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[Drama chat] The changing role of violence in K-dramas

A few of us were chatting earlier this week about how K-dramas have changed so much over the last 10ish years — from how they tell their stories to what they’ll actually show on screen. Though the evolution of K-dramas now means we get to enjoy amazing production value, tons of talent behind and in front of the camera, and storytelling that’s way more compelling than it used to be, the downside is that the “genre” of K-dramas is rapidly changing. It occurred to me this week that one important component of this is onscreen violence. I mean, raise your hand if you remember the days of fake fist fights with clearly post-edited sound effects, and blurred out knife blades.

But this isn’t an argument about broadcasting rules and network television as much as it is about what we’re comfortable — and maybe desensitized towards — seeing on our screens. In my early years of K-drama spelunking, I found myself so quickly accustomed to blaring OSTs and completely non-threatening scenes of “violence” that when I went to watch an American show, I was shocked at what I was seeing in front of me. These days, though – and a lot of this is thanks to streaming media and OTT content — I don’t see that dividing line as sharply anymore.
 

How do you feel about onscreen violence in K-dramas? Do you see it as a natural evolution of the genre/storytelling, or a consequence of keeping up with the Joneses?

 
Let the chatting begin!
 

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If a show I like has violence in it, I imagine that the blood is fake and knife/weapon is a cardboard (which is true), so that I do not get freaked out. Also, if there are autopsy scenes I just keep looking at one corner of the screen until it is over. In general, with each passing drama, I as a viewer am getting hardened towards the gruesome scenes and flinch less when the same scenes a few years back would have made me drop the drama. I guess, repetition makes a person get accustomed to violent scenes, just like other tropes.

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Really not a fan of the mostly gratuitous violence in a lot of dramas. Not just the big, gory stuff but even the seemingly 'minor' instances - in the older dramas it used to be slapping someone (usually women 😠) and nowadays it's kicking them in the shins, hitting them in the head, etc.

As for the more over-the-top violence, I think it's a mix of natural evolution as broadcasting rules relaxed (which makes the blurred knives even funnier) and a crossover from k-movies. After all Korean cinema doesn't shy away from the truly dark side of human nature - see Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, the Vengeance Trilogy, etc. Frankly every time I see brutal violence from a crazy chaebol boss, I just find myself thinking Yoo Ah-in did it better (and seven years ago at that) in Veteran 🤷‍♀️.

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Thank you so much for saying this. People so often blame “Westernization” for topics like this and seem to just completely ignore Korean cinema. These changes we see IMO has much more to do with the general fact that the rise of streaming and cable have resulted in fewer broadcast restrictions and less censorship. Korea is not some pure, unadulterated utopian paradise that is being poisoned by Netflix or whatever. These productions are being created by Koreans and largely for Koreans.

Also, there are still fluffy romcoms out there being made. :)

I do not generally like watching violent things, but I object to the idea that it’s destroying kdramas.

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Agree, Korean Cinema really have diverse content from sweet heartwarming movies to edgy movies with mature themes. I guess many people have not deppet their those into Korean cinema and therefor do not know that their storys can be very violent. Another thing is some of those netflix original have movies director, so that also explain how they could feel more like movie than the traditional drama.

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Yep, lots of film directors have been doing miniseries lately, especially on streaming services, so we’re seeing kind of a fine line that is being blurred more and more every year between Korean drama and Korean cinema. Same thing is happening in other countries.

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“Crossover from K-movies” is exactly the point I want to make too, as far as violence (and sex) are concerned. Highly explicit and uncompromising - a far cry from the genteel K-drama world that we have come to know and love. Is it bad or good? It really depends on whether the script-PD team behind it are up to it. It requires a clear vision with matching ability, and not a lot could fit into this category.

I watched Decision To Leave just yesterday and was blown away with the immediate urge to watch it again. It is the Park Chan-wook that I don’t know about until this piece - no violence or sex but all the ambiguous glances or subtle hints that are so VERY romantic and sexy. It’s simply sublime but once again demonstrates to whose hands we should and can trust. That’s why checking out who writes and directs is always my criteria.

Just to also note here Park co-wrote DTL with his frequent collaborator, Jeong Seo Kyung who wrote one of the best dramas this year (in my book), Little Women.

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Decision to Leave was SO GOOD. I watched it with my brother at a packed theater at a film festival where we had to sit in the very front row, but it was so good that I quickly forgot how much my neck and eyes hurt from looking up at the screen

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I was worried the movie might not live up to the hype but it is indeed that good. The feel still lingers on now that one full day has gone - will watch it again.

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Yes. That scene in Veteran - nothing was shown, from what I remember, but I had to look away and block my ears. YAI made a lasting impression. Just shows what an amazing actor he is. K movies have had some memorable moments of violence for some time. I'm thinking Lee Jung-jae in New World (2013). Something about shooting someone in a barrel to save them from an even worse fate. And then back to YAI: there's the sheer claustrophobia of The Throne .... but then that really happened. 🤔

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There was definitely one brutal on-screen scene in Veteran with the kid's dad but yes, I think there was a scene with a golf-club (?) which made me have the same reaction - wanting to plug my ears 🙉.

You're right that k-movies actually have some pretty memorable violent scenes. As someone said elsewhere in this thread, if the violence is contextually relevant - like in New World where he's driven to it by circumstances - it can often add a lot to the story. Same for the The Throne - it's possible to tell the story without the gory details but it definitely lessens the impact of what was done.

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Yes. Golf club moment. It took me a bit before I could forgive YAI. This discussion is bringing back so many moments, but mainly in film. How about in Mother... or The Handmaiden (the cigar guillotine or the giant squid)??? I'd better stop, but when you think about context, so many memorable, imaginative, effective and shocking moments.

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Absolutely. There's a reason these movies were remade or inspired countless imitations in other countries.

