A Quick Overview Of The ‘Korean Wave’

While North Korea remains a barren, state-controlled media landscape, South Korea has successfully broken through to the world with it’s stable of music, films, television shows, and games. While still producing arguably a niche portion of the media that the Western world consumes, South Korea has since the 90’s become the face of Asian ‘pop’ culture in particular due, most will agree, to their high income levels, high-quality shows with inexpensive syndication rights, and due simply to proximity; having an understanding of what the Asian market is looking to entertain themselves with. That said, this popularity has for some years now been making headway in the West. Korean pop music in particular has undeniably been a key driving force in the migration of the Korean mediascape overseas, one only has to take a look at the most popular YouTube videos in this category to understand that ‘K-Pop’ is hot on the heels of the Western equivalent. To quote Barack Obama during his visit to Hankuk University in Seoul, SK: ‘It’s no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean Wave…’

But this success didn’t suddenly come out of the blue; the South Korean government engineered their culture as an export. As a response to the Asia financial crisis in the 90s, then President Kim Dae-jung pushed for an infrastructure and IT landscape that could accommodate their reformation as a content lucrative state. Affordable, fast internet and telecommunication systems as well as tax breaks and incentives for businesses thrust SK into the technological forefront. Evolving companies like Samsung funded installation of PC’s in schools to give rise to a technologically literate youth, and the government welcomed these youth with open arms, encouraging engagement with technology. In 2000, the ‘Korean e-Sports Association’ was funded, and is today regarded as a not only a national past-time, but a profitable export. Economist reports that their video game industry rakes ’12 times the national revenue of… K-pop’, which itself generates around $5 Billion annually and they’re looking to double that revenue by 2017. In 2005, the government committed a billion dollars to furthering their pop industry, which has clearly more than made back that investment.

More than just fiscal success, K-pop is noted, and often ridiculed, for how commercialized and sponsored much of it comes off as. So too with the dramas that have found success overseas, this media unabashedly advertises beauty products and technologies, as well as through ‘soft power’ the Korean way of life. This subversive advertising brings results, too. When a Korean soap star ordered chicken and beer for dinner, claiming it to be her favorite meal, Chinese imports of the Korean beer rose more than 200%. Furthermore, an estimated average of $2,500 is spent each by 166,000 Chinese travelers in Korea during the ‘National Day’ holiday. Clearly, the world is quite happy to buy whatever Korea is selling; be it technology, machinery, media or the ‘cool’ aesthetic.

References (alphabetical):


‘Mad Max’ and Transnational Film

The most accurate definition of ‘transnational cinema’ is still a topic of debate among scholars, but for the purposes of my argument I’ll simply define it as ‘films that incorporate elements of other cultures, and so cannot simply be categorized as belonging to a single culture or nation’.

I believe for a multitude of reasons that culturally hybrid films are not just a result of globalization, but when done correctly can actually be very beneficial for audiences both domestically and overseas, to the production companies, the immense penis holders, and even for international relations. I’ll break this assumption down mostly with reference to the recent commercial and critical success of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Filmed partially in Australia, partially in South Africa, and produced with a team of international people, Fury Road is an ideal case study on modern transnational film.


International cast

Whilst clearly still a fictional ‘post-apocalyptic’ film, the reliance on practical effects, atypical setting, and arguably a female lead promise more interest in the film internationally than a generic American action flick, notwithstanding the fact it’s a beloved franchise returning after three decades. It leverages the remote setting and the film is almost entirely set in the natural environment. As an audience, we can be proud that returning Australian director George Miller has showcased our nation to the world, in addition to celebrating our contributions to car culture. If we’re looking through the lens of Joseph Nye’s theory of ‘soft power’, international audiences perceive our ‘outback’ as a rough-and-tumble wasteland which mightn’t sound flattering at face value, but is nonetheless pervasive throughout the film. Foreign audiences take in this scenery and other cultural facets while being taken on a journey through this fictional Australian wasteland. Nye said once that ‘the best propaganda is not propaganda’, that the effectiveness of ‘soft power’ is due to it’s subtlety and the perception of the material which is true of the film. So too with creating national interest in the film, the mix of nationalities as well as filming locations involved in the production drew a large international audience, launching strongly in 68 markets. That said, influences of classic American Western films and the anime film ‘Akira’ are felt and mentioned by Miller as inspirations.

