Race, TV

Entering the KDrama Rabbit Hole: Dramaworld Brings Fandom Into the Story

Ever wondered what it might be like to star in a Korean drama? Global TV site Viki is set to launch a new show tonight that hopes to give viewers exactly that experience: Dramaworld is a 10-episode series promising to bring casual and diehard KDrama fans into the stories that they love.

Dramaworld poster - Viki, 2016

Claire Duncan’s (Liv Hewson) interest in Korean dramas isn’t at all casual. She’s up on all the latest news and series featuring Joon Park (Sean Dulake), including Taste of Love, his newest drama. For Claire, Korean dramas aren’t just entertainment: they’re an escape from her humdrum existence as a college student working at her dad’s cafe when she’s not in class. A twist of magic sends Claire into the actual plotline of Taste of Love, and that’s where she discovers Dramaworld, where she might just be the only person who can save her favourite love story from going right off the romantic rails.

It’s a concept that isn’t particularly new or different–the British miniseries Lost in Austen came to mind almost immediately after reading the synopsis and watching the trailer–but it does play into the appeal of Korean dramas both in Asia and many Western countries. Dramaworld sets up a question that it seems to believe many KDrama fans ask themselves as they watch series after series: What would I do if I was in my favourite drama? It plays up the emotional connection viewers feel as they see complication after complication slow down and block the Happily-Ever-After that KDramas promise within 16-20 episodes.

Where Dramaworld is remarkable is in its production values. Viki is known as a website that features dramas and films from all over the world, not just Korea, and Dramaworld is their first original series. It’s also a collaboration between South Korea and the United States, though the scripts are penned by American writers, and the episodes are directed by an American. Well-known Korean actors and actresses feature in cameos, including Siwon Choi of Super Junior fame, and Ji Min Han, who I personally adored in the 2012 romcom drama Rooftop Prince. A Chinese production company has also invested in the series, which is an interesting development considering the recent banning of Korean drama Descendants of the Sun in the country.

Here’s where I admit the concept is slightly alarming to me. Liv Hewson is very clearly a white actress, centered in a universe populated by Korean people, and set into the universe as its savior. There are certainly ways to handle this kind of story delicately and respectfully; there are also myriad ways that it can go wrong. The press release seems to hint at the desire of Dramaworld‘s production team to be inclusive and bring new fans in:

“‘Dramaworld’ is our love letter to drama fans everywhere,” said Viki CEO Tammy H. Nam. “This sort of American/Korean web drama mash-up has never been done; we’re pushing boundaries everywhere, including the international co-production and distribution team from China, Korea and the U.S. We’re very excited to introduce this show to many millions of viewers and hope to break language and culture barriers in the most fun way possible.”

But those roads to hell, as they say, can very well be paved with good intentions. While I would love to see Korean (and Japanese and Taiwanese and Filipino) dramas established as quality entertainment in North America, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of conversations develop around Dramaworld, and what the show ultimately says about Korean dramas, and the fans that love them.