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I see it as keeping up with the times and not keeping up with the Joneses. Like older K-dramas, fake fist fights look dated. As long as it's not gratuitous violence, I want to see realistic onscreen violence and wish censorship would stop blurring out knifes when guns aren't blurred out.

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That's a good point about the knives vs guns!

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I'm sort of confused on when knives are blurred. In Love is For Suckers, the knife wasn't blurred. Is this a broadcast vs cable thing?

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Yes. Big stations have rules about it because of the high rate of self harm and suicide in Korea.

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I don't have an issue with onscreen violence, but it depends on the parties involved. Any violence where by it is clear from the beginning that the victimized would always be the victimized until the tail end of the drama is something I can't watch. But if they always one-up each other (Monster is a very good example of violence that one-ups each other), I'm open to watching since they're both on the receiving end.

Bringing it more narrowed, school violence is one that I'm never a party to. It irks my bones and I can't just sit down and watch kids bully other kids and the teachers do nothing about it due to a class divide.

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Monster - are you referring to the 50-episode 2016 drama or the alternative title for Beyond Evil (2021)? Or something else? Thanks!

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Monster 2016. The 50 episode one.

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I'm kinda tired by the feelings they give that romance is for brainless people and violence for the ones who likes quality and strong plot...

But in a lot of the last dramas, the violence was totally free like Squid Game. I watched Revenge of Others and now Weak Hero Class, I got the feeling I was watching Fight Club and not some dramas about highschool students...

I'm not bothered by violence when it's well done like in D.P.

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Yes - it’s not just a kdrama thing but I really hate the perception that Violence is Art but romance is fluff.

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I'm one who can't tolerate violence, no matter what form it takes.

I like brainless, fluff dramas because it's easy for me to watch them. I like enjoyment, and enjoyment comes from watching such dramas. I like dramas with great ensemble (e.g., Sh**ting Stars, My Unfamiliar Family, 2521, Start-Up) There is no enjoyment when violence, especially physical violence, is involved. I agree that there is some sort of violence -emotional- in almost every drama, but for evident physical violence I stay as far from it as I can. I am not desensitized to see these weapons being used to hurt anyone in any drama or even in news. If the drama I'm watching has some of these scenes, I close my eyes. I don't want to be desensitized by it, and that is my decision. I haven't watched Squid Game (and I doubt if I ever will) and any famous dramas that the major them is violence. It's very clear from the shows I've finished this year which are Sh**ting Stars, 2521, A Business Proposal, and the Sound of Magic.

I don't normally do crime dramas either, and I have no interest in learning/knowing anything about criminals (i.e., Through the Darkness avoidance). It hurts my head just thinking about it. To be honest, I wonder how other people find enjoyment in these.. but I guess to each their own. For me, it is just a big no.

My hope is that we have more and more happy dramas. 🙂 I like healing dramas, and I'm looking forward to next year with this little hope of mine. But tbh, as this year has been quite brutal to me Kdrama-wise, I'm exploring dramas from other countries as well.

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I guess I haven't really answered the prompt clearly, so my point is that I don't really know why violence has become more and more prominent in Kdramas these days. IMHO, I think this is the wrong direction. I believe the more we see something, the more we grow accustomed to it. I'm not sure which causes which, but we have so much violence in the world already, and I don't truly think it's a good idea to have more and more gruesome dramas. I know my voice has no place in the direction of the entertainment industry, but I think enjoyment can come from many things that aren't violent or gore.

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Not only enjoyment, but suspense and intrigue and excitement can also be achieved from things other than violence or gore.

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Hmmm interesting question, I don’t mind when a drama or series showcases the horror of violence and pointing out a societal issue like D.P.

But yes I agree on the whole, there seems to be increase, for example Taxi Driver has no business being on SBS. At minimum it should’ve aired on OCN or some streaming service

There is also the depiction of sexual violence which I have complicated feelings about. It’s an unfortunate reality but more often then not I feel like it’s not taken with care and sensitivity and at worst fetishising it.

Cafe Minamdang is an example, it’s meant to be a comedy but there was a scene where a woman was running for her life while the male perpetrator killed her with a glass object. The complete tonal whiplash was shocking honestly. I blocked the scene out in the beginning hoping the series would lean more on the comedy but eventually I dropped it.

That said, I don’t think all violence is bad, and I do go through phases where I enjoy thrillers. Fiery Priest had some epic and fun martial arts fighting scenes which were a treat to watch

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Honestly, epic martial arts fighting scenes is a completely different matter from gratuitous violence and gore. It can sometimes border on ballet choreography in beauty. Violence can still be included in it, but they are 2 separate matters imho.

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True true, but I think Fiery Priest did have some bloody gore too, the way the priest died and the male lead’s traumatic bombing past.

I have my criticisms with the series as the well, the very sanitised view of the Catholic Church, which apparently isn’t as corrupt as the Korean police and prosecutors lol (I think the writer is Catholic? Vincenzo was written as Catholic too)

And particularly the false allegation of sexual assault had my blood boil. I grew up Catholic (I am no longer) and amongst some of shit the Church covered up was the priests’ predatory behaviour. That storyline was in really bad taste and hella offensive to all the victims who went through such experiences.

But yeah the marital arts fight scenes kept me watching, I would have dropped it otherwise

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I agree, I actually didn't like that show at all. It is one of the cases of "I hated the story passionately, but loved the 3 lead actors so much that I endured it to the very end"

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I think violence is present in life and therefore representing life in it’s many forms will lead to violence being shown as part of a story. The issue for me is the infiltration of violence into a range of genres even when it’s not necessary to the core story. I also don’t understand why the low percentage rate of stranger violence is used as the main representation of violence against women on dramas.