Rugged outback look

Rugged outback look

In addition to spreading elements of our culture worldwide, international appeal helps cover production costs and generate revenue for the studios than if it were released solely in local markets. The original ‘Mad Max’ trilogy did very well in the USA, taking advantage of the brief infatuation with Australian culture in the 1980’s, so it was a safe bet to assume this sequel would perform well there too. Perhaps with the aid of Nye’s theory, and winning ‘Best Film’ from the International Federation of Film Critics, this interest might be reignited!

In summation, I postulate that Fury Road’s success as a transnational film is partly due to a combination of a wide target audience and appeal, diverse setting and actors, a subtle championing of Australian culture through the concept of ‘soft power’ while also being filmed additionally in South Africa, and cherry-picking filmic inspiration from foreign films to create a unique film suitable enough for any cultural audience.

References (alphabetical):

My interest in studying abroad and contributing to the global ‘ethnoscape’, a term coined by social-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, was a topic explored in the third lecture in BCM111. Citing the growth in countries economies and the diversification their cultures were enjoying, it was made clear that the flow of people around the world drives change and with it comes many benefits. Showcasing just how small the world’s seemingly become due in part to the rise of the ‘technoscape’ (eat your heart out Appadurai), I’d been perusing the University of Sheffield’s website the night before the lecture and trying to work out rough expenses and opportunities for potential international students when the next day we were treated to a video on the Sheffield Uni site which detailed the experiences of international students there.


Purportedly international students at Sheffield Uni

Apart from just being a funny coincidence, it’s emblematic of the larger international embracement of diversity while, as Simon Marginson wrote, ‘[Australia’s] international education is not the rich intercultural experience it could be’. This resonated with me, as while we’re ranked by UNESCO as being the fourth highest receiver of international students, we’re not even in the top ten of contributing roaming students. Additionally, Australia has received it’s share of foreign bad press in the past regarding foreign students studying in our country experiencing racist attitudes and difficulty fitting in. Following the slate of violence against Indian students in particular during 2009/2010, the Sydney Morning Herald found that ‘the number of Indians seeking an Australian education plummeted from … 120,000 in 2009 to 37,000’. Domestically in India, the fears of these attacks driven by constant media reports sunk our flow of students. It’s apparent that as a whole, our country possess a decisively parochial mindset and is stuck assuming that we’ve done our part and we already are diverse enough. Marginson backs this up, finding that ‘most local students are not interested’ in interacting with international students. We’re passively allowing, yet aren’t encouraging to its full potential, access to our country’s education system to those from overseas while private ventures like AITE College as seen on the SBS program ‘Convenient Education‘ are forced under as government restrictions on visas are brought it. The effect of this is a skills shortage for jobs that international students who seek a residency here would be happy filling.

Australia is a country whose origins are entwined with immigration and a coexistence, ideally an embracement, of those who are different from us to create a progressive land free from persecutions and discrimination. Unfortunately, this has devolved over the years into a country which has rested on it’s laurels and has failed to adapt to a changing world. International students, the natural evolution of migration, have been shunned and our façade as an accepting and tolerant country is gradually being whittled away at by shows of violence and indifference at racist attitudes purveyed by the public.

Clearly we’ve a problem of perception, as international students aren’t here to  take our jobs; they’re generally here to fulfill roles we either don’t want to or can’t, or to strengthen our countries infrastructure by providing us money and access to a larger pool of doctors, scientists, professionals, etc.

I can’t see the downside.


Convenient Education. 2015. Convenient Education. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.sbs.com.au/convenienteducation/documentary/. [Accessed 12 August 2015].

UNESCO Institute for Statistics . 2015. Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students . [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/international-student-flow-viz.aspx. [Accessed 14 August 2015].

Jen Rosenberg, Matt Wade. Repairing the road to Oz. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/repairing-the-road-to-oz-20120729-2365d.html. [Accessed 14 August 2015].

Simon Marginson, International education as self-formation [ONLINE] Available at:
[Accessed 14 August 2015].

KINGZHOUYANG. 2015. Global cultural homogenization VS Cultural heterogenization. [ONLINE] Available at: https://kingzhouyang.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/global-cultural-homogenization-vs-cultural-heterogenization-2/. [Accessed 14 August 15].