According to a Chinese news magazine, government of South Korea was representing its culture as the essence of Asian culture.  Before the Korean wave, classical music has been a part of cultural accomplishments and was a source of pride for the Korean population. But after the Korean wave, classical music and culture was suddenly replaced by the pop culture. Increasing Demand for the pop culture was no longer considered a problem and government exported it to foreign countries. There was an overall change in the conceptual framework as the Ministry of Sports and tourism promoted venues and advertising campaigns by incorporating classical and pop culture.  Finchum-Sung explained how the dynamics of these new measures resulted in the formation of new form of cultural production.

The neighbouring countries of Korea undertook several measures to protect their own entertainment industry. Chinese media limited the amount of time for the broadcast of Korean dramas. The government of Vietnam also threatened to ban Korean shows if the number of Vietnamese shows on Korean television was not increased. Taiwan also considered limiting the foreign shows played on national television. All these examples prove that countries were retaliating against the success of Korean wave.

2.8 The Korean Wave in China and Japan

The development of the Korean wave phenomenon was most evident in China and Japan because of several reasons. The culture of Korea, China and Japan are very similar to each other. the Korean wave initially began in China, which is the most attractive and profitable market for the Korean products. Japan also happens to be the biggest consumer market of Asia.

According to Jung, Japanese TV dramas were creatively transformed for the production of Korean dramas which contributed immensely to the increasing popularity of Korean dramas among young people all over Asia, including Japan and China (Iwabuchi 2008, 153). In fact the concept of Korean wave has generated a new dimension in the one way flow of globalization and researchers have been forced to revise it (Kim Sujeong 2009; Jeon and Yoon 2005).

Korean wave is an appropriate example of mutual circulation of cultural values between the non-western countries. It questions the existing theories relating to the belief that information flows from western to non-western countries. According to the imperialism theory, capitalist societies of west have threatened the growth of non-western cultures and have homogenized them. (Schiller, 1976, 1991; Hamelink, 1983; Mattelart, 1984). Even during 1970’s the unilateral structure of information flow was based on dependency theory suggesting that information was sent by First World countries and received by Third World countries. In 1980’s, some new approaches developed with the growth of media in Korea. These new approaches extended the application of imperialism domination to the field of communication technology.

However, this was also criticized by researchers, (Tomlinson, 1989 ; Friedman, Pieterse

Hall) according to whom the information was not exchanged unilaterally.  The imperialism theory was then replaced by globalization, which promoted a greater understanding of diverse cultures. (Friedman, 267. Pieterse also argues that the impact of non-western culture on west should not be ignored (Pieterse, 307~9). The growth of global television in 1990’s contributed significantly to flow of information from Asian economies to western economies. (Barker, 1999). As the media in Asian markets grew, western TV programs were imported to these nations while at the same time TV programs of these nations were exported to western countries. Therefore Chan (2000) addressed that China could be a centre of this unique mass cultural expansion in Asian regions.

2.9 Factors Supporting the Korean Wave in China

There are many contextual and textual factors that are thought by researchers to have facilitated the rapid expansion of the Korean wave in China. Contextual factors are all those which consist of the wider aspect of Sino-Korean relationship as well as the various changes in China which helped in the diffusion of Korean culture in China. These factors include the relationship between China and Korea, the cultural exchange in Asia, the reforms in the Chinese culture “industry” and the Chinese audience. On the other hand, the textual aspect has more to do with the strength of the Korean drama and includes factors like the similarity between the cultures of the two countries (resulting in an emotional involvement) and the fact that the Chinese audience see the Korean cinema as a mixture of traditional values with modern style, which adds to its appeal.

2.9.1 Contextual Factors

Contextual factors consist of wide aspect of Sino-Korean relationship as well as varied changes in China, which supported the diffusion of Korean culture in china.

Sino-Korean relations and cultural exchange within Asia

There have been historical and geographical connections between China and

Korea. The relations between both the countries have been strained since the communist regime. However in 1992, diplomatic relations improved leading to superior economic and cultural ties. Due to its open policy, china has always permitted the expansion of foreign culture in its region. Many cultures like Japanese, and Taiwan were imported to China. By 1990’s, Korean culture also started spreading rapidly in China. China has been a hub of Confucianism for many years.

Socialist culture was not a source of satisfaction for Chinese people.

Western culture was also not popular among Chinese people. They did not accept Japanese culture as well, and the roots of these sentiments were embedded in historical Japanese invasion of china. It is believed that Chinese people were looking for their identities when Korean culture was introduced in China. Chinese people had anti-Japan and anti-war sentiments but no anti- Korea sentiments existed. In fact Korean culture was perceived as a favourable culture, with a lot of talented people.