TV used to be censored but now it seems to have gone to such extremes that what is acceptable for certain ratings is way past what would have been considered appropriate in the not so recent past. I think viewers should have a choice of what they expose themselves to so prefer to have tags on dramas that clearly specify the content so that I can choose whether I want to be exposed to stress hormones as part of my unwinding routine. Tags are more effective for me than ratings as I can not and do not want to tolerate what some teenagers who have been desensitised from a very young age would find laughable.

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I think Netflix is really changing the landscape of K drama in violance and sex scene. I know K movie can go far in those two field, so when I watched one I was mentally prepared, in right time and mood. But I was familiar with K drama that is family friendly, I watch them while eating dinner, etc. So when I watched gruesome violance and obscene sex scene in k drama 8 episodes, I was just sigh.... this just isnt it. I look at Somebody, I still consider to continue to wach ep 4 or not. Sometimes, I feel Netflix out those scenes, only for shocking effect and trying too hard to convince its dramas are more edgy and internationally forward, And again it just isnt.

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I agree.

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I'm not sure if and to what extent violence is a result of many of Kdramas being on Netflix, but I agree on sex scene addition as a result of it. As far as I'm concerned, I think I've seen at least a few dramas in the recent years that some sex scenes happened quite out of nowhere. *coughs A Business Proposal coughs* Not that I think sex scenes should be avoided or anything, but I think it's quite unexpected given that these were made in a country that is still not that open about sex in general compared to the West. Case in point: when almost the whole run of a drama the OTP almost never touched each other and suddenly they had sex in the last episode. That gave me quite a head-scratching moment.

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I have watched a lot of kdramas on netflix, and I have to slightly disagree about there being more sex because of Netflix. I remain frustrated by the way kdramas deal with sex and sexuality. In fact, I took that Business Proposal scene as a parody--one more meta joke, in this case the stereotype movie depiction of violently passionate out of control lovers.

Important to clarify that when I say I'd like a franker depiction of sex I'm not talking more nakedness, nor viewing lovers writhing under sheets from an overhead camera. I just want a couple to wake up next to each other without 1)A shocked look, as if they had no idea how this could happen or 2) one of them (usually the male), having gotten up and left, or bustling around making coffee.)

But I know this call for a recognition of sex as a legitimate part of love is just me, from growing up in hippie California in the 1970s. I don't think the issue is with kdramas. It is my impression that audiences everywhere in the world are generally more comfortable seeing someone being eviscerated with a knife or having their brains bashed in by baseball bat than actually seeing the depiction of physical intimacy between lovers.

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I understand where you’re coming from. I was living for a short period in a western country and I think I understand how sex forms one important part of love relationships. I personally agree with that, as I think it’s a normal thing. However, there are some places in the world (at least here in one tiny south eastern Asian country where I live) where sex was, and perhaps still is by older generations, seen as a taboo topic and virginity valued as the sign of being a good, proper woman. The idea of women agency has been developed and recognized here only recently, and the move towards people being more comfortable with the idea of physical intimacy as a normal thing between couples (and does not indicate the value of a woman) is still very new. So I assume you finding how they portray love relationships between couples mostly frustrating in Kdramas a result of the mixture of the traditional ideology that men are superior in the romantic relationship and the move towards people being more comfortable in terms of physical contact in a romantic relationship (I.e., being intimate before getting married).

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Yes, I think you are probably right. Dominant male attitudes and discomfort with physical contact are interestingly linked.
In the U.S. there is a strong conservative faction that would deny the legitimacy of any contraception or sex education--but also believe that men who engage in sex out of wedlock are "boys being boys." The double standard is what I can't stand.

In Kdramas, its a little less of a double standard, in that there is the dirty and exploitative older male politician who preys on younger women, always rightfully portrayed as the villain, or the innocent male lead who would not think of doing anything physical until episode 12.
The idea that there might be a perfectly acceptable physical relationship between two mutually consenting adults is what I am missing, but I completely understand that my attitudes are not those of Koreans!

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@hacja I think your idea is also what many people are hoping to see soon. Let’s hope some positive change will happen soon both irl and in dramas :)

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Just to be clear, I don’t think I can speak for the Korean people, but I think I understand why you think so and why Kdramas are doing it like that.

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Except from Netflix, I think, just my opinion, C drama in general iis better in building up sexual tension than K drama. Even, in K drama, the otp kissing is seemed out of place and forced. Agree, it is not just about people going naked.
My old K dramas were all about romance, melodrama, and makjangs so I have no comparison how violance was back then and how it is now. I think the ocn dramas that started the trend but even they are mild compare to K movies.

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Personally, I'm less concerned with the amount of violence on screen and more concerned with why it's there in the first place. My problem with violence in a lot of Western media (and a lot of East Asian films) is that it's there to be "cool". The storytelling glorifies those who commit the acts and glosses over any consequences or long term effects. Faceless "bad guys" get mowed down and the hero swaggers through the carnage unfazed. If a show or film is willing to do the hard work of looking at what violence really does to individuals and communities that's different, and that's actually one of the things that drew me to k-dramas in the first place. It wasn't that they didn't contain violence - it was that they were often willing to look much more critically at the effects of violence. It's not accident that two of my favorite k-dramas are The Devil and Six Flying Dragons, which are both shows that look explicitly at people using violence to try to right wrongs, and all the reasons that that never really works.

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Violence is a part of real life, and at its best, quality entertainment both reflects and embellishes reality in such a way that we learn and extend our understanding of all human experience. It also makes me squeamish in many cases (for example, last night I couldn't get through "Someone" because there's a scene involving an injured cat) but in others, I find it to be an effective and exciting way to tell a story (for example, I loved both "Squid Game" and "DP").

I can't speak to whether or not kdramas have grown more violent as a reflection of Western drama or just because as time has passed, the general trend has been for media to showcase an increased level of violence. As an American who has opted out of many an American show because they're too violent, I still don't agree with those who blame Netflix for the fact that kdrama has grown more violent and gory. For every "My Name" or "Sweet Home," there's a "Hello, Me" or "Dear My Friends" or "Chicago Typewriter," (all on Netflix US) so to me, the evolution of kdrama or the supposed Westernization is really about all entertainment companies wanting to tell a balance of stories which, to my mind, is never a bad thing.

