SOUTH KOREA: Forgotten (기억의 밤, 2017)

by Daniela Gerardi

Please read the crafter statement before watching the video essay.  Also, please be aware that (1) the video essay may be overstimulating, and (2) the video features blood and scenes that may make some viewers uncomfortable. Thank you.

Contrary to an increasingly popular belief, the media being produced in the Korean Wave is not all created equal; its topics span over a wide range of lighthearted to deeply sentimental subjects. With the most popular product of the Korean Wave being Korean-pop (K-pop) boy bands who each have loyal die-hard fan bases and music awards to their names, these bands have shifted the international spotlight onto South Korea in recent years. Superficially, this spotlight has allowed the world to peek into South Korea’s thriving music industry filled with upbeat songs and lyrics that fans can sing along to happily. The impressive aspect about the media being produced in the Korean Wave is the way it has surpassed language barriers and made its way onto an international stage. Never before has the world seen such an interconnected fanbase that has bonded so strongly over media produced in a language that is not their own. This media is highlighted in addition to South Korea’s flourishing cinema industry that is filled with award winning films and television series that have also gained attention from the Korean Wave.

When first introduced to these forms of media, it can be overwhelming, as the individual industries within the Korean Wave are booming and constantly producing content that is consumed by a growing and impressive international audience. The Korean Wave, or hallyu in Korean, marks the beginning of the popularity of Korean media in the global market (Jin et al). Initially highlighted in the beginning of the video essay, the bright colors and playful sound of K-pop shines through while progressively starting to overstimulate the viewer as they are given an insight into how K-pop is initially perceived. This is intended to parallel the typical experience of a viewer’s first introduction to the Korean Wave. There is an abundance of media that can easily lead to overstimulation from the bright colors and unfamiliarity of the concepts and culture that surrounds the media.

The connection between the media of the Korean Wave and international viewers would not be possible without the technology that has connected the countries of the world through social media. Most importantly in this case, streaming platforms have been the preferred technology used by consumers of Korean Wave media to access this content. The global music industry transformed as well since it is now able to profit off of international sales after once relying on physical sales to gain revenue. This massive expansion of the music industry gave the opportunity for a non-English pop music genre to break out into the mainstream American and European scene (Kim 107). Without this technology, there would have been no way to connect international audiences to South Korea, and South Korea’s now successful industries would never have seen the popularity they do today.

Media from the Korean Wave is outwardly known for upbeat and colorful scenes, however now with an international spotlight, the media has shifted to include a more serious variety of subjects. Ranging from discussions from poverty to mental health to harmful societal standards, examples from the Korean Wave such as K-pop have incorporated these subjects into their song lyrics so they can resonate with their audience. The act of using such a large platform to address taboo subjects in Korea has resulted in an incredibly powerful message saying that the youth of South Korea are ready for change. The cinema of South Korea has also used their platforms as tools for emotional processing of traumatic events in the country as well as societal issues within South Korea.

Initially while starting this project, I did not want to address the serious topics brought to light in my ultimate movie of choice, Forgotten, directed by Jang Hang-jun. I wanted to focus on the brighter aspects of the media from South Korea, but I was eventually drawn to the beauty in the contrast between the different sides of the Korean Wave. In taking a step back to see the importance of addressing serious issues through media, I was able to appreciate Forgotten equally with all other parts of the Korean Wave. Throughout this video essay alongside the lyrics from “Trauma” by Seventeen, scenes from the film Forgotten are shown to represent the hidden struggles that parts of the Korean Wave media choose to push away in order to highlight more positive and glamorous parts of life. The beauty of balance is highlighted in this video essay, and it is important to recognize its importance to viewers inside and outside of Korea. These deeper messages are emphasized in order to promote the change needed to foster conversation on taboo subjects and to impact populations around the world.

Works Cited

  • Jin, Dal, & Tae-jin Yoon. “Korean Wave| The Korean Wave: Retrospect and Prospect ― Introduction.” International Journal of Communication [Online], 11 (2017): 9. Web. 24 Nov. 2022
  • The Soft Power of the Korean Wave : Parasite, BTS and Drama, edited by Youna Kim, Taylor & Francis Group, 2021.