Chinese cultural industry

The cultural market of China has always been highlighted due to its open policies. These types of policies and reforms could another factor of Hallyu. The objective the cultural policies have been social and political, rather than the economic. Chinese cultural industry was controlled by the government for a number of years. Broadcasting stations operated according to states decisions. When open policy was declared, media companies increased, channels expanded rapidly and so did the demand of contents. The political control over broadcasting activities is significant, but Chineseaudiences look for more fun and empathy from the TV programs (Hu, 2001).People wanted to see different kinds of TV programs. Previously, programs were imported from socialist countries but now imports are from Asian countries as well.


Although Chinese cultural industry existed for many years, but the quality and content of the

channels was not of satisfactory level. Mass culture of china had lower sound and quality image as well. Therefore Chinese young audience was not contented with the poor cultural dramas and movies. They had no interest in socialist or the western culture. Apart from the aspiration of young audience to have their own strong mass culture, the family structure in china played an important role in making young people the main consumer of mass culture. Since 1970, there has been a one child policy. This meant that the only child was the main centre of attention and was called ‘little emperor’ (Ministry of Culture, 2002).This generation have diverse knowledge about the world due to increased media influence. They ask for comfortable enjoyment (Kim, 2002: 45). They look for modern mass culture and follow the media stars; thereby their identities are a lot different from traditional and the classical culture. So this generation found Korean media ad culture to provide what they wanted. A lack of entertainment which existed previously was felt no more. Young people of China now expressed their identities by relating to Korean dramas and movies. A ‘Hanryu street’ was developed by Chinese audience in Beijing, which was a reflection of their active involvement rather than passive reception (Kim, 2002: 51~52).

2.9.2 Textual Factors

Cultural similarities and audiences’ emotional involvement

The broadcasting of TV programs is also affected by the cultural and economic factors. In Asia, people prefer to watch local programs (Richard 1998), and the cultural factors determine which programs will be most viewed in Asia. Korean dramas became a source of entertainment for many young people in Asia due to their cultural factors. According to Iwabuchi, the cultural exports of Japanese have been restricted to products which were not a reflection of the country’s origin. (Iwabuchi 1998). He explains that lifestyles and social relationships are the main part of the textual appeal of Japanese dramas. The stars in Japanese dramas are linked with Japanese modernity and this attracted the Asian viewers (Iwabuchi 2000)

Understanding and closeness can explain cultural similarities between Asian countries. It binds the Asian cultures together and distinguishes them from the western world. These cultural similarities can be based on similar modernity experienced through development in economy and democratization.

Thomas in his study on, dissemination of East Asian cultural products in Vietnam explains that people of Vietnam have been longing and desiring the modernity shown in Asian products. This resulted in increasing popularity of Asian products in Vietnam (Thomas, 2000).  Similarly, a study conducted on cultural similarity shown in TV dramas of Korea, Hong Kong and China (Yu and Lee 2001), proved that because of the cultural similarities audience was able relate to those dramas more than to western dramas. The dramas broadcasted in those three countries showed similar lifestyles, traditions, patriarchal relationships etc. so it can be said that the textual features mentioned above also contribute in making the Korean drams more appealing to Chinese audience.

Textual appeals: the mixture of traditional values with modern styles

As already discussed, Korean dramas appeal to Chinese audience because of the cultural similarities between both countries. Although the style of Korean serial and movies is copied from Western movies and dramas, these ideas are transformed in a very ‘Asian way’.  Korean directors and producers are able to present those ideas in a more practical and realistic way, making it easier for their audience in other Asian countries to relate to them.

A study by Huh, showed that Korean dramas like ‘What is love?’ attracts middle age people of China, due to the strong reflection of Confucian patriarchy in those types of dramas (Huh 2001). Since the communist regime, government of China has attempted to liquidate the remains of Confucian traditions and therefore Chinese audience seems to be nostalgic when Confucian values were displayed in Korean dramas. While the older audience is attracted by the reflection of traditional values of China, the younger audience find the pop stars, their style, the sense of fashion and the consumer goods in Korean shows more appealing. Due to the rapid process of modernization in China, Chinese young audience seem to become easily involved in Korean dramas. The attractive feature of Koran shows such as sophisticated star appearances, fashions, higher living standards all appeal to Chinese young audience who wanted to move towards capitalism. Chinese audience is inspired the wealth, sophistication in Korean dramas and it stimulates their longing and desire for a modern society. Technical feature such as visual images, music, fast progress of stories etc also attracts Chinese audience to Korean dramas.

