The world, according to the Korean entertainment industry, is a quite narrow place — at least, that’s what you can deduct from what SM Entertainment calls ‘world tour.’ Luckily enough, Europe just got onto K-pop’s radar (and that makes it three continents in the world with East Asia and North America); but luckily enough too, Europe has been in K-drama’s radar for some time now, just in a more subtle way.
We all know non-Korean actors and actresses are pretty rare in dramas — well, European ones are basically nonexistent (with the exception of Pierre Deporte). And maybe that’s the reason why, whenever an European country is mentioned in a K-drama, my European senses tingle. If you live out of K-dramas, there are three facts you will end up learning from Europe: first, that good food comes from Europe; secondly, that the Old Continent is the artsy place par excellence and thirdly, that Europe is far far away.
Anyone who has ever seen a drama in which food was involved (and there are plenty of them) has probably heard Europe being mentioned. If we talk about patisserie like in My name is Kim Sam-soon, then it’s more than probable than the character has gone to study in France. And then of course we have Italy, which has a special place in dramas about pasta — ehem, Pasta — and coffee — Coffee Prince.
Not everything in Europe is food, though. And until someone decides to make a drama about sausages, Germany is pretty much out of the game in that area. So here’s where the artsy stuff enters: if classical music is your thing, then Germany is probably your place — see What’s Up for further details on opera training. But if classical music is not your area, then you can always try England like Kyu-won in You’ve Fallen For Me.
England also has a special place in K-dramas aside from music and English. Korea, as many countries that have at some point had some kind of monarchy, still somehow longs for a royal family — at least media-wise, as we have seen in dramas such as Goong and the current King 2 Hearts — and Europe in general and England in particular seem to be able to fulfill that need. And if you add fluffy dresses and tiaras, then you have something like Jeremy’s story in You’re Beautiful.
Yes, Europe carries inevitably an image of romanticism, at least in the minds of Korean writers, be it France — Lovers in Paris — or Czech Republic — Lovers in Prague. But ultimately what I’ve come to realize is that Europe is a place that is far away. So half of the time it’s not about the patisserie, the coffee or the music; it’s about, well, being really far. When Eun-jo asks Ki-hoon to teach her Spanish in Cinderella’s sister, she’s not thinking about the food or the culture — she just wants to know how far away Spain actually is. And when Sang-hee appears in Seoul in Lie to me, her aunt grumbles about how she thought he was probably gallivanting in Spain or whereabouts.
Europe in K-dramas represents an ideal, a place for art, princes and princesses, good cakes; a place that also happens to be far away. But my favorite mention of Europe will always be from a Korean movie, My Dear Enemy, where Ha Jung-woo’s character says:
“Spaniards and Koreans have many things in common, like partying all night, drinking and being a little quick-tempered. Spaniards also have similar tastes, […] So I think rice wine will do well in Spain. A rice wine pub in the heart of Madrid. Sounds sweet, huh?”
I don’t know, but from this side, I feel like Europe is not that far away from Korea.