South Korea is Having a Moment

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more foreign books and watch more foreign movies. (In translation of course, I’m your typical uni-lingual North American.) I have found some wonderful writers, such as Leonardo Padura from Cuba and Spain’s Arturo Perez Reverte. But lately I’ve been watching and reading more from South Korea. They are definitely having a moment.

Besides winning the Best Picture Oscar for Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer has become a TV series on TNT–although the jury is still out on how good it is, and why it’s so Asian-free is something of a mystery. He’s one of those directors that, while I don’t love everything he’s done, is always worth a watch. (Seriously, The Host is an under-rated blast, Okja is too earnest for its own good.) And, although he didn’t direct it, Train to Busan is the best Zombie movie I’ve seen in a very long time, and I’m not a big fan of the brain-eating undead.

A month or so ago I shared with you my love of the historical fiction/zombie series, The Kingdom. Netflix has a bunch of Korean films and series (Black is creepy AF), and wherever (and whenever) they’re set, they have this air of being just different enough to be intriguing. Not Chinese, not Japanese, and definitely not what I’m used to.

There have also been two books recently that I really enjoyed. The first, is The Plotters, by Un-Su Kim. It’s an easy-reading oddball take on a political plot and the assassin hired to make it all work. Again, it feels like a standard political thriller but the world it portrays is just slightly… different.

The other book, and the one that’s getting all the international buzz, is Kyung-sook Shin’s, “Please Look After Mom.” It’s the tale of a family forced to deal with the changes in family dynamics, class and how little we know our parents and each other. It won the Man Asian Literary Prize, and is a staple of book clubs. While it’s not quite perfect (the changing POVs have no logic to them) it is an engaging, dramatic and heart-tugging story.

I know next to nothing about South Korea, and know very few people from that background, I suspect that will change as I go down the rabbit hole like I did with Hong Kong gangster films and all things Toshiro Mifune.

And I’m not alone. A colleague of mine in Northern California is hooked on the Korean version of Telenovelas. BTS is jump-starting puberty for a whole generation of tweens. Like, I said, the country is having a moment of pop culture relevance it’s never had.

What movies or books from other cultures and languages are you taking in? Maybe more importantly, why not?

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Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a writer, speaker, and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. Originally from Canada, he recently moved from Chicago to Las Vegas with his wife, The Duchess. He tries to balance his fiction and non-fiction writing, and loves to hear from readers. You can find him on Twitter @Wturmel. His Amazon author page is at

One thought on “South Korea is Having a Moment”

  1. Yeah, I’m That Girl. I’ve watched almost no tv entertainment other than KDramas for the last year or more. I access via Netflix or RakutenViki, which takes a bit of navigating, but doable. What Wayne is saying is the big hook. (OK, that’s a lie. The Big Hooks are Lee Min Ho, Lee Jong Suk, Hyun Bin, Lee Tai Ri, and Kang Ha-Neul–which took forever to learn.) But, yes, totally different territory where you are wondering how two beings–one a man and one a mermaid can co-exist. Or one man from a different planet or one man who is a robot, or one man who is a cat, can create relationship. For starters. Endless twists. Hosting a hotel where the guests are already dead. Past life entanglements. Crown Princes. Queen Mothers. Storylines no one thought of in Hollywood. S. Korea is hot and unburdened. I am so there.

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