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Brainwashed by soaps

Publication Date : 23-02-2014

 

TV is presenting an idealised caricature of South Korean males as Prince Charmings to the Middle Kingdom's maidens

 

Poor old Psy: He's got the most-viewed video on YouTube, but no one's talking about how hot he is - at least not in my office.

However, he's still enjoying an advantage over the rest of us, because, as imported TV soaps keep proving to women across the nation, South Korean guys are the hottest thing since sliced bread. Just ask my boss, my colleague, my ayi (cleaner) - hell, even I'm considering dating a South Korean guy now, and I'm straight.

Put simply, no one can compare to South Korean guys nowadays, not since the advent of soaps like A Gentleman's Dignity, starring heartthrob Jang Dong-gun; last year's The Heirs, about a group of fu'erdai (second-generation rich) at an elite Korean school; and My Love From the Star, starring Kim Soo-hyun as - wait for it - an alien.

No one even comes close. Not Japanese men (too effeminate, pasty-looking and short). Not Southeast Asians (too many tattoos). And definitely not Caucasian expats (too hairy, and too likely to ditch you and go back to their own country).

Well, you get the picture.

South Korean guys, in contrast, will carry your handbag for you, throw their Armani jacket in a puddle of mud so you don't dirty your Gucci heels, open the door of your taxi and generally act with the kind of suave and debonair demeanour you would expect from your paramour.
They have big hearts, and they often wear lots of makeup, even off-screen.

They are all slim and ripped, with chiseled abs, perfect features and glossy spiked-up hair. No wonder huge swaths of the female population in Shanghai are going gaga, doolally and misty-eyed over them.

It's gotten to the point where I can't even get a date in this city unless I end every sentence in hamnida and promise we'll be having barbecued meat for dinner, or perhaps chicken and beer (affectionately known as chi-maek in South Korea, this is the latest food craze to take off in China after viewers - mostly women aged 20-50 - began idolising and emulating everything they see on their favourite South Korean soap).

The brainwashing effect of these TV dramas is colossal in scale, and it's doing wonders for sales of South Korean smartphones, cosmetics, handbags and other products.

One of my Shanghainese colleagues is now desperate to purchase a pink Galaxy Note 3, mainly because the female protagonist of her favourite soap acts as a cheerleader for this piece of eye candy.

Another keeps telling me how lucky I was to have spent several years in South Korea, and how it's such a shame that I can speak some of the language but don't have the DNA.

I mean, seriously, once upon a time all you had to do to find a woman in this city was be white and turn up at a bar. Then times changed, and you had to be a local guy driving a purple Lamborghini with an AMEX card. Nowadays you need a Korean passport and eyeliner (South Korea is one of the world's biggest markets for male cosmetics).

Living in China these days reminds me of that Wet Wet Wet song, Love is All Around - except replace the word "love" with "Korea".
As the lyrics go: "It's written on the wind. It's everywhere I go."

Not that I am anti-Korean, by any means. I love the place and the people. I'm just not buying all the TV hype about Korean guys being saints, despite their dandified onscreen personas.

The "Korean wave" has been washing through Asia for the past decade in ebbs and flows, but now China is awash with Korea love, from K-pop and endless re-runs of "Gangnam Style" to my colleagues setting up desktop shrines in honor of Lee Min-ho. Lee plays the role of Kim Tan in The Heirs, the hot-headed future heir to the Jeguk (Empire) Group.

For the record, this guy is not handsome. From his face to his fashion sense, it's just all wrong. And Chinese women can't get enough of him.

According to a press release issued by Ctrip on February 10, South Korea has been the No. 1 destination for outbound travellers from Shanghai for the past three months. No one knows how many of these were "medical tourists", but Chinese immigration officers are apparently having a harder time matching returnees' faces to their passport photos.

I can't even head to Family Mart anymore for some respite from this Korea worship because the stores have all transformed into overseas colonies of Koreana: Soju, prawn crackers, seaweed, banana milk, yakult, fried kimchi, melon soy milk. The fact that I like and buy most of these products is beside the point.

What was the point? Oh yeah. Korean guys: They're not perfect.
I mean, admittedly, Rain was pretty cool in Ninja Assassin (partly because he had zero dialogue). Choi Min-sik also killed it - and everyone else - in Oldboy. And come to think of it, Lee Byung-hun was excellent in A Bittersweet Life, even if his face looks more plastic than my credit card.

I also used to have a platonic man crush on Jung Woo-sung.

So I guess the point is: Korean guys are pretty badass in movies, but who wants to live in a world where women worship the way they're presented in TV soaps, which is to say, as androgynous robotic vampires?

It's also worth remembering that Psy's stage name is short for Psycho. Now what does that say about Korean guys?

 

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