To summarize our above discussion, some of the factors attracting Chinese audience to Korean dramas are:

  • The modern lifestyle and values stimulates their desire and longing for consumer capitalism.
  • The styles and fashion of TV pop stars attract younger audience.
  • The values and emotion in Korean dramas are similar to that of Chinese culture which makes it easier for Chinese audience to relate to them.
  • Technical factors like music, images and stories also contribute in attracting Chinese audience. 

2.10 The Future of the Korean Wave

There is no doubt, that the film industry of Korea has been one of the largest growing film industries of the world. While the film industries of other countries have been growing according to norms, Korea’s industry has been rebuild and transformed in such a way that it now boasts of having one of the most thriving film industry. The movies which were produced in the era of 1960’s and 1970’s are completely unrecognizable for those who have seen Korean industry working now.

Korean cinema has transformed to an astonishing degree in a similar way as the Korean society has. Korean society moved from an autocratic military government in 1988 to today’s democratic society. During 1970′ and 1980’s, local cinema was highly affected by censorship and government regulations. But 1990, proved to be an era of success when new policies were introduced, new institutions were created, new talent entered and suddenly the world was watching some great Korean blockbusters which were competing even against the successful Hollywood movies. 

After the great success in 1990’s and the start of 2000, Korean film industry faced some difficulties after 2005. The backdrop was associated with the repetitious drams, plots, cultural opposition and retaliation by some countries. Music exports fell by around 20% in just one year. The number of tourist to Korea has also declined by 40%. According to the “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker, he explains that movies are based on seven fundamental plots which include “defeating the monster, poor to wealthy, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and reincarnation”. These seven plots had been used in Korean films in the last 10 years or more and audience wanted to see some new ideas and stories. Moreover, hostility of China has increased over years. People felt the Korean films presented their culture as the one dominating the Asian empire. Chinese people believed that Korea was spreading its culture through their dramas, and although they were really successful in the beginning but then they started generating antipathy towards the Korean wave.

In 2006, the Korean film industry set a record by selling $954 million worth of tickets and gaining around 64% share of the market. But there were signs of a bubble bursting as 100 movies were produced in just one year, budgets surged up rapidly and suddenly even the successful movie were meeting breakevens rather than making huge profits. The exports figure fell by 68 per cent, especially to Japan. The success of industry in 2004 and 2005 attracted many investors who brought excess resources and money. But they contributed in creating a bubble of assets.  Due to inexperienced moviemakers, some low quality films were made and around 30 films in 2006 were not released. People predicted that Korean wave might be ending at last.

During 2008, producers and investors in Korean film industry faced a need  to increase the profits. The industry had reached its maturity stage. It was now able to produce both small and large films and was considered a dependable collaborator for international joint-productions. According to an article named ‘Korean Film Industry Seeks Revival’, Korean film industry ranks tenth in the world which is less than two percent of the international market.

According to Chung Byung-gug, minister of culture, tourism and sports, Korean Film Council is not taking active measures to help in sustaining its growth. Filmmakers are more interested in individual profits rather than the growth of industry as a whole. They are not cooperating with each other, and this lack of interaction and support is eroding the industry from within. Korean industry is finding it difficult to keep up with the growing industries of China and India. With the Chinese industry showing rapid growth in the last few years, Korean industry will be pushed out from the top ten in the next 3 to 4 years.

Ko Suk-Man, the  president and CEO of Korean Culture Content agency have planned to strive hard and revive the Korean film industry as it was in early 2000.  He believes that it can be done through proper commercialization and a more focused approach towards selection of movies, their content and distribution. He also believes that the industry will have to take some value addition measures like supporting comics and animation industry.


3.1 Introduction

The Korean film industry, at least even five years ago, was considered one of the fastest growing one in the world with Korean actors and film makers achieving international claim and recognition. This extraordinary success of the Korean films led to the Korean fever in Asian countries, particularly in Japan, China and Taiwan. today the Korean film industry ranks the tenth in the world, yet it does not make up more than two percent of the total international market.

This case study of the top Korean films will help understand how these films have contributed to the Korean wave. The aim of this case study is to deduce whether the Korean fever is sustainable, or whether it is a result of tremendous success of a few films that led to the belief that the Korean film industry and the Korean fever was here to stay. this is particularly relevant today because in the last five years the Korean cinema has not done as it had been doing previously.

