New Emissary

Riding the Korean Wave

Korean wave, or hallyu, is the specific term for the rising popularity of South Korean culture around the world.

Last Friday, two South Korean selections received key awards at the 15th Pusan International Film Festival, one of Asia’s biggest film events. This followed another success earlier this year when the country’s film industry made its mark at the fourth annual Asian Film Awards, with director Bong Joon-ho’s film Mother winning six awards, including best film. And in August, the 4th annual Cinema Digital Seoul (CinDi) film festival featured 105 digital films from 27 countries in the Korean capital, showing that when it comes to new film production mediums, Seoul is at the cutting edge.

There’s no doubt that South Korea has set its sights on becoming a major contemporary cultural hub in Asia, whether it’s through its increasingly prominent movie industry, rapidly growing design market, or proliferating modern art facilities.

However, the popularity of South Korean culture abroad has actually been growing dramatically for over a decade now. Indeed, the phenomenon got its own name in the late 1990s—Korean wave or Korea fever (known locally as hallyu) is the term used to describe the rising popularity of Korean culture around the world.

The trend is a fascinating one, which Korean culture analyst Michael Shin (whose insights I’ll be sharing) calls ‘an interesting puzzle.’ Indeed, from its origins in pop music exports, to its hard to prove but widely speculated upon knock-on economic benefits (some say Korean electronics have even been given a boost), to its strong emotional appeal to Japanese housewives, there’s a lot to consider when looking at the impact of this potential form of soft power.

Starting Friday, I’ll be taking a closer look at the Korean Wave and will be speaking with some leading analysts on the issue who will be sharing their insights into this ongoing phenomenon.