Introductory Korean drama

by on January 9, 2014 at 12:50 am in Education, Television, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

To an economist like me, this fondness for hospitals is surprising, because hospitals are expensive in Korea and much of the bill is not covered by Korea’s National Health Insurance system.  Price-elasticity of demand does not seem to work in Korean drama.

That is from Princeton economist Uwe E. Reinhardt, from a document from his “class” on Korean Drama (pdf).  He introduces the “class” with this explanation:

After the near-collapse of the world’s financial system has shown that we economists really do not know how the world works, I am much too embarrassed to teach economics anymore, which I have done for many years.  I will teach Modern Korean Drama instead.

Although I have never been to Korea, I have watched Korean drama on a daily basis for over six years now.  Therefore I can justly consider myself an expert in that subject.

By the way, I have been watching Boys Over Flowers lately, a Korean drama (it’s also on Hulu).  Think of it as a mix of Heathers, Mean Girls, and Clueless, but set in a posh Korean high school, with lots of “Average is Over” value.  There is definitely income-elasticity of demand in Korean drama, even if there is not much price-elasticity.  There is also plenty on matching models, moral hazard, status competition, and repeated games, and not always with cooperative solutions.

For the pointer I thank Oriol Andres.

1 Tim January 9, 2014 at 1:18 am

Korean historical dramas are where it’s at. Pretty cheesy sometimes but great TV. Yi Soon Shin, Sejong the Great and Age of Warriors are my top recommendations!

2 Roy January 9, 2014 at 4:38 am

I’m a big fan of “Queen Seon-deok”, I know it is old but I remember watch Dae Jang Geum in Chinese years ago, it was really entertaining.

3 Paul January 9, 2014 at 11:40 am

Agreed and those are excellent but Iris is a better gateway to Korean dramas in general. Lee Byung-hun might be recognizable to some and watchers will soon become fans of Kim Tae Hee. That will lead to My Princess and Jang Ok-jung. At that point, newcomers will be more open to trying just about any serial.

Boys over Flowers was my entry point and is still a sentimental favorite but I don’t know that I’d recommend that to newcomers.

4 Ray Lopez January 9, 2014 at 2:30 am

Just look at you effeminate types watching Korean drama! Don’t you know that real men watch Japanese drama, no?

5 John Thacker January 9, 2014 at 8:39 am

Boys Over Flowers is just a Korean version of a Japanese manga that was already adapted into a Japanese drama and a Taiwanese drama (as well as a Japanese anime) before the Koreans got to it.

6 C January 9, 2014 at 9:07 am

I’m glad to hear Tyler is a shoujo-fan at heart!

7 Mark Thorson January 9, 2014 at 10:39 am

You won’t get the not-so-subtle anti-Japanese propaganda in anything from Japan. Japanese in Korean drama are arrogant, looking down on Korean culture.

In my limited sampling of Korean drama, I’ve noticed that food plays a large role. They’re often eating, and commenting on the food. Sometimes the food is an important plot point.

8 prior probability January 9, 2014 at 2:34 am

“we economists really do not know how the world works” … exactly right, because economics is not a science (it just pretends to be) … nice to hear the truth for a change

9 Ricardo January 9, 2014 at 8:53 am

Do you mean economists *pretend* to formulate testable hypotheses, and then *pretend* to look for experiments which will confirm/refute those hypotheses?

Or do you mean that economists formulate hypotheses and then test them, but the dearth of real-world data, and the general lack of controllable conditions, combine to make extremely difficult the drawing of reliable inferences?

10 Alan January 9, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I mean that macro-economists don’t *formulate* testable hypotheses, their hypotheses are neuroses acquired before they finished high school and that their evidence is carefully selected to support what they already believed. When you are trying to sell an idea, proof by confident assertion is more persuasive than data.

11 mulp January 9, 2014 at 2:39 am

How is it different than House or ER or Chicago Hope where it took a long time before they started introducing cost into the plots, but never in the context of patient decisions, only in terms of fights over billing between hospital and insurer or charity funds involving a main protagonist. I can’t recall in hundreds of episodes a case where someone told the patient they needed to pay thousands up front in cash to be admitted because they lacked insurance, and they were at risk of dying that day.

12 Al January 9, 2014 at 2:57 am

Empire of Gold for game theory.

13 pneumaticoil January 9, 2014 at 4:20 am

As a note, Tyler, Boys Over Flowers is based on a Japanese comic and thus may not be the best example of a Korean drama. The Korean version is the third live-action version, following a massively popular Taiwanese production and a Japanese one. The animated series and surreal alternative reality movie where everyone is a dancer predates all these as well (late 1990s!). I do wonder though if the Korean version has been suitably localized to be more Korean – I haven’t seen it.

14 charlie January 9, 2014 at 8:24 am

very sly, burying the lede like that.

15 Norman Pfyster January 9, 2014 at 9:17 am

Well, if it has lots of “Average is Over” value, I’m all over that.

16 L January 9, 2014 at 10:14 am

While Reinhardt’s paper is amusing, I’ve noticed another economic phenomenon with regards to Korean media.

In Seattle’s International District, a CD single by a Korean act can cost $30 or more at Kinokuniya, an excellent Japanese bookstore. Several blocks away, at an anonymous shop run by a Cantonese speaker, full albums by the exact same Korean artists are $5 dollars a disc.