Since 1999, the Korean film industry has shown trends and a profile to contradict the common belief that national cinema can easily be overwhelmed and thawed by Hollywood.  The Korean film industry has had over 40% of market share at the box office ever since 1999. By 2001, Korean films contributed to 49.1% of the local box office whereas in the period from 2003 to 2004, this market share exceeded 55%. The number of silver screens has increased by more than 60% since 1996 and the rate of movie attendance has also increased dramatically. According to the findings of the Korean film Council the number of people going to cinemas has increased to 87.9 millions from 54.7 million. Numerous Korean films were exported to Asian countries and received overwhelming response. According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, dated 18th of April 2000, many critics saw the Korean film industry as ‘the hottest film market in Asia’. This phase gave birth to the belief that the Korean cinema was experiencing ‘renaissance’.

There are many interconnected reasons for the popularity of the Korean films domestically and in Asia. Most of this success is attributed to the resurrection of nationalist sentiments in the Koreans following the financial crisis of 1998. During this phase unemployment rates were very high and the GDP declined sharply. Due to this economic crunch, suicide and crime rates rose and it had a negative impact on every Korean’s life. This economic crisis brought a radical change in the Korean society in the sense that it changed the psychological mind-set of the people. These nationalist feelings were evoked through the industrialisation and deregulation in the Korean film industry and various social gatherings. It evoked patriotic speeches from politicians and social elites, which in turn gave birth to strong nationalist sentiments among the Korean masses.

This patriotism is thought to be the biggest reason for the success of the Korean film industry. At that time there were various campaigns that were undertaken to stress the need for unity and the superiority of Korean culture and values. One of the most significant and successful of these campaigns was the ‘Boycott Hollywood film’ call. The civil society of Korea took an active part in this campaign (Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images, 2004: 1-4) the ‘watch Korean films’ campaign supported this movement. The Koreans were bent on promoting their own films and making sure that the ‘outsider’ threats did not harm their film industry. It was at a time as this that one of the biggest Korean blockbusters of all times Shiri was released.

3.2 Shiri-1999

This is a movie which contributed immensely to the revival of the Korean film industry and its recognition across the globe. It acted as a milestone for the Korean cinema. The plot of the story was based on a North Korean spy preparing to overthrow the government in Seoul. This broke not only North Korean records but also made more profits than many huge Hollywood block busters like Titanic, Star Wars and the Matrix. The fact that it broke the records of these films, in itself, was a huge achievement. It was the first movie that was able to achieve sales of more than 2 million tickets in Seoul alone. the film attracted over 6 million people to the theatres.

In many ways, Shiri can be called a pioneer. it adopted trends of Hollywood blockbusters, especially the aspects of melodrama and action which are the essence of Hollywood. by following in the footprints of Hollywood, Shiri provided this melodrama and entertainment, which instantly captivated all. However, Shiri was not a complete imitation of Hollywood style. In fact it was an amalgamation of the Hollywood blockbuster conventions and the Korean culture. It also provided a unique story which revolved around the tragic separation of North Korea from South Korea. The story line of Shiri was the typical story of the separation of the two Koreas, yet it became immensely popular.

The success of Shiri was the starting point for the creation of many other great Korean films. It established a sort of a benchmark for many ne films to come. It motivated some of the most affluent people in Korea to invest in the industry resulting in more Korean films, with comparatively larger budgets, to be produced and shown internationally. In fact, after Shiri was released, the Korean films were able to take over more than 50% of the local market. Korea soon became the first country in the world where domestic films were more popular than Hollywood.

3.3 JSA (Joint Security Area)

Following Shiri, Joint Security Area was released in 2000. This proved to be an even bigger hit than Shiri and even crossed the standards that had been set by Shiri the previous year. Even today, it is one of the biggest blockbusters the Korean film industry has ever produced. It got the prestige of being screened 55 times in Seoul alone and 125 screens throughout Korea. This was a record in itself. In just two weeks, the number of people who had watched the movie reached 1 million. This extraordinary success of JSA in the domestic market led it to being exported to Japan where it did a business of over $2,000,000 and was eventually invited to be screened at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The story of Joint Security Area highlights a strong friendship between four soldiers, two from North Korea and two from South Korea. They are placed on the Joint Security Area, a region which is does not come in the territory of North or South Korea, and is the borderline between the two.  Like Shiri, it was a big-budget film which was promoted extensively before its release.

In many ways, including the story, the type of movie and the idea behind it, JSA was completely different from Shiri. its tremendous success proved that the Korean audience were looking for diversity and modernism in their films. there was no particular factor that could lead to success, except high quality and emotional involvement of the audience.