The issue I sometimes have with kdramas in particular is that there seems to be a stubborn refusal to expand how sex, sexual identity, sexual assault, and gender identity are portrayed, even as many dive headlong into embracing ever more explicit depictions of blood, gore, and other types of violence.

Just as with violence, topics related to sex and gender can easily cross over into the realm of gratuitous and exploitative, but they are key parts of human experience. So it can be frustrating to see creators and conglomerates embrace depictions of serial killers, gun violence, and buckets of blood pouring from all orifices, while simultaneously balking at a proper kiss scene, or depicting gay relationships or people as more than foils/best friends to straight people who either a) are pushed aside to show how their unknowing spouse or lover (see "My Unfamiliar Family") is the real victim we should care about b) exist only to support their (straight) friends and appear unable to have real romantic relationships of their own (because the writer can't/won't depict them).

Note that I'm not advocating for explicit sex and nudity in kdramas, unless, of course, it makes sense for the story being told. But I am confused as to why explicit violence seems to be acceptable and more realistic depictions of sex and sexual identity are not.

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Such a challenging discussion. I believe one of the things that happen as shows become more violent is that they also push out the female characters as the shows become more male-centric. You see more shows with the ratio of 3 male actors with top billing to 1 female with top billing. One area where k-dramas can find growth is with the male audience which may be why there has been a growth in more explicit violence, particularly gun violence. One of the reasons I started watching K-dramas was that there was an abundance of female characters but many of the most successful (internationally) k-dramas of the last few years have been dramas where there is more of an imbalance of male/female characters (DP/Squid Game). These shows have as much violence as any US show I've seen and also have female characters that are secondary.

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I think you've raised an interesting point about more male audience worldwide. In the past, Kdramas were made for domestic viewing, and I should think the dramas were made to cater to the target viewers which should be mainly women. This is also true as Kdramas were also very popular in Southeast Asian and the majority of viewers here were women. But as nowadays Kdramas are viewed worldwide, the potential market is men around the world. This should explain why dramas such as the ones you mentioned became a mega hit, and newer Kdramas are trying to follow the footsteps of these hit predecessors.

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I don't have a problem with violence on screen, tbh. I enjoy my action/crime/horro/thriller movies/series a lot. Some of my favorite movies are Pieta, Audition, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, etc.

So it's the same with kdramas. I've always enjoy my dark OCN dramas. I guess I just need balance. My mood isn't always for a fluffy romcom.

I don't give too much thought to the changes we've seen in the productions. If I rewatch an old show and see a "fake fist fights with clearly post-edited sound effects", I just think "old times" or something.

The real problem I have is the random/unnecesary violence we see these days. There are shows where I can literally skip the side plot about the murder or wtv and nothing happens. It's just violence for no reason, no meaning.

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For me, I want any violence in my shows to be necessary to the plot. Is there a reason we need to see it on screen, instead of having it implied or happen offscreen? Is the reason it's included just the shock-factor, or does it serve a narrative purpose or establish a character's motivation or personality? It's the gratuitous violence that I don't like because it just feels lazy. There are lots of ways to include tension or intrigue without violence, so if kdrama makers are just resorting to it because they couldn't think of anything else, that's annoying. I also really dislike it when a female is violent against her romantic partner (or prospective romantic partner) and dramas treat it as humor. Sometimes they get seriously hurt (but even if they don't) and I don't know why this is seen as funny by the writers/directors/whoever.

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Interesting topic @missvictrix.
When I first entered into Kdramaland with HEALER I was quickly drawn to the cops/crime/mystery genres. Reviewing my log out of my first ten kdramas I would classify six (HIDDEN IDENTITY, TEN, TEN 2, HEARTLESS CITY, CITY HUNTER and BAD GUYS) in cops/crime/mystery CCM.
The other four were a mixed bag (HEALER, FALLING FOR INNOCENCE, MASTER: GOD OF NOODLES and BEAUTIFUL MIND).
My viewing is predominantly CCM but not exclusively having ventured into sageuks and lately into romantic dramas/comedies.
I go to dramas for the story or mystery not for the potential of violence. That being said I am a bit of a ‘fight guy’ and probably enjoy the choreography involved in a ‘good’ fight rather than the actual violence. Just off the top of my head I can think of great fight scenes from LAST, LAWLESS LAWYER, THE UNCANNY COUNTER and D.P.
In the area of violence early on in my kdrama viewing one of the most shocking reveals was how much hierarchical violence was portrayed in dramas. Think supervisors kicking, slapping workers. The same in schools or the police force. It was everywhere. I can’t tell you being American how many times I said to myself watching an assault, ‘911 baby’. In other words the cops would have been called but not so in kdramaland. It may go back to the whole neo-confuscian influence in Korean society. I have no idea.
Sorry for the rambling.

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Yes, hierarchical violence is so prevalence I wonder if this is culturally ingrained. I remember the scene when Dalmi’s father was repeatedly hit by his superior until he was crawling and lying on the floor and none of the workers who was witnessing the scene came to help (and it’s so ironic he got hit because he told his boss to stop hitting one of his colleagues). To me, hierarchical violence is a real crime, and the perpetrators are criminals. I don’t know why this isn’t called out when it’s a violence.

