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K-dramas are having a moment


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).


You may remember that eerie sound from the popular Netflix original series "Squid Game." The dystopian Korean thriller broke records as one of the most-watched shows on the streaming service. The show also made history this week as the first-ever non-English series nominated for an Emmy in the outstanding drama category. Like "Squid Game," other Korean dramas, also known as K-dramas, are having a moment. And whether you've watched a few or are just getting into them, we've got some recommendations. Jae-Ha Kim joins us now. She's a journalist and a K-drama fan. That's why she's here. Thanks for being with us.

JAE-HA KIM: Thank you for having me. What a fun show.

RASCOE: (Laughter) So for someone who is totally new to Korean dramas, what would you recommend?

KIM: OK. I think that a good one to start with would be "Money Heist: Korea." There's a genius kind of weirdo. His name is Professor.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, non-English language spoken).

KIM: And he has a heist that he wants to do where he feels that it's not really stealing from anyone because they're going to print their own money and steal that. So he gets a bunch of criminals together. You know, one's a great counterfeiter. You know, another one's a great fighter. And they go into the mint in Korea, which, in this fictional land, it's the North and South Korean mint. They get in there, and they hold everybody in there hostage. And their goal is not kill anybody, not hurt anybody and get out with, you know, trillions of won, Korean won - billions of dollars.

RASCOE: You know, let's talk about romance. A lot of people - they love good romance drama. Their hearts aren't cold like mine. What should we check out in the K-drama space when it comes to romance?

KIM: I would be remiss if I didn't mention "Crash Landing On You." The series is so good. It's set in North Korea, and it's the ultimate "Romeo And Juliet" story. It's about a North Korean and a South Korean who fall in love.

RASCOE: Oh, wow.

KIM: She's going to have to go back home to South Korea. He can't leave North Korea. So what do you do?


SON YE-JIN: (As Yoon Se-ri) North Korea?

KIM: This is from the beginning of the series, when Se-ri, the South Korean businesswoman, paraglides into North Korea by accident. And she is caught in a tree. And he's telling her right there that, oh, I'm a North Korean soldier. You're in North Korea. And she's shocked because she never expected that her little outing would land her in a different country, a country that she's technically at war with.

RASCOE: Yes. I mean, I don't think you just want to land in North Korea, just saying.

KIM: Oh, no, no, no, no.

RASCOE: (Laughter) So - and, you know, another big aspect of the Korean TV and film industry is that they have a lock on zombies. And this - and as a horror fan, I should have seen these. I have not seen all of these. So break this down for us. What are some of the great horror, like, TV and movies from Korea?

KIM: So a kind of different zombie thriller is "Happiness," which is a zombie thriller and a love story. And it's so sweet and so hopeful because in "Happiness," they're trying to save as many zombies as possible. The series actually reflects on COVID because it's set a little bit in the future, and they talk about how, well, you know, coronavirus is under control now so we can control this, too. And I like that attitude that just because somebody is sick - because these zombies didn't become zombies just because they wanted to. I mean, literally, they caught a virus.

RASCOE: No, yeah. It's not their fault, yeah.

KIM: Yeah. I like the idea that we should do everything we can to save as many as we can. It's a very clever plot, and you need to watch it because I think you would like it a lot.

RASCOE: OK. I'm going to have to look that up. I will definitely look that up. What does it mean to you to see K-dramas get this sort of recognition right now?

KIM: It's an acknowledgement of my heritage, and it brings me immense pride that people are paying attention to something that is not easy for them to necessarily understand - and by that I mean the language barrier. So they're putting in the effort. They're willing to read the subtitles. And it fills me with pride that it's something that I find to be quality that people are welcoming into their homes.

RASCOE: Jae-ha Kim, journalist and K-drama connoisseur, thank you so much. This was fun.

KIM: Thank you.


Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.