Field Notes: These People Love Dramas—Korean Drama That Is
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: The Hanguk Drama Hawai‘i Club.
Photos: Natalie Nakasone
What it is
A social club that celebrates all things Korean. (Hanguk is Korean for “Korea.”) The main attraction is Korean drama (K-drama), but members are involved in contemporary music (K-pop), food, travel, concerts and festivals as well.
The addiction factor
No one can put their finger on what exactly makes K-drama so addicting, but fans are hardcore, and there’s no question the formula works. Whether young lovers entangled in the bitter clash of social class, villains who take “power hungry” to stratospheric new heights, or ubiquitous evil mothers-in-law (as Jeff Chung, general manager of local K-drama station KBFD-TV, says, the more evil, the better), K-drama takes you on a wild emotional romp of conflict, suspense, romance and resolution, despite some fantastical storylines where the ability to suspend reality is not only helpful but necessary. Unlike American soap operas, each story has a finite number of episodes and an invariably satisfying outcome—good triumphs over evil, true love is victorious and the evil mother-in-law gets what she’s due. By the time one series ends, you’re already itching for your next fix. You can sample any number of current shows on KBFD, KLIFE or online; or buy a box set of a proven series like Stairway to Heaven, Emperor of the Sea or Winter Sonata. Just know you may soon be accommodating your schedule and storage space to a new habit.
How it started
Formed in late 2002, the original club name was Hawai‘i KDramas, and the first official event drew 20 people. At the second meeting, attendance quadrupled. Interest continued to grow exponentially and, in 2006, HDH branched out as a separate club with approximately 150 members. (Currently, Hawai‘i has multiple K-drama clubs, including those that focus on a single celebrity. Combined membership is well into the hundreds.)
Who shows up
The ages at HDH range from 15 to 90. Chung says KBFD’s viewership statistics mirror the Islands’ demographic, with 33 percent Japanese viewers, followed by Filipino, Caucasian, Chinese, Hawaiian and Korean. In May, KBFD completed a costly conversion to true high-definition that has been met with enthusiastic approval from fans, who say it makes the K-drama stars even more good-looking.
Club meetings are not a gathering place to watch K-drama episodes but, rather, an assembly of diehard fans who come together out of a shared fervor for the genre. The queue for the event starts long before the doors open, and the excitement is palpable. Once inside, there is a lot of animated chatter about plot speculation, recent trips to Korea and celebrity sightings, including the time a group of older women vacationing in Korea spotted the wildly popular entertainer Rain. All the young Korean girls surrounding the celebrity were asking each other who all the “grannies” were, madly straining for a glimpse of the international superstar.
The meetup agenda includes guest speakers, news, prizes, lunch and entertainment. At the August 2015 event, KORL 107.5 DJ Hyunni K challenged the group
to a formidable K-drama trivia game. To a novice, most of the Korean names and titles would sound indistinguishable, but
HDH members proved impossible to stump.
How to join
Publicity has always been by word of mouth and, as history shows, attracting members is not a problem. The original fee was $10 a year. The current membership fee is ... $10 a year. If only everything in Hawai‘i had that kind of inflation control. For an HDH application, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Wright, retired high school teacher
I’m 67 years old and K-drama actors still give me that heartthrob feeling. The first time I saw Bae Yong-Jun in Winter Sonata, I thought, “I’m in love!”
Nora Muramoto, HDH President
With all the hurricanes this season, I was so worried; I told my granddaughter, I need to find someplace safe to protect all my K-drama tapes and DVDs!
Kyle Katahara, one of the few men on the HDG roster
When I was younger, two Korean sisters suggested I watch K-drama. I said, “No way! I’m not going to watch that kind of show, especially if I have to read subtitles.” But, about 10 years ago, I was flipping channels and started watching an episode. I was hooked, and have been ever since.
Did you know? It’s common for members of K-drama clubs to belong to more than one club.