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I can’t speak authoritatively about the history of kdramas, but I really doubt that if there is an increase in violence, it shows the influence of Netflix. In fact, prior to me becoming aware of kdramas or Netflix, I had associated Korean crime films with Taiwanese ones, for their graphic depictions of savage violence. In addition to Oldboy mentioned above, also the Man from Nowhere, 2010, where Won Bin singlehandedly eliminates the entire Seoul criminal underground in various brutally choreographed ways. (I would have thought his bloody achievement would have made all recent Kdrama crime shows unnecessary, but unfortunately writers seem to have forgotten that crime is no longer a problem in South Korea)

I have noticed an increase in serial killers, but I don’t think that’s Netflix either. If Netflix’s influence has been to shorten kdramas (plausible) then you’d think serial killers would be less common, since the benefit of serial killers is that you can use them to build tension over multiple episodes. If you have to invent a new murderer 12 or 16 times it begins to strain creativity. Its just like the white truck which I was thinking about yesterday. Why think of different ways important characters could die, when you have a fleet of killer white trucks at your disposal?

Now, whether the changing audience of kdramas, (OR an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, with the thinking that violence will bring in more male viewers) is a factor -- that could be. I happen to be a male viewer who doesn’t care for violence, but I do think there is something to a male preference for action and adventure. I myself enjoy balletically staged fight scenes for their athleticism and physical creativity. On the other hand, in those scenes kicks to the head do not seem only to have a slight stunning affect, hardly that violent.

One final influence that has occurred to me from time to time is the impact of video games and even webtoons on what is shown on the television screen. Violence in video games is sometimes blamed for increasing violence in society (I think the influence is the other way around, myself), but in this case it could be violence in video games and graphic story telling, put there for reasons unique to each genre, is in turn changing kdramas.

Anyway, obviously I'm just totally talking off the top of my head, but thanks to @missvictrix and all other contributors for a fascinating discussion!

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Actually @missvictrix didn't mention Netflix at all. So your answer about violent videogames and graphic webtoons being a possible reason in changing kdramas sounds valid and interesting.

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Sorry, I did not mean to suggest that @missvictrix was blaming netflix, or engaging in any sort of mono-causal explanation for more graphic violence—as we all know, her analysis of all kdrama phenomenon is thoughtful and complex. But to try to redeem myself, let me draw on all the great comments here and agree with @leetennant that maybe what’s changed is not the level of violence, but the type of violence being represented—moving from daily, everyday non-life threatening violence experienced by the average person to graphic, cartoonish violence (as depicted in video games, as well.

Moving from kdramas to reality—one thing that is odd about living in the contemporary U.S. right now is that in terms of the everyday violence, I would say we have less than we ever had. I have not seen a fight in the street, or someone punch someone, or someone slap their child, or even hit their dog, for years. But we have multiple mass murders every week, from drive-by shootings, to disaffected husbands killing their wives and children, to politicized shootings down by far right extremists, like the one on Saturday. I am not saying the rest of the world is like that, but it seems like things are moving in that direction, and I wonder if the shift in global mass media is reflecting that change.

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I agree that the increase in violent depictions is a crossover from kmovies, which had been pushing the envelope on dark/disturbing themes. Old Boy is definitely one of the more disturbing things I've seen and that was made 20 years ago. Some of the kdramas - like Squid Game, which I didn't watch- seemed to be just one really long movie. And people would rather binge watch 3 episodes for 3 hours than watch a 3 hour movie.

Also we have a lot more avenues for airing kdramas now. Maybe in the past, there were 5 slots every 3 months. You'd maybe get 1 drama depicting violence a year. Now there are 2-3 times that many timeslots - especially if some dramas are 12 episodes and under - so you'll get 2-3 dramas with heavy violence a year.

I can take watching some violence, but bullying-related violence is a bit too much for me. I'm not even a victim of bullying so there is no PTSD to be triggered. But the relentlessness of bullying violence is too much.

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I actually disagree with this because to me Korean dramas were always far more violent because of the way they normalised every day vioence.

Oh sure, American TV glorifies "big" violence with revenge films, zombies and the superhero genre. But those aren't supposed to be "real" stories with real people. Kdramas were supposed to be. And yet violence was inherent and deeply embedded in normal social interactions. Watching a boss slap an employee in the workplace is far far more shocking than watching Batman pulverise a criminal. Watching a parent hit their children, or kids in school be assaulted without their teachers caring. This is normalised, casual violence that is far more shocking to me.

I have now and then come out of an American show and been annoyed at the violence but it's usually written on the tin. The violence in the average kdrama was far worse to me generally. And Korean films and television have a long history of celebrating violence as an acceptable response to violence. I've yet to see anything apart from DP and Angry Mum that says, "no the violence itself is the problem and so violence can never be the solution".

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"Watching a boss slap an employee in the workplace is far far more shocking than watching Batman pulverise a criminal. Watching a parent hit their children, or kids in school be assaulted without their teachers caring. This is normalised, casual violence that is far more shocking to me."

This is an excellent point. I'd forgotten until I read this that the thing that shocked me most when I started watching kdramas--and it still shocks me to this day--was the way parents beating on their kids (for bad grades or coming home late or saying something cheeky) was not only normalized, but also frequently played for laughs. That's far more disturbing than, as you say, a superhero or villain beating up their nemesis.

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Let's look at Kim Sam Soon, which was nearly two decades ago. That man was violent. He was a violent man. And his violence did not preclude him from being the romantic male lead. I could not believe I was being asked to ship Sam Soon with a man who would smash a wall beside her head. Korean dramas have always been violent. It's just that the violence was seen as so normal it didn't even warrant comment. Having people being mown down with machine guns is nothing compared to that, if anything it's merely a metaphor for the indiscriminate violence in society that already exists.

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But doesn’t western media also do this? Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey and existence of Reylo?

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I mean the assumption here is that a) Korean dramas never used to be violent and that b) something has recently changed. Which is what I was countering.

But, while I have no knowledge of Reylo, I would see both Twilight and 50 Shades as being about controlling and dysfunctional relationships rather than violence per se. But in terms of romanticizing controlling, dysfunctional and even violent relationships, Korea and the US both have form.