3.4 Other blockbusters

Both Shiri and JSA contributed immensely to the popularity of the Korean films in the Asian countries like Japan and China and the creation of the so called Korean fever. There were many other super hits like My Sassy Girl, which even broke the records of super hits like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, which were being screened at that time. Friends (2001) also comes under the umbrella of such films. Others include Taegukgi,  Silmido and Korean War. all these films and many more just added to the popularity of Korean films in China and other Asian countries.


4.1 Introduction

Research methodology refers to the approach that has been used in conducting a particular research. It explains how the data for a particular research is to be collected and involves the systematic study of all the methods that have been employed to arrive at a valid conclusion. The research methodology covers everything from the research questions, the methods of collecting data and analysing it as well as the limitations of the research.

4.2 Aims and Objectives

The aim of this dissertation is to study the Korean film industry in order to establish whether such a concept as “Korean Wave” exists and if it does, then to study how it has impacted the Asian countries, particularly China. The study will also help understand if this Korean fever is sustainable or whether it was just a bubble created by a few hit films.

4.3 Research Gap

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the success of the Korean film industry and how it has reached a point where it now has the ability to become the largest film industry after Hollywood. This success has led to the coining of the term “Korean wave”, which is the main concept under study. Thus, the rationale behind this study is to find out all the factors that have contributed to this success of the Korean cinema, particularly in the Asian countries. This study will also help identify the reasons for the success of the Korean films, particularly in China. More importantly it will help determine whether this wave, which has caused such uproar, is sustainable and will continue to grow or is it just a temporary boom caused by a few super hits. Based on this rationale the research questions that need to be answered are given in the next section.

4.4 Research Questions

The research questions for this dissertation are:

  1. The factors contributing to the creation and expansion of the ‘Korean wave’
  2. The impact of the Korean film industry on the Chinese population and Chinese cinema?
  3. Reasons for the deep impact of the Korean film on  the  Chinese population and Chinese cinema
  4. Sustainability of the Korean wave

4.5 Research Method

Research method refers to a way of conducting and implementing research. There are many research methods that are used by researchers to conduct studies, depending on the requirements and type of research being conducted. These include methods like questionnaire surveys, interviews, observations, experimentation, case studies etc. In this research, primary data collection methods like questionnaire surveys, interviews, observation and experimentation could not be used because the industry under study is thousands of miles away. Thus, the case studies and literature review formed the secondary research and both of these were used to deduce the findings. The literature review and case study formed the basis for the findings and conclusion, in this dissertation.

4.6 Research Limitations

There were a number of limitations that were faced during conducting this research. The fact that the research was conducted on the film industry of a country an entire continent away meant that primary research could not be conducted. As the most reliable method of collected first-hand data was ruled out, the data collection was based mainly on secondary research and case study. There are many limitations to data collected in this way. Firstly, secondary data has been collected by other researchers for other purposes which meant that a lot of the data that was collected did not fit in to the context of this research as well as primary data would have. Much of the data was irrelevant to this research and had to be sifted through. Secondly, some of the data collected was not up-to-date and so, could not be applied to this research. Moreover, secondary data is not as reliable in the context of authenticity as primary data. in order to get a closer view of the impact of Korean films on Chinese people, some of them were contacted and interviewed online , but this can not be as effective as field research or face-to-face interviews. Thus, the geographical distance was a real limitation, which led to all the above mentioned problems.

4.7 Identity of Research

This refers to the research approach that has been used in this dissertation. Mainly, ‘interpretivism’ or the qualitative approach is followed in this thesis. The interpretive approach is a means to gain insight which involves discovering ways to gain in-depth understanding of the entire topic under study.  This type of research explores the depth, richness and complexity of a certain phenomena, tries to simplify it as much as possible and then draw conclusions as to why and how a certain thing is happening. Like here, the qualitative approach is being used to interpret why and how the Korean wave has impacted China the manner that it has. Thus, qualitative research refers to a type of research that produces findings that are not based on some statistical data or statistical procedures. Qualitative or Interpretive data is based on qualitative data, that is data that is not quantifiable. This approach is very useful in this study because it gives an in-depth view of the Korean film industry and the Korean wave, which in turn makes it easier to carry out the aims of the dissertation and arrive at appropriate answers to the research questions.

