K-Dramas rekindle common identity between the two Koreas
by Alessandra Tamponi

Just as those in favor of reunification are descending among the younger generation, South Korean TV series also disseminated through streaming platforms are also playing a cultural role at the opposite end of the spectrum that goes beyond entertainment: they break down certain stereotypes about North Korea and nurture a feeling of closeness between North and South.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - July 27 marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice that sealed its division at the 38th parallel on the Korean Peninsula. From 1953 to the present, North and South Korea have evolved into two completely different forms of state and cultures.

There are few people alive today who have experienced that rift firsthand and belonged to one of those more than 60,000 families divided by seven decades. Young people have grown up with two separate Koreas, so reunification is increasingly unlikely.

 According to a survey by Seoul National University, in 2021 only 44 percent of South Koreans were in favor of reunification. In the 20-39 age group, more than 40% believe that the South does not need to reunify with the North, while 34% believe we do not need it.

These data show how in seventy years of division the perception of the relationship between North and South has changed in the population.

Yet the attempt to preserve an idea of shared identity between North and South have found an unthinkable ally: in fact, the theme is at the heart of several Korean dramas, the Korean TV series better known as K-Drama.

For example: just a few months after the historic meeting in the DMZ between South Korea's President Moon Jae-In, the U.S. President Donald Trump, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, the series Crash Landing on You, broadcast in South Korea by tvN, lands on Netflix.

The series tells the love story between a South Korean businesswoman and chaebol heiress, who accidentally ended up in the North while paragliding, and the North Korean soldier who finds her. The series is one of the most watched streaming series, becoming an international hit, and an example of how pop culture still preserves and narrates the idea of "Korean Nation." 

In fact, one of the reasons that made it so beloved by viewers and critics alike, and that made it different from other South Korean TV series with a North Korean setting, is the depiction of life in rural North Korea, in fact using the love story between the two main characters as a vector to tell not only the differences but also the similarities that still unite the values of North and South: filial love, loyalty, and a sense of belonging.

The series has also been welcomed by those organizations that support North Koreans fleeing to the South , precisely for moving away from the stereotypical portrayal of North Korea and the Koreans who inhabit it, whose image has long suffered as a result of bilateral tensions.

The series is not the first of its kind, but its release through Netflix has turned it into the most significant case. In 2012 South Korea released The King 2 Hearts, which re-imagined South Korea as a constitutional monarchy and told the love story between the young crown prince and a young female soldier from the North.

Or The Eternal Monarch, which, through traveling between different dimensions imagines a united Korean peninsula.

The theme of the reunification of the Koreas, promoted through romantic love, is one of the most recurrent in K-Dramas and can help preserve the idea of Korean identity that is gradually being lost.

TV series and cinema are a key aspect of South Korean cultural diplomacy that is being culturally affirmed internationally, but they could also play a key role in shaping cultural aspects at the local level through the influence of on-screen characters on viewers by emphasizing various social issues.