Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Around Town: The Korean paradigm shift

The paradigm has shifted. Our town is now officially cross-cultural.

What cross-culture? Obviously, it's Korean.

The Korean wave has really arrived in La Cañada Flintridge, and not a moment too soon.

Some point to the billion downloads of the music video “Gangnam Style” as the turning point. Others say it was the Korean automotive industry. Neither answer is true. The turning point for South Korean culture occurred when local channel 18 started to air the popular evening soap opera, “My Love, Madame Butterfly.”

“My Love, Madame Butterfly” is an example of the genre of televised Korean miniseries drama called Korean drama, or K-drama. The show features Yeom Jung-ah as the character Nam Nabi, a young but washed-up actress who is betrayed by her husband. Nabi means butterfly, hence the reference in the title.

The husband tricks Nam Nabi into marriage by pretending to be in love with her. His goal is to secure the deed to his family's land. As the cards stack up against him, the husband fakes his own death, a betrayal of his bride and his own parents.

Nam Nabi is devastated. Her reputation is destroyed. She is caught up in a scandal. She loses all her money. Public opinion turns against her.

She is forced to move in with her in-laws. At first, Nam Nabi is conceited and self-centered, but after a while, family life begins to change her. Nam Nabi becomes selfless and giving. She helps the family succeed in their ventures. At this point, the supposedly dead husband returns and the plot thickens.

We were all afraid that Nam Nabi would wallow in her victimhood, but no! The plot thickened and revenge is in the air.

Unlike American and Spanish language daily soap operas, K-dramas air on two consecutive nights. Some air on Monday and Tuesday. Others on Wednesday and Thursday. “My Love, Madame Butterfly” has a 9 p.m. slot on Saturday and Sunday nights, with subtitles.

The subtitled version lags a few months behind the all-Korean episodes, which are available on YouTube and other online sites. As of this week, channel 18 has shown 32 of the projected 50 episodes.

Unlike the rags-to-riches themes of Spanish-language dramas, K-dramas stress entrepreneurship and family values. Spanish language dramas generally feature an impoverished young woman with a heart of gold who finally marries a rich man, with a supporting cast of twins separated at birth (one evil and one nice), one older evil rich woman and a cloying, doll-like little girl.

“My Love, Madame Butterfly” takes a different approach. There are rags-to-riches characters, but they are entrepreneurs, male and female. There are impoverished craftsmen who hit it big with hard work and a sense of high fashion. There are gleaming shots of Hyundais and Kias, racks of couture in high-end department stores, modernistic apartments and fancy cafes. The characters sport cutting-edge cell phones, pink digital cameras, designer ski duds and designer shoes. Except for the hospital episodes when Nam Nabi got hit by a car, most episodes have great shoes and designer clothes.

How will K-drama influence La Cañada Flintridge? According to Mapping L.A., by the 2010 census, La Cañada was 25.8 percent Asian. La Cañada is now home to the Seoul BBQ, with table-grilled meats and fresh fish. Nearby, the Lotte Market sells some of the best produce in town, along with three kinds of Miso salad dressing. Even La Cañada High School offers four full years of Korean.

The street scenes from Seoul in “My Love, Madame Butterfly” don't look much different than La Cañada. The cars look the same, but the tech gear looks better. There are a lot of cool phones and cameras.

The other day, I saw a young woman at Starbucks dressed just like Nam Nabi. She looked awesome.

The Korean wave has truly arrived in La Cañada. The paradigm has already shifted. The best is yet to come.

Around Town: The Korean paradigm shift La Canada Valley Sun

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