One thing most people don’t understand is that stories are limited by the format they’re told in. A really good action movie has twenty minutes of backstory, one quiet emotional scene, and the rest is all action. A good action episode, on the other hand, has two or three emotional quiet scenes, one epic fight, and the rest is piecing the backstory together. This is because movies have a higher budget, and viewers expect more character development from a drama, because there’s more time to tell the story.
Of course, more isn’t always better. There’s a reason drama fans dread the middle stretch when characters often revert to clichés and twists come from nowhere. There’s just too much time to fill and too little time to shoot in. Thus, even dramas that started out different will often meld into the usual mold. A writer’s options are to keep going in their different direction and risk missing the deadline, or finish on time by reaching into the bag of Standard Drama Tricks and pulling out something that everyone’s already seen. But it’s not like viewers have other options for live-action, serialized entertainment, though. Or, at least, they didn’t. Enter the web drama.
Web dramas are short dramas produced for online distribution. Most have a lower episode count and shorter episode runtimes than a standard drama. While they’ve been around for over five years, web dramas have really started to pick up speed in the last year or so, particularly among younger people.
The shorter episodes are perfect for young Koreans. A whole episode can be viewed on the bus ride to school, and a series can be finished in a night. Dubbed “Snack Culture” by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, this trend is predicted to continue. Web dramas are a way to enjoy a show without sacrificing study or sleep time, increasing its popularity amongst wider audiences. The Aftereffect, a supernatural web series about a boy who can predict death, managed to garner 2 million views in nine days. Another, named Twenty Years Old, proved to be such a smash hit that it was eventually purchased for broadcast by tvN.
While the convenience is an obvious draw, the other major appeal of web dramas is that shorter tends to mean better. How much time you have to tell a story seriously affects how you tell it. There is simply not time for padding, subplots, and padding of subplots in a 50-minute web drama. It forces writers to focus on a single plot, which can result in a much higher quality script. It encourages writers to trim the fat instead of adding to it.
Case in point: Another Parting. In a minute and a half, we learn that Hul (Seo In-guk) is not human and Hana (Wang Ji-won) is homicidal. The pace just picks up from there: Seo In-guk is an alien with a time-sensitive mission to learn why humans cry, many others have come before him and failed, he’s possessing a human body, and Wang Ji-won is a bitter woman scorned who’s about to commit suicide. And that’s just the first episode. Nothing is rushed, either. By only talking about Hul and Hana, the plot can develop rapidly without detracting from the pacing of the character development.
Web dramas shorter lengths also have the bonus of diluting a scripts’ flaws. Anyone can watch something obviously flawed for about an hour, but any longer and viewers might start to get angry from feeling like they’re wasting their time. With web dramas, there’s just not enough time to get annoyed. The dialogue in Another Parting is so straight-forward, it’s uncomfortable. Twenty Years Old is a blatant self-insert fanfic whose main appeals are charming cuteness, warm feelings, as well as the fact that Beast’s Kikwang plays Beast’s Kikwang. In a normal drama, these would be serious issues. No one wants to spend twenty hours on a drama with clunky dialogue or the substance of cotton candy. But, because you’re only spending twenty minutes on them, these once-glaring flaws are suddenly easy to overlook.
Web dramas are not going to eradicate dramas anytime soon. They do, however, offer a very nice change from the usual fare. Are there any web dramas that have captured your hearts?