In this thesis, the Asian culture is under study because it has been a major factor for the success of the Korean films in that region. An approach that is often used to study a culture or a group of people is called ethnography.  Literally, ethnography means ‘portrait of a people’. It is a written description of a culture, its customs, traditions, beliefs, values and the resulting behaviour. (Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson, 2000). Generally speaking, ethnography involves a close, personal interaction between the researcher and the people who are under study. This requires the researcher to be in close contact with the people, usually to live with them in order to observe and understand them. This helps give the researcher a local point of view which can be very helpful in a research such as this. people’s behaviour is observed in the every day context, not in a controlled experimental environment. Moreover, data is collected from various sources but mainly informal conversations are used as the basis for the finding. It is fieldwork based, which means that it usually involves the researcher spending a year or more in that society and living among the people. Ethnographers are, thus, participant observers.

However, in this case, ethnography could not be practised in the true sense of the term. That is because it was impossible for me to go to Asia and stay among the Chinese people for the purpose of the study. However, keeping in mind the true essence of the approach in mind, which is to deduce behaviour patterns through informal conversations, an attempt was made at ethnography. This involved using various social networking sites and the internet, many Asians (around 25 Chinese people) were contacted and many of these befriended before their opinions were noted down. Many people from China were contacted through facebook, and over a period of many months their views on Korean films were asked and their opinions noted down. Most of them were questioned casually while some were questioned in detail. one of the Chinese friends made a webpage on facebook, on which people were asked about their views on the Korean wave. This also proved to be a very useful activity.

Though this was not fieldwork, it helped gain an insight about the preferences and attitude of the Chinese people about the Korean film industry much more useful than a lot of the secondary data collected.


5.1 Introduction

Despite the fact that the Korean wave has had a strong influence over Asia, none of the countries have been hit by the phenomenon as severely as China. In this chapter, the data collected is thoroughly analyzed. Statistics are widely used to analyze the factors that have brought about the Korean wave, the extent of the impact of the Korean wave in China, and other parts of Asia, to assess whether the Korean wave is sustainable or not, that is whether is fever is here to stay.

5.2 Statistics

The following are the findings based on the research conducted and the literature reviewed.

5.2.1 Factors that contributed to the creation and expansion of the Korean wave.

Table 5.2.1 shows the various factors that are responsible for triggering the Korean wave in Asia.

The table above depicts the three basic reasons that led to the phenomenon of the Korean wave, according It should be remembered, however, that apart from the reasons identified, the high quality production of the Korean pictures, combined with the aggressive promotional campaigns of the Korean film producers, collaborated to popularize the Korean lifestyle within Asia.

Reflection of the Asian values and sentiments:

Among the driving factors behind the Korean cultural popularity in Asia, was the fact that a lot of Korean films and dramas portrayed the Asian values and traditions. This factor accounts for 39% of the entire Korean wave in the various Asian countries. This was due to the depiction and portrayal of Asian cultural values as well as Asian sentiments in the South Korean pictures, be it the various soap operas, or the movies.  Because of this reason, the people of Taiwan, Vienna, Japan and other parts of Asia got extremely attached to the Korean pictures. Most of the Asians preferred the Korean screen over the Japanese, and the west because of the simple reason that the soap operas, and films produced by the Korean productions reflected the typical roles of Asian family members. The themes revolved around the traditional family systems, the Asian men and women, love, and care for each other, making it difficult for the Asians to resist the motion pictures of Korea.

Asian economic crisis:

The Asian economic crisis of the 1990’s was yet another driving force behind the Korean cultural influence in Asia. As shown in table 5.2.1, the financial crisis surrounding Asia accounted for 34% of the entire Korean influence. As mentioned, before the growth of the Korean cinema, the films were imported from Japan and the western world. However, as the financial crisis hit Asia, importing the films and dramas from Japan and America proved to be expensive for many of the cinema owners, and the only viable option left was importing the pictures from Korea. In fact, the import of Korean pictures was so cheap that even the domestic soap operas were found to be relatively expensive, without any compromise on the quality on part of the Korean film producers. Thus, the international trade of the Korean hit dramas, music and movies enhanced the already developing wave of the Korean influence in some major countries of Asia.

Depiction of Korean nationalism:

The third reason for the Korean wave in Asia lies in the passion, self-confidence, patriotism, and nationalism that are depicted by the Korean movie stars, not only through their music, films and art, but also through any global events that involves the Koreans. As the Asians viewed the Korean stars, having such high regard for their tradition and customs, it instilled a sense of curiosity in the Asian, and many of them found themselves eager to know more about the Korean culture. The Korean nationalism factor, which contributed to 27% of the Korean fever in Asia, signified that whenever the Asians viewed a South Korean program, they could feel how the Koreans managed to maintain their traditions and customs, and at the same time, blend it with the western elements. The Asians were very much touched by the fact that the Koreans took pride in their values, and praised it.

Thus, as a result of the collaborative effort of all these factors, began the rapid circulation of the Korean fashion, lifestyles, films, music and dramas throughout Asia.