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Cool, sorry for misunderstanding. I agree with all your points

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Seriously I find the every day violence much more appalling. One of the (many) things I hated about Forecasting Love and Weather was the fact that colleagues were assaulting each other and it was always just glossed over once their disagreement ended (╯‵□′)╯︵┻━┻ .

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You make an interesting point. In my own reply I talk about how 'sanitized' K-dramas tended to be, compared to Korean films (as a counterpoint that it's Netflix/Western influence that's affecting the change), but I was more looking at it from the explicit gore side. But it's true that while older dramas had blurred weapons and cartoonish fight scenes, they normalized everyday violence like workplace bullying and borderline (or even outright) abusive behavior from 'bad boy' male leads - one 'romantic' trope I'm more than happy seeing phased out.

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Points well-made, @leetennant!

Two issues from K-dramas stand out for me - that is, workplace violence and bullying at schools (or how teachers can freely physically punish the students). Are they a true reflection of the reality or dramatized for drama’s sake? While in many cases, these are presented as comedy, those actions are concerning by eastern or western standard.

When I first came across this through Kim Sam Soon (my first K-drama), I took it as a dramatized thing for the comedy. But no, similar things happen again and again in different genres over the years. The workplace depicted in Misaeng is simply shocking where a team leader seems to be so entitled to verbally and physically abuse his subordinates. In the end, I don’t know if it’s close to reality and wouldn’t even want to ask my colleagues in Korea for not wanting them feel offended by my questions.

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I'm with you there. When I read the headline before I opened the post, I thought it was referring to the aggressive physical interactions being depicted as normal in early Kdramas--e.g., male lead dragging female lead by the wrist, boss hitting an employee, or mean Karen demanding store clerk to kneel while apologizing. The wrist-dragging scenes are no longer as common. Bullying in the workplace and kneeling to apologize are still there, but I did notice some restraint recently.

While newer Kdramas no longer blur knives and their fight scenes look better, I still notice the scarcity of automatic pistols. We see the rare revolver every now and then, but gangsters mostly just carry bats, a piece of wood, or a knife. Beat police officers, on the other hand, carry the springy stun gun.

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I think Violence in storytelling is easy to get wrong, and has to be handled with care, like any narrative tool, but with more care than usual, because by definition its quite a volatile tool.

When it has purpose in the story, in moving the story along or developing the story and its characters, then it has its place and I have little problem with it.*
(This purpose could be as much or as little as it being a trait of the genre, and therefore the task then is to use the violence in a way best suited for the genre, and the individual story, because that will be different each time.)
It can be a very effective narrative tool even in this way.

But I do believe there is line that Violence in the Narrative can cross (even or perhaps especially in genre specific stories);
When Violence becomes violence for violence's sake, gratuitous, voyeuristic, self-indulgent, or even pornographic, that's where it loses true purpose in the narrative, and instead betrays the story or anything it might be trying to do.

This is true for any story in any medium, kdrama or not, and is therefore a statement about violence in storytelling as a whole, and not specifically Korean content.

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I completely agree. Also this is not at all new. Taxi Driver, which was the worst of voyeuristic torture porn, was no worse than the Voice series, which started five years ago. Or any number of similar crime shows. And then there's the fact that romcoms frequently have serial killers in them, with gruesome tableus of gendered violence. And that's longstanding as well.

As you said, this is not new or unusual to Korea. Good and bad uses of violence are pretty universal.

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>As you said, this is not new or unusual to Korea.

I'm not so sure. I mean, I don't think old kdramas had no violence, especially toward women and children, and I think the increase in thriller dramas available nowadays is just a consequence of cable and streaming being more open to explore this genre, which was indeed always popular in Korea, but that's not all of it. I don't remember romcoms or melos from 10 years ago having the same amount of psychos.
It's like the old tropes are being slowly replaced with new ones.

Amnesia and love triangles are becoming serial killers. Why? I'd be interested in the explanation or any theory about this. Maybe it's a simple answer. Maybe the psychos are everywhere because now they are allowed to be. The kdrama obsession with psychos has only increased in the last few years, they are in romcoms, thrillers, horrors and even comedies. It doesn't bother me, I like the concept as long as it's nicely done, which seldom is, but I can't pretend it's not there. Maybe it's a product of repression. Korea is still very conservative and repressed society and has a passion for violence in it's stories, just like the US, which comes from the History and culture of both places. Maybe the next wave of liberation will pick sex instead of violence.

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But serial killers in romcoms isn't vaguely new? In fact Korea's obsession with serial killers is longstanding. This hasn't changed or gotten more prevalent. If anything, I've noticed far less serial killers in romcoms in the last two or so years. I think this year we only had Link with a serial killer (correct me somebody if I'm wrong). At one point every second romcom had a serial killer.

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I think the presence of serial killers, psychos and any "heavy" violence in romance, comedy and romcoms is still something new. What are they doing in shows like Link, Camellia Blooms or even Another Star? They feel as artificial as any amnesia plot. I'm not sure if last year's dramas had more serial killers but it's not exactly only about them, it's the psychopaths in general. They were also not easily found in these genres. I think every year we usually have at least one romance with a potential psychopath these days.

They are not the villains anymore, they are the romantic lead. I'm not against the idea itself but I think it's hard to deny there is difference from the psychos of the last decade and the way they have become a sort of modern trope, when the psycho is not a villain he will be the lead. Again, nothing wrong with that if it wasn't usually just a cheap plot device.

