Hallyu, A Triumph

By Olivia Newby

Some considered Las Vegas the city grew from nothing to something, from rags to riches if you like, very quickly. In very recent years, the country of South Korea is a whole nation to have grown in regards to their economy, urbanisation, and quality of life development has exceeded much of the world’s expectations which all lead to the development of Hallyu, which in translation means ‘Korean Wave’. This shining light is being celebrated via ‘Hallyu’ an exhibition at the V&A Museum. This vital creative energy. Find out more about The Korean Wave, Victoria and Albert exhibition here in Hallyu, A Triumph.

Beauty Adorning Herself, Attributed to Kim Hong-Do. Joseon 18th-19th Century © Seoul National University

Revolutionising the power of technology and wealth when overcoming a debt crisis around the beginning of the 20th century was the beginning of what the country South Korea has utilised to metamorphose. The nation has conquered technology, fashion, and music to integrate its talents and entertainment into all four corners of the world. While not neglecting culture and tradition, Korea has triumphed as a country into who they have made themselves through the shaping of Hallyu.

Beauty Adorning Herself, Attributed to Kim Hong-Do. Joseon 18th-19th Century © Seoul National University

‘Hallyu’ this ‘Korean Wave’ is a collective term used to refer to the phenomenal growth of Korean culture that binds everything from music, movies, and drama to online games and Korean cuisine. All of which are encapsulated at the new V&A Hallyu Exhibition. 

The exhibition entails a journey of understanding the history of South Korea through seeing their modern-day fashion, cinema, and technology. Stepping foot into the exhibition is to be bombarded initially, with the breakthrough in the world of Korean music.

Despite a language barrier, there is definitely a relationship that is capturing the world’s interest. There is a real appreciation for the talented creatives, and entertainment coming from within the country without them having to lose their culture, language, and identity.

Many will remember the uber-catchy song Gangnam style, which may have been their first introduction to Korean culture. The hit music sensation was performed and produced by K-Pop South Korean, rapper PSY. Originally known in his country as a controversial and satirical hip-hop artist, the rapper achieved international fame in 2012. The release of the music video for his pop song became the first video to have more than one billion views on YouTube. 

Photo by Jason Decrow/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (9056138l) South Korean rapper Psy performs his massive K-pop hit “Gangnam Style” live on NBC’s “Today” show, in New York Psy performs on TODAY, New York, USA

From an obvious Korean title the song originates the word Gangnam which means “south of the river” in relation to the location, it is south of the Han river. 

Gangnam view of Hyundai apartment blocks. Photo Jun Min Cho, courtesy Museum of Contemporary History of Korea

Breaking down the exhibition, there is a preview section that approaches a make-shift South Korean town. These stylized shops feature key items in each window. Educating the key parts of South Korean history, and understanding the early stages of the country’s growth. Bringing South Korea towards the path to the idea of Hallyu. The preview gives an idea of what is expected further in the exhibition and an insight into South Korea exceeding its growth in modern-day technology, fashion, music, television, and film.

Walking through the town of stylized shops, stained with whimsical shades of Obangsaek. ‘O-Bang’, meaning ‘five directions’, and ‘Saek’, meaning ‘colour’.

Obangsaek consists of five colours- blue, red, yellow, white, and black. These five colours are considered especially significant as Korean colour symbolism. Each colour relates to a different direction of South Korea: East is represented by the colour blue, South is red, the centre is yellow, white is West, and North is black. The colours symbolise the ‘five elements of life’ of traditional Korean teaching.

Installation image, Hallyu! The Korean Wave at the V&A Ⓒ Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

One of the traditions presented in the stylized shop windows is called ‘eumbok’ which translates to ‘receiving blessings’. The gift-giving, and eating for South Korean families is an example of their traditional rituals. Whereby honouring deceased family members. Through a codified memorial service involving food and drink families share offerings in a meal. The meal is honoured with a set of minimal plates, bowls, and glasses that are shown in the stylized windows featured in the exhibition.

While there are representations of traditional South Korean culture, the exhibition also introduces technological innovations that began to connect the world with South Korea.

Leading much of South Korea’s talent was their breakthrough with technology, nationally and globally. The LG KE850, known as ‘LG Prada’ was a collaboration with the fashion house Prada. Manufactured as the first fingertip-activated mobile phone screen. The first move for the country in regards to the next generation of smartphones. The sleek design of the mobile phone created an innovative interface and elegant look.

In 2006 the mobile phone was awarded the iF Design award, along with in 2007 when it also won the Red Dot Design Award. 

Opening their creativity into the film-making industry, South Korea introduced ‘Webtoons’; a type of digital comic that originated in South Korea usually meant to be read on computers and smartphones. The platform is a space for artists and storytellers as an avenue to share their creativity through coloured comics. While these webcomics are originally in the Korean language, authors can translate these digital comics into other languages.

Understanding some of the histories of South Korea through the previews of the stylized shops. The exhibition moves forward into the modern day. Leading up from the beginning, the presentation of the exceeding growth of the country is introduced.