5.2.2 Reasons for the deep impact of the Korean wave on China

Table 5.2 shows the various factors that have led to the Korean wave in China. The areas of the pie represent the relative importance, or contribution of each of the factors.

Reasons for the Korean wave in China

Similarity of cultures:

According to the pie chart above, the cultural factor accounts for the major spread of the Korean fever in China, with a 38% contribution. The fact that the Chinese, and the Koreans share a long history, be it their traditions, culture, values, and philosophy is strong enough for the Korean movies to have a deep impact on the lifestyles of the Chinese. The similarity of cultures has enabled the Chinese to readily accept, and absorb the Korean movies, music, and even television drama serials. It has also been observed that even the Korean customs, language, and values have been shaped some of the Chinese civilizations, namely the Huaxian civilization. So strong has been the impact that when the Chinese watched the Korean drams, and films, they could sense their own traditions being played. Not only this, but watching the Korean programs was a source of pride for the Chinese since it portrayed how Korea standards and principles based on the Chinese standards.

Governmental support:

Government support accounted for 25% of the entire Korean wave in China. In the year 1997, as the financial crisis surrounded Asia, the government of Korea stepped in to export the popular culture, lifestyle, and values as a means to strengthen their economic position. This factor provided a push for the Korean wave. The government was so keen to promote their culture to other countries that a budget of approximately $149 million was allocated for this task.


Diplomacy is another factor, which contributed 15% towards the Korean fever. The international relations between China and Korea, which began in 1992, gave way to a series of negotiations, favorable interests and political consensus in the interest of both the countries. Moreover, Korea was taking measures to distance itself from USA, and at the same time, developing strong ties China. This was another reason that led to the immense popularity of the Korean culture in China, since the bond between Korea and China made the Chinese extremely comfortable with the Korean values and traditions.

Economic reasons:

The economic reasons, that accounted for 22% of the Korean influence n China, revolve around the fact that the Korean culture provided an ideal situation where a country that was still striving to hold on to its traditional values and customs could still balance the styles of the western, modern world. The Chinese were not only compelled to copy the modern hair styles, clothing, and fashion of the Koreans as depicted in the Korean television programs, but the blend of western and traditional values, prevalent in the Korean culture, provided the Chinese an accessible path towards development, innovation, and modernization. This coupled with the fact that Korean products were comparatively cheaper than those imported from Japan and Hong Kong increased the competitiveness of the films, dramas and music of Korea, this immensely aided the Korean influence in China.

5.2.3 The impact of the Korean film industry on the Chinese population and the Chinese cinema

During the period from 1999 to 2005, the Korean wave engulfed the entire south Asia including china. It had an impact not only on the population but also on Chinese cinema, which suffered considerably because of the success of Korean films. Chinese population, like everybody else preferred Korean movies and dramas to their own local ones. In china, the impact was particularly significant because of the similarity in cultures of the two countries. During this phase China itself was going through a transition from conservatism to modernization. The fact that the Korean films were an amalgamation of a modern Hollywood style with the culture and lifestyle of Korea (South East Asia), made Korean films all the more popular in China.

The Korean wave swept the Chinese population of their feet. Anywhere you went, you would find posters of Korean pop stars. In bookstores separate shelves were allocated to Korean books and magazines. The youth were particularly influenced by the fashion, style, drama and storyline of Korean movies. Their desire for a modern lifestyle manifested itself in a rush towards the Korean cinema. Another reason for this popularity in China was the fact that the Chinese population was sick of the same old stories and the same old.

5.2.4 Is the Korean wave sustainable?

Despite the extreme influence that the Korean wave had had on the Asian countries, particularly China, the sustainability of the wave is often called into question. A major criticism that is pointed out regarding the Korean wave is the loss of Korean traditional music. According to a Chinese newspaper article, there was a complete absence of the Korean traditional music as soon as the Korean wave hit Asia, and all that was seen was the Korean pop music. Even when the Korean lifestyle started influencing and challenging the lifestyles, and cultural values of the neighboring countries, it was a matter of time until the respective countries took steps to limit such an influence over their own customs.  Taiwan, and Vietnam, in particular, threatened the Korean government to increase the number of their shows shown on the Korean television screens, or they would ban the Korean programs in retaliation. All of these facts point to the fact that the Korean film industry, despite being classified as an extraordinarily fast growing industry, soon started to face a decrease in its overall market share.