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Except that... What she was referencing and what I was ACTUALLY talking about though, originally, was that violence used poorly or badly in media of any kind, to the extent where it no longer becomes a useful narrative tool, is not new or unique to Korea Entertainment as a whole, or even just the country of Korea and is in fact an issue worldwide... And not whether or not violence is not new to kdrams.
It is, to continue to be a semantic thorn in your side, definitely not knew to to Korean Movies, whatever way you swing, which is why I said "Korea" and didn't designate the branch of Korean entertainment to which I was referring.
Because ultimately, whilst we could argue, and indeed are, arguing all day about whether or not and if so why Kdramas are getting more violent, and even longer about philosophy or worldview that might drive extreme violence in anything, that's not what *I* wanted to discuss.
Because I was answering the FIRST half of the discussion questions, and not the second half.

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I know, sorry, I agree with everything on your original post. And I do understand that the discussion if violent characters are becoming a new trope in modern kdramas is probably something miles away from your post.

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Before I 'discovered' Korean dramas, I was a big fan of Park Chan-Wook's films (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr./Mrs. Vengeance), and had seen some of Kim Di-Duk's works as well (Bad guy and 3-Iron). For those unfamiliar, these guys made movies that were very dark, violent, and sexually explicit. Full on gore, nude sex scenes, and such. So I was pretty surprised at how sanitized Korean dramas were in comparison. I loved them anyway (as someone who can enjoy a trope-y rom-com as much as something, like, say, The Boys) but I remember noticing the disconnect.

Recently I've read posts on Dramabeans and elsewhere lamenting how Western media has influenced K-dramas to be more violent and such... but those films came out 20 years ago. I see it as a natural evolution - one that mirrors how Western media has changed as well. Network TV looks pretty different now than it did 20 years ago in the U.S., and a lot of that's because cable shows and streaming sites were able to tell stories more like how movies did. Not just due to looser guidelines, but also non-network TV being willing to take risks with more experimental content. Personally, I'm excited to see these different kinds of stories being told. As long as I can still get my fluffy fusion-sageuk love stories also, thank you very much :D

Back to the topic, I don't mind explicit violence, provided it makes sense for the story being told. If you're going to talk about the horrors of war, show how horrible it is. For example, the battle scenes in Nokdu Flower. I don't think the story, and the characters' decisions, would've had the same impact if we weren't shown just how devastating the fighting was. But then... I honestly don't mind gratuitous violence either (unless it involves animals, then I hate it!) so maybe I'm not the best judge.

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the blurring of knife blades gets me everytime like gee i wonder whats under there

aside from that, im pretty cool with violence in kdramas as its quite toned down occasionally and I know its all fake. I do recall some dramas had really unsettling scenes (cant rmb which drama exactly, it was quite a while back) so at most ill just ffwd if im intrigued by the storyline and/or halfway into the show and need to find out how it ends. (eg: i tried watching all of us are dead but i couldn't get past the first ep as it was just uncomfortable so i dropped it)

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I’m mostly for whatever helps tell the story better. Violence, when used correctly, is a keen tool that can provoke very specific and powerful responses.
But like any tool, it’s in how it’s wielded. Clumsily swung around it obscures the point, hindering the message. There are tons of good examples out there. Even heavy handed ones can be effective.

I honestly don’t miss the badly choreographed fights with blurred weapons all that much. It took me out of the story more than it helped. I just finished up Weak Class Hero 1 and I was super surprised at how good the choreography was. The violence was plentiful, and school violence is pretty common place in kdramas, but it still elicited this very uncomfortable uneasiness that they seemed to be going for.

As long as it’s the creators intent, and not following some trends to chase ratings, I’m all for it.

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I'm relatively new to k dramas (about 2 years now) so I can't tell how it was in the past. I'm rather sensitive to excessive violence onscreen, so I tend to avoid stories about serial killers like Mouse or Beyond evil (I never get past first episodes). In my opinion the less is more, that's why I've stopped watching many Western shows. That and unecessary nudity. In my opinion the less is more and sometimes when I was watching some Western series I just didn't know what's the point of exposing so much nudity and just wondering how uncomfortable actors must felt. On the other hand k drama romances are sometimes too sugary for my taste and often lacking in chemistry. So when I want to watch a romance between two people I turn to Turkish dramas. In them I find all that is lacking in korean series: erotic tension, slowly building romance, physical attraction, growing intimacy between couples without nudity or sex onscreen. So right now I'm just hopping between korean and turkish tv.

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As someone who watched Korean movies for a few years before discovering dramas, I was shocked at how different dramas were. I couldn’t believe they both came from the same country.
In dramas or in general, I am not turned off by violence if the genre or story dictates it. Eg, My Ahjushi had some scenes. But I hate random violence in a romcom or non thriller genre. And most of the time it serves no purpose. And violence in school dramas are the hardest for me to watch.
I don’t mind murders (I mean, on TV ) but I have issue with abuse shown on TV because almost always women are at the receiving end. And bullying violence is one I cannot watch. I stay away from those. Especially if they are happening in a school setting.

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Yes, I, too cannot stand school bullying, that's why I don't watch teen dramas. And also big No to harming animals. I almost dropped The Law Cafe recently, because of the poor dog. I don't know, but to me, Koreans seem to pretty indifferent to animals.

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'Netflix' K-dramas. Smoking, cursing, gunplay... and multiple seasons that end in cliff-hangers. I'm as big a fan of 'gritty' dramas as the next guy but sometimes it just comes across as lazy writing.

Someone, I forget where, was commenting about how heavily censored C-dramas are becoming more attractive to them precisely *for* the censorship. Because 'westernized' K-dramas are becoming as insufferable as western dramas. No, please, don't do another generic handgun shoot-out!

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I'm no fan of generic handgun shoot outs and lazy writing, but as someone who is pretty disgusted at the present authoritarian Chinese regime, I have to completely reject the idea that their censorship has any redeeming moral quality. Those who find Chinese censorship appealing, also applaud that Chinese officials "disappear" a woman tennis player who protests her rape by a Chinese government official. In the end, I find "Westernized" dramas, no matter how trite and tired, a lot more appealing than "Easternized" authoritarianism.

