That’s So Daebak: Riding the Quarantine Hallyu Wave
Words by Bianca Pecson Butalid and Kitkat R. Torres
We take a look at how Korean entertainment is helping Filipinos cope with a pandemic.
As the community quarantine continues to keep people inside, Filipinos have found different ways to keep themselves busy. From Netflix to plants and ube pandesal, finding new things to pass the time has become the go-to solution for enjoying the great indoors—and there’s no denying how the Hallyu or Korean Wave has done its part in taking the country by storm.
Whether it’s KPop, KDramas, or KMovies, Korean culture has played a huge role in keeping a number of houses entertained—soothing boredom, anxiety, and our ever-growing cabin fever. Today, we talk about how everyday Filipinos have turned to K-Comforts at home.
Bianca Keeps Up with the Diamond Life
Seventeen at the 2020 Caratland 4th Fan Meeting | Source: Twitter
It’s Monday afternoon, and the requests for graphics on my to-do list seem endless. In the background, I blast one of my favorite playlists—it’s 9 hours and 30 minutes long, with over 160 songs of pure Korean music pleasure.
There are tons of artists and styles, ranging from KPop to KRnB and Korean Indie. I clock out, take a nap, and wait for dinner. By the time it’s 9:10 (10:10PM KST—if you know, you know!), I rush back to my room, eager to catch the newest “Going Seventeen” episode, a variety show featuring all the “Seventeen” KPop members doing random activities and challenges.
Admittedly, before the quarantine, I never had the time to catch up with all the episodes—let alone the members’ individual and group guestings in other features—but now, apart from watching KDramas, watching Seventeen videos are one of my favorite ways to end my day.
My friend, Ina Batara, and her younger sisters, Kat and Bettina, introduced me to KPop—the gateway to my interest in Korean culture. Whenever my friends ask how the Batara kids “converted” me, I would tell them laughingly, “They locked me up in their living room for three hours, watching Seventeen videos nonstop—I didn’t have much of a choice.”
As weird as that sounds, that’s what actually happened. Around October 2018, our parents, along with a bunch of family friends, scheduled a get-together at Ina’s place. At the time, Ina and Bettina had just become Carats (the group’s fandom name). They showed me videos: music and choreo videos, focus cams, live performances, everything! But nothing really clicked; I couldn’t grasp the concept of 13 boys singing and dancing to music I couldn’t understand, until one of the Batara sisters decided to put on “Aju Nice” (Very Nice)—and I slipped deep into the “Diamond” life.
Kat was the first sister to get into KPop in 2016. After watching several Seventeen vlogs and performances, she began to notice the individual personalities of the 13 members, leaving her curious for more.
Two years later, Bettina and Ina followed suit. “The song that changed my perspective on what KPop is was ‘Don’t Listen In Secret,’” Bettina says. “It made me think that maybe there’s more to this!” Soon, the sisters started collecting all types of merchandise, from albums to T-shirts and even a Wonwoo photo book (Bettina’s most unique purchase).
When I started listening to Seventeen, their album would come back at opportune moments… So when I started to listen to their albums, I think back to the time I was in those places. I get taken back to memories.
Beyond Seventeen’s flashy music videos and sharp choreography, it was the music and the personality of the members that always left a lasting impact on the Batara sisters. For Bettina, the albums hold a special place in her heart. “When I started listening to Seventeen, their albums would come at opportune moments: it came when I transferred to a new school, it came when I was abroad for an exchange program,” she shares. “So when I listen to their albums, I think back to the time I was in those places. I get taken back to the memories”.
Ina, Kat and Bettina Batara at Seventeen’s Ode To You Manila Concert
As a member of a theater org at her college, Kat is awed by Seventeen’s backstage vlogs and finds the entire process of preparing for a performance as a form of art. She uses it as inspiration to create content. Ina, meanwhile, uses their music and videos as a way to cope with stress, and an opportunity to unwind.
Over these past months, whenever I had a bad day, whenever I struggled, I would dive deep into KPop. It’s comforting to know that despite the inevitability of our current situation, there is at least one thing that’s constant about this quarantine—and that’s pretty Aju Nice.
Kitkat Locks Down with Her KPapa
Louie Torres enjoying different flavors of soju during a family dinner
When I enter my dad’s room, he’s sitting on his chair, eyes glued to his “best” quarantine purchase to-date: a Smart TV with Netflix. The screen plays his latest KDrama, and no, it’s not the same show he was watching two days before—he’s already finished that one. “What’s the show?” I ask, and my dad comfortably tells me the backstory of this current Koreanovela—his eyes never leaving the subtitles—complete with details on the actors and actresses, IF they are his favorites.
Just how many Korean dramas has he seen? Turning to count his list of “Watched Shows” on Netflix, he tells me that he’s finished 26 already since March, the start of the community quarantine in Metro Manila. “I’ve always been interested in foreign films, and prior to the lockdown, I watched the Korean film, ‘Parasite,’ which was very good,” my dad shares.
