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Ballyhoo over Hallyu: Why Korean and not Filipino?

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Oct 21, 2022 6:04 pm

The question seems hopelessly flawed from the start.   

It builds on the mistaken assumption that Korean entertainment, particularly telenovelas, have been running rings around its Philippine rivals for the better part of recent years.  

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s conclusions, that Filipinos are patronizing Hallyu entertainment more than Philippine television, leave much to be desired at best. Without solid evidence or study to backstop his claims, claims which to the senator are enough to ban the influx of foreign television shows, his argument now stands on quicksand.  

He blinks later on, as expected, after getting flak from netizens, saying during the briefing for the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) that he wasn’t at all against the airing of Korean telenovelas. That all he wanted was for Filipinos to patronize the local entertainment industry above foreign ones.  

Sen. Robinhood Padilla’s quip that Filipino actors are “more attractive” than Korean actors is nothing but a waste of time and oxygen. Pitting one against the other using “looks” may not seem a sound or logical way of approaching the issue. But then, of course, there’s the cable cars. Ho-hum. 

I think one question we must ask is: is there an actual rivalry? 

To answer this question, I sought the help of fellow author and expert, Louie Jon Sánchez, associate professor of Broadcast Communications of the University of the Philippines and author of his recent book, Abangán: Mga Pambungad na Resepsiyon sa Kultura ng Teleserye (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House).   

To LJ, as we all fondly call him, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s statement was altogether non-sequitur, and what can be understandably described as a knee-jerk reaction.   

“Whatever lackluster local production manifests is a product of complex material realities: the downscaling of the entertainment industry at the height of the pandemic; the ABS-CBN shutdown which effectively killed the TV industry; the already limited (advertising) resources different media platforms have to contend with; and the chilling effect of silent censorship. K-drama is being used as a scapegoat. We are not solving the problems.” 

That such problems are better solved facing reality than imagined ones is a policy many of our senators ought to learn. Cinema has lost P21 billion since the series of lockdowns due to Covid-19, with 300,000 industry workers losing their jobs, according to Cinema Exhibitors Association of the Philippines (CEAP) president Charmaine Bauzon. About 43,000 suppliers and associated industries such as food also felt the crunch. The pandemic has well-nigh brought the industry to its knees, no thanks to an altogether apathetic pandemic response.   

“During pre-pandemic, local productions and K-Drama were both flourishing in Free TV, which is arguably being maintained by serial drama. They’re not really competing with each other as they have, each of them, their own market segment. There is a world of difference between Ang Probinsiyano and K-Drama markets. 

“K-Drama, of course, is part of the network inventories that complement their local production offerings. During pre-pandemic times, there was a huge demand for serial drama, both local and Korean, on account that more than half of the broadcast grid produced drama,” LJ said. 

All this ballyhoo regarding hallyu wouldn’t be complete without this observation: that much of the shows involve a wide array of unpredictable storylines – from popular Korean culture to horror comedy, school settings, language, romance, and family tragedy, bringing the stories closer to home. The ordinary viewer can relate to the scenes and actors easily, with nary the objection to suspend disbelief.  

Not to belittle our industry’s own efforts, what our senators scantly realize is that our own telenovelas have not only “romanced” the world for years, they’ve also been adapted: Pangako sa ‘yo and Impostora in Cambodia; Sana Maulit Muli in Taiwan, and Sana’y Wala nang Wakas in Malaysia, to name a few.  

Ang Probinsiyano began streaming in Netflix under the international title, Brothers, beginning first quarter of 2019. Much of Asia like China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and also Africa, together with Filipino communities in North America and Latin America, have been loyal markets for Philippine telenovelas.  

“Government must instead study the Korean business model,” LJ said, “The Korean government provides ample support to the K-Drama industry. That means incentives, tax exemptions, grants, etc. Since we’re also exporting telenovelas abroad, our best chance is to learn the Korean K-drama model.” 

If you ask me, the Maria Clara at Ibarra historical fantasy series on GMA7 might just be what we need to kickstart the idea that Philippine telenovelas might just be able to contribute to the rate of our country’s gross domestic product.   

Why not?