Similarly, prices for Korean films and TV series at Koryo in Manhattan’s Koreatown are much higher than at video stores in that city’s Chinatown on Chrystie Street. A 15 minute subway ride separates the two neighborhoods.

The same process can be seen in Sydney, again by comparing high Korean DVD prices at Kinokuniya in the CBD to low prices in Haymarket, a neighborhood with many Chinese businesses that is perhaps a 10 minute walk away.

I suspect parallel importation, rather than piracy, is the primary culprit for such price disparities in close proximity.

My background is not in the field, so I’m curious: Would investigating this price disparity be a suitable subject for economics research?

17 Dnagamoose January 9, 2014 at 10:17 am

If you’re looking for lots of Korean drama you can stream, I would suggest Crunchyroll instead of Hulu. It’s got a larger selection (indeed, they have a deal with Hulu and I believe it’s the source for the many of shows Hulu does have). And, if you decide to get a subscription, it has the advantage over Hulu+ that it drops ads entirely.

18 Paul January 9, 2014 at 11:44 am

Been a while since I turned on Hulu; I thought they got most of their stuff from DramaFever?

19 prior_approval January 9, 2014 at 10:29 am

‘After the near-collapse of the world’s financial system has shown that we economists really do not know how the world works, I am much too embarrassed to teach economics anymore, which I have done for many years. I will teach Modern Korean Drama instead.

Although I have never been to Korea, I have watched Korean drama on a daily basis for over six years now. Therefore I can justly consider myself an expert in that subject.’

So let me see if this is accurate – a tenured faculty member in the Economics department says he won’t teach economics anymore, due to the failure of economics to describe the real world well.

In exchange, this tenured faculty member will teach about a genre he has watched on TV for six years.

Truly, only a top notch satirical web site run by an economist with tenure would dare to publicize so many levels of hilarity, and still expect to be taken seriously.

20 Jack PQ January 9, 2014 at 11:57 am

Obviously, Reinhardt is being snarky and making fun of armchair economists and pundits.

21 Mark Yellin January 9, 2014 at 11:11 am

The starting point for Korean Drama has to be “Winter Sonata” with its many improbable plot twists. It is ceratinly the most popular K-Drama internationally and produced an anime spin-off. I tried to get into “Boys Over Flowers” but gave up after 5 or 6 episodes.

22 ohwilleke January 9, 2014 at 11:38 am

As others have mentioned, “Boys Over Flowers” was originally a Japanese manga series that has since had a least three live action TV dramatizations, in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, in addition to a couple of other adaptation.

I’ve only seen the Korean adaptation which alas is not quite as good as the (very long, but very good) manga series.

This fact, which is true of a number of big Korean dramas since Japan is the dominant producer of dramas in East Asia, partially accounts for the mystery of heavy hospitalization utilization in Korean drama. The economic and cultural expectations related to hospital use in Japan are such that it has the highest hospital utilization rate in the world (and also very vigorously funded school nurse programs). And, Japanese dramas reflect this common place aspect of Japanese life. But, these aspects of Japanese dramas are not easily modified when they are redone in Korea or elsewhere because hospital visits usually coincide with critical plot points.

Also, while not the case in the “Boys Over Flowers” story, it is worth noting that one of the very cliche plot points in both Japanese and Korean dramas is a diligent child who works long hours and foregoes pleasures enjoyed by his or her peers to pay for the medical bills of a parent or orphaned sibling who has a condition requiring prolonged and sustained medical treatment.

Since this is an econ blog talking about a drama whose central element is class division, this is as good a place as any to note another interesting feature of both Japanese and Korean popular fiction. In both, the proportion of stories about working class protagonists like the heroine of “Boys Over Flowers” relative to middle class protagonists is much, much higher than in American fiction )in which middle class characters far outnumber working class ones). But, part of the reason that the Korean live action version doesn’t play as well as the Japanese one is that they way that upper class v. working class people interact in Japan is more rigid and extreme than it is in Korea, even though these interactions are all in the Japanese direction relative to the United States. For example, the brassiness of the heroine in “Boys Over Flowers” is considerably more shocking and radical in a Japanese setting, where extreme etiquette is taken more seriously, than it is in a Korean setting where norms about respect for authority and maintaining etiquette are less intense.

By analogy, trying to fit the story of “Boys Over Flowers” into a Korean setting is a bit like trying to fit English social class conscious romances of Jane Austin into a setting in Ohio or California. It isn’t impossible and there are vestiges of the class structures found in the original in the new settings, but the stories don’t flow as naturally from the setting either.

23 hou January 9, 2014 at 9:03 pm

I think the more common theme is not working class protagonist, but the fact that it’s almost always a ditzy but strong-head poor female protagonist versus a rich male protagonist. The use of the working class protagonist is simply a way to exaggerate the contrast between the two leads in an attempt to reuse the classic Cinderella tale that is the focus of a large proportion of popular East Asian dramas.

24 Ed January 9, 2014 at 11:38 am

In all honesty, I get more out of the cultural posts on this website than I do from the economics posts.

25 Ed January 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Economics related: “Miss Korea” is on Hulu right now. Set against the 1997 crisis we have the IMF actions, the perils of doing business with loan sharks, the use of gold as a personal reserve. Also the business of beauty pageants and women’s cosmetics.

26 ? January 11, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Finally, proof that Tyler reads EJMR. This has been around for a while but only recently resurfaced on EJMR…

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