But TV soaps are a different entity altogether. Back in March, I wasn’t sure if my dad would watch a KDrama, but knowing that he enjoyed Parasite, I invited him to watch episode one of the #1 trending show on Netflix at the time, “Crash Landing on You” (CLOY). To say I was surprised that he opened his own Netflix account days after is an understatement. He was already episodes ahead of me—and that was before he was just waiting for me to finish.
Waiting for me meant more time to explore the Internet, look up the work of the CLOY actors, and find “Secret Garden,” starring Hyun Bin (CLOY’s Capt. Ri) and actress Ha Ji-won—who became his instant favorite. So much so that my dad watched all 51 episodes of Ha Ji-won’s “The Empress Ki”, a historical Joseon-era KDrama, and later “Chocolate,” a love story entwined with food, doctors, and destiny, where the same actress appears.
My dad admits that he initially watched KDramas just to pass the time when offices were closed during the Enhanced Community Quarantine. But he later discovered that it helped him relax and take his mind off COVID anxieties. “It’s nice to see things from a different culture, to see everyday life in Korea, and how their stories interpret this. In a way, it gives you a sense of normalcy during these times,” he adds.
It’s nice to see things from a different culture, to see everyday life in Korea, and how their stories interpret this. In a way, it gives you a sense of normalcy during these times.
But what about KDramas makes them so appealing? “How they’re produced makes them enjoyable to watch. The production level is very good, maybe even better than Hollywood,” he tells me. “As for the stories, they’re all interesting. The stories are Asian, so like us, there’s romance, tradition, singing, and eating. That’s why it’s so easy to relate with them. And now that we’re in a pandemic, it’s inspiring to see how hard working the Koreans are—how they always want to be better and to move ahead. It’s very encouraging.”
Over dinner, I talk to my dad about a new show we’re both watching, “Record of Youth.” He laughs when I call him a true KPapa, and he turns to my 1-year-old nephew, smiling as he teaches him how to do a Korean finger heart.
But Hey! It’s Okay to Be K-Lang
Let’s be real. Not everyone is going to be a KFan overnight, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be that one Korean song, show, or movie that will keep you entertained.
For many Filipinos, the Oscar-winning Korean film, “Parasite,” was a huge eye-opener, widening their scope beyond the realm of Hollywood. Film and theater buff, Jill*, couldn’t agree more as we discussed the movie during our online call. While not a big Hallyu fan herself, she admits that the film was a way for Korean entertainment to carve a place for itself on the global stage. “Parasite director, Bong Joon-ho, opened the discussion for Asian films, especially socially relevant films.”
Bong Joon-ho at the Oscars | Source: IMDB
The movie’s unique critique on capitalism and social class has encouraged Jill to look deeper into Bong Joon-ho’s work, slowly making her way through his list of films, while discovering other Korean directors in the process—something that has also kept her occupied during the pandemic.
What makes Korean films so successful? “There is solid support from their government, even for indie films,” Jill answers. As a film student, she knows how the right backing can make or break an art form, and the fact that the Korean government has invested so heavily in their artists is one reason why the country’s entertainment has skyrocketed in recent years. “They’ve unlocked a specific formula that follows the pulse of the market,” she says, explaining the amount of resources put into honing not just films, but also music and dance.
Knowing you’re receiving all this support, it’s only natural that you, as an artist, will become even more dedicated to your craft. It’s something that we can definitely learn from and apply in our local industries.
“Knowing you’re receiving all this support, it’s only natural that you, as an artist, will become even more dedicated to your craft. It’s something that we can definitely learn from and apply in our local industries. And after seeing this, even if I’m not strictly a KFan, I can understand why Korean entertainment has such a huge following.”
Saranghae, It’s Here to Stay!
While it’s true that an “obsession” with KEverything may be perceived by some as different, with the way the world is changing, Korean entertainment has become one of the most constant pre-COVID things to stay on despite the pandemic.
There’s no denying that even before the Coronavirus hit, the Philippines had already been bitten by the KBug. It was on our billboards, our air waves, and our TV screens—just to name a few. Today, Korean culture has fully invaded our quarantined homes, pushing past amusement to influence our vocabulary, our closets, right down to our kitchens, offering Filipinos that slice of normalcy so sorely missed. Show of hands! How many of us have tried cooking kimchi stew after watching “Itaewon Class”? Or even just instant ramyun?
Whichever way you look at it, Korean entertainment has been like chicken soup for the Filipino’s cabin-fevered soul. Interestingly enough, the word “healing” in Korean goes beyond our physical being to feeling fully rested deep down to the core. And if you think about it, more than the hype and the labels, KPop, KDramas, and KMovies are simply art—and isn’t art meant to heal the soul?
*The interviewee has chosen to omit her last name.