The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

Squid Game - Korean storytelling as I see it

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As I write most days about what occurs to me about narrative, sometimes I need to go back to an idea.

What I’d like to do is add something to an email when I said that what makes Korean storytelling distinctive is the desire to highlight the emotional narrative over and above the overall story.

It's a little more interesting, and complex, than that.
When I was on Korean film sets I could see huge amount of sophistication in how the film was shot. Superficially there was very little difference between them and my experience on sets in the UK and the US. The reason I mention or noticed this was because I was also lucky enough to spend time with Jacky Chan in Hong Kong, following him filming, and that had a completely different feel.

But the most interesting thing to me was what was going on underneath, in the narrative they were creating.

What so many Korean films tend to do might seem quite conventional, in that what many Western stories often try to do is make sure there is an emotional storyline as well as a more straightforward plot - you often see it very obviously in feature films where they try to squeeze in character subplots as well as the action.

But what strikes me as more distinctive about Korean storytelling is when the emotional, subjective narrative is prioritised above the more traditional Western-style 'plot'.

The plot in Western filmmaking is what you might answer when you are asked what your film is about. The mechanics of the film.

But in some films from Korea (and I am overusing this reference, in that it applies to some - but not all - films and stories in many Asian cultures), the plot means you describe the emotional narrative instead of a sequence of cause and effect events.

It's more about there being a strongly told sequence of emotional development - in fully evolved acts - that are there to give a subjective, emotional narrtive. If you miss that out - as happens in a lot of Western movies - then the Korean audience may become dissatisfied.

If you've ever seen Bong Joon Ho's "Memories of Murder" you'd be hard pressed to describe the detective investigation (it's actually left hanging), where as the detectives personal journey is fully mapped out. His "Parasite" went on to win an Oscar, and what stayed with me is the narrative of the family relationship way above what they were actually trying to achieve by taking over the house.

In Korea they have a word called Han. The closest equivalent we have is 'soul'. But it's at the heart of their culture, and how they describe their lives. (Me describing the Korean experience is certainly cheeky, but it's what I was told when I was there).

Perhaps that introspection means they are more aware of thematic elements of their stories, and they sometimes feel the need to elevate them above the mere mechanices of the plot.

Why is this relevant?

We are making documentaries for a global audience. But it's not just about assuming that the audience want to watch documentaries that we are making our way. If we understand them better, then we can make them work for both audiences.

I am working on a series at the moment, from China to the West, and using exactly those skills to transfer ideas across cultures.

It's not that complicated if you have the skills and you know how to apply them.

If you want to learn those skills, quickly and efficiently, go here to find out more about the course. It could be just what you need.

All the best - Nigel