Whilst the start of Hallyu originated around the late 20th Century and the start of the 21st. The Korean movie industry dates back to the start of the 20th century. This is where the start of South Korea emerged into the widespread changes that we see today.

The film industry in Korea has become one of the world’s most active markets through the development of multiplexes and the popularity of the movie-going culture. 

South Korea introduced K-Drama (Korean Drama). Achieving international popularity, all comes down to the highly colourful cinematographic quality. In 1962, the channel Sageuk was introduced in Korea. Historical dramas, including traditional drama, plays, films, and television series all featured here.

As well as television shows, K-Drama also touches on the film industry, which has also blown up globally.

Parasite Poster, 2019. Image courtesy Curzon Film

The thriller/ drama movie ‘Parasite’ was released in 2019, directed by Bong Joon-ho. Delivered a great twist at the end. The storyline of Parasite doesn’t follow a typical three-act structure, because it is actually two movies combined into one; here exploring the world of wealth difference in the country. Based on true perceptions of rich and poor lifestyles in South Korea it perfectly sums up Korean manners in our modern society

Exclusive to the V&A is an exhibit recreating the bathroom of the poorer family in the film. Empathising how low in society some people live in comparison to the rise of the rich neighbourhoods. This signifies that South Korea is a developed country. But also notes there is still a low quality of life for some of society. 

Installation image featuring re-creation of Parasite bathroom scene, at Hallyu! The Korean Wave at the V&A Ⓒ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The actual storyline is fictional and it was awarded four Emmys, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Film, Best Director, and Best Picture. Parasite made history after winning the Oscar for best picture award for a non-English language film. It also won the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It was a phenomenal breakthrough considering that South Korean cinema only began to garner major international attention in the late nineties. Bong Joon-ho’s acceptance speech at the Oscars included a message to Western audiences. 

“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he told filmgoers who may historically have avoided non-English language movies – or worse yet, waited for their inevitable American remakes.”

Bong Joon-ho

As mentioned at the beginning of the exhibition, K-Pop is a global phenomenon, so at the V&A find a make-shift K-Pop. Big screens trumpeting the iconic music from South Korea. Included in this section are some of the fashions worn by the idolised stars of K-Pop.

Music is one of the most important elements of connecting people emotionally and physically. Around the world, music is used as a vehicle for social change and bringing communities together.

In tune with South Korean culture and language, K-Pop awakened internationally in the mid-1990s. The industry was driven by three entertainment powerhouse production companies, SM, YG, and JYP Entertainment. Knowing the industry was to be driven globally, these companies implemented meticulous high production values alongside strategic design in regards to the images to appeal to their talents for a global appeal.

Installation image, Hallyu! The Korean Wave at the V&A Ⓒ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Leading the K-Pop industry internationally is the boy band ‘BTS’. Assembled by K-Pop producer Bang She Hyuk of Big Hit Entertainment. They rose to international fame with the hit single ‘I NEED U’. 

Whilst the majority of K-Pop artists promote their music lyrically in the Korean language there is a feature of songs that alternate between the English language and Korean. The music is appreciated despite only a small percentage of people who would understand the lyrics outside of the country. 

A combination of addictive tunes, catchy lyrics, constructed with perfectly synced choreography, edgy fashion, and high production value music videos is what brought the light to the music industry from South Korea.

Further advancements in the South Korean music industry in 1996, with Korea’s first virtual idol, was a cyber singer called Adam. Although South Korea was not the first country to do this it did manage to achieve many accomplishments during its year of fame.

Since 2021, Vocaloid and ‘Deep Real’ Artificial Intelligence technology enabled the IT company Pulse9 to launch ETERNITY, which is made up of a virtual, hyper-realistic idol group of 11 members. Visualised on screen, the developed K-pop virtual figures stand spinning 360 degrees as an insight for viewers to experience how hyper-realistic the idol group looks. For South Korean this is only the beginning. 

Unlike the music world of Korea, fashion is more steeped in tradition, yet goes all the way to the cutting edge. The method of describing traditional South Korean fashion is referred to as ‘hanbok’, which is the traditional ethnic style of design for both men and women in Korea, which is presented in the final section of the Hallyu, The Korean Wave exhibition.

For women this involves a full length gathered skirt with a short style Jacket whilst for men it has a long jacket and wide trousers.

Further back in time Hanbok was the clothing many Koreans wore but elaborate items with signifying colours and details were only worn by royalty. Now they are worn by people on special occasions but the most elaborately decorated would still only be worn by those in high positions.

Traditional hanbok also incorporates vibrant hues that corresponded with the five elements of the yin-and-yang theory: white (metal), red (fire), blue (wood), black (water), and yellow (earth). The same colours are also associated with Obangsaek.

A person’s social position could be identified by the material of his or her hanbok. The upper classes wore closely woven ramie (plant-based) cloth or other high-grade lightweight materials during warmer months. Contrastingly, the working class was required to wear white but dressed in shades of pale pink, light green, grey, and charcoal on special occasions and these hanbok designs were restricted to cotton only.