The growth and improvement in quality was so evident that a fan of the Korean films watching a Korean movie of the 1960’s or 1970’s would not even recognize it as a Korean film. The film industry that faced a period of boom during the 1990’s however, did start to face problems after 2005. The repetition in the themes, stories of the dramas led to a drop in the Korean film industry exports, and even made some of the people predict that it might be the start of the end of the Korean wave. This was also due to the fact that the budgets of the Korean film producers surged up rapidly, movies were produced by a few inexperienced new entrants with a compromise on the quality, and the fall in the export figures. As reported by the Korean Film Council, in 2006, there was a drop of 68% in the Korean film industry’s international sales value. This indicated that the Korean film industry was at the maturity stage of its life cycle during 2008. However, the film producers tried a comeback, according to an article.

Eventually, as the industry expanded, the Korean film producers were more eager to fill their pockets rather than to sustain the growth of the Korean wave. According to the minister of Korean culture, the fact that the Korean film producers are not cooperating and interacting with each other is damaging the entire Korean industry and the influence it once had. Moreover, the intense competition from India and China in such a scenario is ringing a warning bell for the Korean film industry. China, in the last year alone witnessed a 65% increase in the sales of tickets and also a sharp rise in the number of movies made. With such steady growth, it is expected that before long, China will replace Korea as the tenth biggest film industry

It is no wonder that due to the above reasons, the Korean industry is believed to be losing its position as one of the top ten growing industries in the next 3 or 4 years. Also, it has been observed that the Korean film products these days are not as popular as they once used to be. Thus, the Korean wave is not a sustainable phenomenon, unless the Korean cinema owners make a serious effort to prolong its life through different strategies.


Based on the research conducted, several aspects of the Korean wave can be concluded. The Korean wave or “Hallyu” had led to high tide of the Korean influence over Asia, and in China in particular. This was mainly due to the fact that the Korean drama serials depicted the typical Asian values, culture, and sentiments emotionally appealed to the Asians. Not only this, but the Asian financial crisis, combined with the pride and Korean nationalism portrayed in the Korean TV programs and music, was quickly absorbed by the Asians, however, the bulk of the thesis focuses on the Korean film industry’s impact on the Chinese people, as well as the Chinese industry. The main reason for this was that the Korean and the Chinese shared a long history of their culture and values. Other elements for the Korean impact on the Chinese included the financial crisis surrounding Asia, support by the Korean government and the diplomatic relations between Korea and China. As a result, the Korean wave was not only created, but expanded to new dimensions.

The Korean wave boosted the economy of Korea especially that of South Korea, as a result of the inflows generated. The South Korean government investment rose from $8.5 billion in 1999 to $43.5 billion in 2003. On the other side, the Korean wave can also be seen as a source of strengthening the diplomatic ties with China, and other Asian countries. In that matter, it had been successful in playing a very constructive role towards the unity of China, and Korea. The wave has also helped in reviving the cultural identity of Asia, and establishing a Pan-Asian culture in the world.

During the peak of the Korean wave, the youth was the most affected by the Korean blend of the traditional values and the pop culture of the west. It was not unusual to find young girls dressing up as their favorite Korean actresses, that they saw in the Korean films and dramas. Others were reported to have their natural features transformed through plastic surgery so that they looked like Korean film stars. Despite this boom period, the Korean wave soon started to see a downfall when protectionist approaches were undertaken by the governments of various neighboring countries to help protect their culture, and the entry of the Indian and Chinese film producers challenged the survival of the Korean film industry in their countries.

Therefore the Korean film industry that once categorized as one of the highest growing industries is now facing a falling market share, symbolizing non-sustainability of the Korean wave. According to some experts, the future of the Korean wave industry could be bright and sustainable, but for that they must practice diversification. Moreover, according to some of the reports, what Korea needs to do at this point in time is to focus on long-term strategies, not short term gains. An entirely different strategy than the traditional culture theme is needed for the programs to be based on. Furthermore, it should absolutely put an end to the export of low quality culture. The Korean film industry has not been able to keep pace with the film industries of India and China. Both of these Asian countries have shown steady improvement in their cinema.

Therefore, it can be concluded that although Korean films have dominated the Asian market for a long time, its impact is slowly washing away, which threatens the end of the Korean wave. China, which was the most attractive international market for Korean films, now has the capability of making better films (both in terms of quality and storyline). Thus the Korean wave is not as strong as it was initially, and if the Korean government is not able to revive their position, it will not be long before the world forgets what the Korean film industry id really capable of.

Read more
Leave a comment
Order Creative Sample Now
Choose type of discipline
Choose academic level
  • High school
  • College
  • University
  • Masters
  • PhD

Page count
1 pages
$ 10