- Tourist Distractions: Traveling and Feeling in Transnational Hallyu Cinema by Youngmin Choe, and: New Korean Wave: Transnational Cultural Power in the Age of Social Media by Dal Yong Jin
For a South Korean like me, who spent his childhood and young adult years during the military dictatorships of Park Chung Hee (1963–1979) and Chun Doo Hwan (1981–1988), there was little reason to anticipate the global popularity that Korean popular culture—cinema, television entertainment, comic books, pop music—managed to attain in the new millennium. The television producers and comic-book publishers of these periods routinely tried to pass off Japanese anime and manga as native products, when they were not plagiarizing the latter’s ideas, [End Page 528] styles, and characters left and right. The Park Chung Hee regime’s idea of “promoting” Korean cinema was to link the right to import lucrative foreign titles with the amount of domestic films produced, practically guaranteeing that the Korean film industry would churn out domestically produced films in order to grab hold of their “meal ticket”—the right to distribute foreign films. In short, popular culture in late twentieth-century South Korea, regardless of its actual artistic quality, was never considered appealing, or even realistically marketable, to non-Koreans, at the time.1
Everything changed, of course, as we entered the twenty-first century. From the late 1990s, Korean cinema attained an unprecedented level of global respectability, with such international box-office hits and critically successful films as Shiri (Swiri 쉬리, 1999), Memories of Murder (Sarinŭi ch’uŏk 살인의 추억, 2003), and Oldboy (Olduboi 올 드보이, 2003) leading the fray. As of June 2014, Netflix (the media-streaming and video-on-demand service company) listed 135 Korean titles in its instant streaming section, compared to 152 Chinese/Cantonese titles, 89 Japanese titles, and 85 Italian titles.2 I remember being astounded, when visiting a Bay Area branch of the now-defunct Borders Books in the late 2000s, to have stumbled upon a shelf filled entirely with English-subtitled DVDs of Korean television dramas, enticing their fans to binge-watch dozens of hour-long episodes in one sitting. Global internet music vendors, such as iTunes, now have categories for K-pop, Latino, reggae, and world music, but no comparable section for J-pop or Canton-pop. And of course few North Americans could have avoided seeing “Gangnam Style,” the satiric music video by the hip-hop artist Psy that emerged out of nowhere in 2012 to become a global sensation: as of September 2016, more than 2.6 billion viewers had watched it on YouTube. This global surge of interest in Korean popular culture has been designated the Korean Wave, [End Page 529] or Hallyu (한류, 韓流, Ch. Hanliu), a term originally employed by Sinophone journalists to describe the phenomenon in relation to the Asian market.
Yet, the truth of the matter is that academia has been rather tardy in catching up with the Korean Wave, with works on post-1997 New Korean Cinema perhaps more ahead of the curve than those on other Korean art forms or cultural industries, but not by much.3 It is only in the most recent years that we begin to see the type of collective volumes that attempt to analyze global popularities of such new media as online video games and YouTube viral videos.4
Given this situation, Dal Yong Jin’s comprehensive overview of the cultural industries of the Korean Wave in the last decade and a half is a very welcome addition to the literature. In New Korean Wave, Jin addresses the impact of social networking services (SNS) and other digital technologies on the Korean Wave. At the same time, he explores major existing forms of exportable Korean popular culture, assigning each component of the Korean...