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To be fair, guns still seem taboo in Kdramas. You see gangs with bats or knives going at each other but rarely guns. I hardly ever see automatic pistols, just revolvers, if at all. At times police officers carry nothing more than stun guns (with the spring). I don't live in Korea but I'm pretty sure law enforcement there are better armed than that. Or are they?

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Although it depends on the division of law enforcement, guns are pretty highly regulated in Korea, for both police and civilians. As far as I am aware, police don't carry firearms unless the situation is expected to merit it, and if they do they "check" one out and go through due process, and then they have regulated procedure before they're allowed to use them on the field. You don't usually see that brought up in dramas though.
The Korean police force has obviously decided that the revolver is a reliable weapon for them, mayhaps for their accuracy, ease of use, and durability, or for other reasons we're unaware of.
I'm sure you can find plenty of discussion online if you really want more out of the revolver vs pistol debate.

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I'm reminded of While You Were Sleeping, where they pointed out the rarity of a gun crime when the ML gets shot ("it's not like this is America" 😖).

I think they also show the perpetrator checking his gun out from a police station because, in Korea, private citizens may have guns for hunting purposes but these are required to be stored at the local police station.

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Correct. Civilians must keep their guns at a police station and check them out for hunting. I'm sure there's major regulation around what kind of guns civilians are allowed to use for hunting also, but I've never looked into that.
Vincenzo also showed this I believe, before the brothers went hunting.
Vinnie's guns, on the other hand, are illegal. Obviously. Similarly any gangsters seen with guns have obtained them illegally.
In contrast, the regulations and standard procedure for the NIS, the army and things like SWAT teams will be different again.

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I have actually seen this explained in a few dramas. Maybe I watch too nany cop shows? Every shot will need to be explained and accounted for afterwards too. And a gun being taken out of the police station without a supervisor's permission, or at least strong defendable reason, warrants disciplinary punishment.

Adding more to that, smuggling guns into the country isn't impossible, but it is a highly serious crime so it isn't always worth it for gangs and such.
And I wish I remembered which drama I saw this one in, but I don't. Smuggling revolvers in the same exact model of the police force is much much more difficult than other models, so if that model revolver is found on a crime scene it is easy to trace.

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Yes they had the model of revolver and identifying the gun through the bullet be a plot point in My Name actually (as well as checking out with permission), of all shows... that show devolved drastically as it went on in accuracy regarding anything alas.

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I think they also had a similar plot point in The Lies Within… this is not a recommendation though lmao

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@mindy The Lies Within was so disapointing. I was happy to see Lee Min-Kin in this role and he was good. But the story? It was crazy.

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Wow, very interesting convo about gun control in Korea! It really is a reflection of real life after all, not some sort of self-censorship on the part of drama productions.

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In Two Cops the male lead threatened a criminal with his gun, the criminal laughed at him saying I'm not falling for that, I know you aren't allowed to carry loaded guns. The male lead said but do you also know that we are required to be experts in martial arts and incapacitating criminals with bare hands?
I love this scene, and similar scenes in shows that give such interesting tidbits in the context of a seemingly unserious dialogue.
And more than that, I love having that tidbit verified in a completely different show. I saw this conversation about cops being unarmed and having to be experts in martial arts in movie Midnight Runners.

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I think I read the first two rounds are empty and blank respectively and then they have three live rounds lol, but they have to give the perp three warnings or something before shooting. It's like very much last resort.
Anyhow. The weapons involved don't really stop things from finding ways to be violent if they want to anyway pffft.

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Yeah, ds Awaken, it was explained the first was blank but after it works well. Seolhyun character as not detective yet didn't have a gun but a taser.

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Coming late to this discussion about the police not always or even regularly carrying guns in SK, I remember reading someone extolling kdramas and also kmovies on this point. They went on to say that because there were fewer guns available in SK, people had to be much more imaginative about killing someone. It still makes me laugh. But laughing aside, what's more violent? Shooting someone or bashing them to death with a baseball bat? Neither is good, especially if you are on the receiving end. I can't watch anything when the resolution to any argument is to shoot someone. To start with it's terribly boring. Sadly bad writing and bad things in rl seem to feed off each other. Well-written dramas that find other ways of dealing with injustice are much more interesting. Good Detective for example.

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Well if we're going there... If I was on the recieving end, and they were trying to kill me?? I'd rather be shot than bashed with a baseball bat or stabbed, tbh. Much quicker and far less painful.

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One thing that has definitely changed in kdramas is police violence. Instead of the physical violence in interrogations now, you often get someone saying, "you can't do that anymore".

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When I first started watching Kdramas, the amount hitting was "striking," (ha!).

I still can't get over the amount of people hitting each other in every Kdrama I see--co-workers, students/teachers, lovers, children, old people--just about anyone gets hit. It is AMAZING that in a culture of no-touch romances, hitting others is prevalent, normalized and acceptable. I find that it makes the characters seem immature when they resort to hitting to express emotions. I don't like that hitting is a way to express grief. I especially dislike it when hitting escalates into kicking, usually to someone who is already down on the floor. (How in the world can those people stand with broken ribs and internal bleeding, etc.???) Yet, all of this hitting is normalized in the mildest genres. Is that much hitting really a true reflection of modern Korean culture?

Unfortunately, criminal and wartime violence has embedded itself into the entertainment industry. Many Korean movies seem focused on knife fights, with lots of blood. I am embarassed to admit that I have become accustomed to violence even if I don't really like it. And, that it has become easier to watch violence with weapons (guns, knives, swords, bow&arrows). Saguek physical torture if uncomfortable to watch. Peron-to-person physical violence (boxing, sports, fights) is more difficult to watch. Shock value was maximized on Squid Game and caught the world's attention.

Yes, more violence seems to be gratitous in entertainment today everywhere, not only South Korea--just like foul language, revealing clothing and seductive dance movements.

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