Traditional hanbok dresses follow the typical design of a tightly fitting jacket hugging the shape of the upper body. The wide and flexible skirt flatters the wearer’s gracefulness by hiding the movements of the lower body, making the dress appear to be floating in the air. Designs such as dragons, phoenixes, cranes, and tigers were reserved for the hanbok of royalty and high-ranking officials.

Installation image, Hallyu! The Korean Wave at the V&A Ⓒ Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

Whilst there are some examples of traditional ethnic hanbok featured at the Hallyu! The Korean Wave exhibition. The modern fashion of South Korea steals the show exhibiting remarkable contemporary garments from couture to ready-to-wear pieces also. The importance of hanbok is incorporated through the talent of modern fashion at the exhibition.

Credit from left to right: The Peony dress by Miss Sohee, 2020 graduation collection ‘The Girl in Full Bloom’, photograph by Daniel Sachon. Ji Won Choi x Adidas. Photo Francesca Allen, courtesy Adidas. Moon Jar Dress, Blue by Minju Kim. Seoul, 2021 © Minju Kim, Photo Sangmi An, Model Leehyun Kim,

Korean fashion is gaining prominence with a renewed interpretation of hanbok by rising talents in the world of fashion design. Levelling luxury with streetwear to hold their tradition yet wearable to appeal to a younger generation, both nationally and internationally. Fashion houses such as Adidas mark their designs with a combination of following Korean hanbok tradition with wearable fashion to appeal to their market further. 

The fashion worn by musicians is idolised in South Korea. Put onto a podium merely exerted by their fans we stand upon the frame of Korean fashion. Hanbok tradition is exerted and is merely cherished by South Korean society. 

In coherence with the V&A Hallyu! Exhibition, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (Minister Park Bo-gyun), together with Korea Craft and Design Foundation (President Kim Tae-hoon) and Korean Cultural Centre UK (Minister-Counsellor Jungwoo Lee) held a fashion event to showcase the results of ‘Hanbok Wave’ at the Korean Cultural Centre. 

Korean Culture Centre, London 26th September 2022. Hanbok Wave preset their presentation looks ©Chris Yates/ Chris Yates Media.

The showcased event presented ten selected companies to represent ‘2022 The Hallyu Collaborative Content Planning and Development – Hanbok Wave’.  This year, former Korean figure skater, gold medalist of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, and ambassador of Dior, Yuna Kim joined as a Hallyu cultural artist. Participated in the development of hanbok design and photoshoot. The ten selected companies on show included, Morinori, Liv Damyeon, Lee Young-Ae Traditional Clothes, Hyeon Heyum Hanbok, Happly Haemi by Saimdang, Guiroe, Geumuijae, and C-Zann E. Having designed a total of 60 Hanbok inspired looks that utilise Yuna Kim’s unique characteristics.

Fabrics and silhouettes stood out, alongside colour and texture. Figures of feminine silhouettes outline predominately through traditional Korean hanbok with a contemporary direction. Layered sheer materials, bought modernism to the outfits, whilst suiting rather than being broken down from the military basis of men’s clothes had the signatures of the hanbok weaved through. Here is a melding of western trends with fresh South Korean tradition. Levelling luxury with casual streetwear, bold and beautiful endorsing both heritage and the modern world of young south Korea, exciting for an international audience. 

Korean Culture Centre, London 26th September 2022. Hanbok Wave preset their presentation looks ©Chris Yates/ Chris Yates Media.

Running later this year is the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF). Filled with over 35 critically acclaimed films, new talent, Korean box office hits, the latest K-Horror films, powerful female filmmakers, and boundary-pushing documentaries. The film festival dedicated to Korean cinema is part of the LKFF collaboration with the V&A exhibition Hallyu! The Korean Wave.

Anton Bitel (Cinema Now + horror strand), Darcy Paquet (Indie Talent), Mark Morris (Special Focus), Un-Seong Yoo (Documentary), Hwang Miyojo (Women’s Voices), Jeonju International Film Festival (Shorts Films), LUX (Artist video) are all to feature at the festival this year.

The 17th London Korean Film Festival 2022 will take place from 3rd November – 17th November.

Learning about the heart of South Korea and what makes its impact on the world so special is its ability to treasure its tradition and culture that was founded over 5,000 years ago. Integrating themselves internationally was not by altering the origin of the beauty which the country is in the hold of. Hallyu plays a transformative role for the people of South Korea, whilst keeping in time with technology, aesthetics, and the lifestyle. South Korea has triumphantly strategised national tradition with a contemporary aesthetic to appeal to society internationally. Much respect is drawn for the country for which the ideas will triumph for years to come. 

The Victoria and Albert ‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ is open to the public and is running from the 24th of September 2022 through to the 25th of June 2023. To find out more please visit www.vam.ac.uk to get tickets.

A photoshoot containing 10 shots of Yuna Kim in Hanbok inspired collection will be released at www.marieclaire.fr here to see the ‘Hanbok Wave’ at the Korean Cultural Centre collection.

To find out more about the London Korean Film Festival, running from the 3rd November – 17th November 2022. Please visit www.koreanfilm.co.uk here to find out more and to buy tickets.

If you enjoyed reading Hallyu, A Triumph for South Korea, then why not read Being There Here

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