by Kyle, May 30, 2021

Drama Where I'm From:

An Abridged History of K-drama in Jamaica

          The black, green, and gold making an appearance in Queen of Mystery Episode 7

"The Korean Wave" has run ashore many a nation over throughout the world. Along with it, it has brought a tidal wave of infectious pop tunes, beauty routines/products, and a steady stream of movies and television. Just about everywhere, one can now find someone enthralled in some segment of Korean pop culture. A phenomenon is driven by any number of factors, the waves of the world wide web have perhaps cultivated its greatest following. While I cannot speak for every locality, I can certainly speak for my own. Here in Jamaica, quite literally the other side of the world to the land of idols, K-drama has had many small appearances in the mainstream. Today, as such, I would like to disclose to you the happenings here on the "Jamrock" in terms of what the teletsunami waves of  Hallyu have brought to us.
National Museum West, Montego Bay
St James

Where I'm From

The island is divided into 14 parishes, with Kingston, the smallest parish as the largest city and capital. 

Situated at 18ºN 77ºW is the country I call home. Jamaica is many things for being such a relatively small place, so for the sake of getting to the drama, I'll spare most details. It is the largest English -speaking island in the West Indies and the third largest island in the region overall. A nation timing with a vibrant culture and people, blessed with many naturally beautiful vistas. The population itself is made up of diverse people groups. Many, former peoples of the British empire including Indians, Han Chinese, and the majority of West African descent. 

Far more than just a popular tourist destination; for the over three million of us who live here, it is an island with a long and storied history. Some of our most noteworthy contributions to the wider world include musical genres like reggae and dancehall, numerous track stars, most famously: Usain Bolt- the world's fastest man, cricketers like Chris Gayle, and intellectuals like Stuart Hall among many others. In our local patios, we'd refer to our presence as "We lickle but we tallawah" roughly meaning "We may be little but we've got a huge presence."

Pier 1, Montego Bay, St James

The Korean Connection

Diplomatically, the relationship between Jamaica and South Korea began in October 1962, two months following Jamaica's independence. In that time, there have been numerous contributions made between the nations. Today, the national conversation on South Korea is still relatively nonexistent. Other than the atypical discussions surrounding issues like the North-South conflict mentions of Korea are few and far between. Yet Korean dramas have found their way onto the airways of major Jamaican broadcasters. That story and my own unconventional entry into this space, looking back are actually both funny and very coincidental.

"The First Wave" and An Origin Story

Point Lucea, Lucea, Hanover
Jamaica has two major free-to-air television stations, namely: Television Jamaica (TVJ) and CVM TV ( which if you can find another Jamaican who knows what that stands for please let me know). TVJ being the bigger and more popular of the two.  It was around the Summer of 2011 that advertisements for a new upcoming foreign language show began popping up.

What show? None other than Brilliant Legacy. The disembodied and overly enthusiastic voiceover told of the promises of a bitter disagreement blossoming into a beautiful romance. The me of that time held little interest in any of that. Living then in the rural innards of Westmoreland, my interest was more into filling books with facts I gathered reading about countries around the world online. While I remained un-interested, Brilliant Legacy- airing on TVJ managed to gather something of a loyal audience.
Brilliant Legacy

Numbers from the time were basically impossible to find, largely because no one where seems to provide detailed viewership numbers. Anecdotally, however, talk surrounding the show tended to float by my ears frequently. Additionally, the decision of TVJ to air rebroadcasts of the episodes that aired each week tends to be a good indicator, in place of actual figures, that a show is doing well on television here. 

Stewie District, Westmoreland
Headland, St Ann

Concurrent to this, my Wikipedia tour around the world had finally brought me to East Asia. It is around that time that I ran into a country little known to me at the time in South Korea. While reading over its Wikipedia page I came upon a segment marked Entertainment where it professed of the growing regional and international acclaim of Korean television shows. I hadn't paid much attention to this portion of many other countries' profiles before, but I scoffed to myself at this haughty assertion. Scanning through the titles, one link leads to another and I managed to bump into none other than Brilliant Legacy. 

Point Lucea, Lucea, Hanover
Santa Cruz, Saint Elizabeth

I hadn't even known it was South Korean, but all the better- I was going to see what all this big talk was about. So one Sunday afternoon, I sat down with my grandmother and decided to tune into an episode to see for myself. I wasn't even the romance type. An adolescent boy, I expected to roll my eyes out and move on and indeed I did. Yet, when the next Sunday came around, I was back to see if Go Eun Sung wasn't going to drop kick Sun Woo Hwan for being such a pretentious prick. The rest is history and a watchlist of  217 shows and over 3,319 episodes.

" The Second Wave"

Looking out over the Caribbean Sea from the "Hip Strip"
Montego Bay, St James
It didn't take long, at least in Jamaican terms for a new K-drama to follow behind Brilliant Legacy.  TVJ made sure to milk the absolute life out of the license, by re-airing the whole show at least a million times. Finally, by around 2012-2013 another drama appeared.

My Lovely Sam Soon

This time it was My Lovely Sam Soon. I don't even remember hearing many adverts for its premier, largely because I was too busy watching other Kdramas online. Nonetheless, Sam Soon was very popular, perhaps even more popular than Brilliant Legacy. Certainly, word of mouth surrounding the drama seemed much more present. I remember, for instance, distant aunts asking if I watched the show as at that time I was pretty deep into the K-drama world. They who had been more resistant to Brilliant Legacy seemed keener on Sam Soon. 

Why? Well, I think it had something to do with My Lovely Sam Soon being dubbed. Yes, shock, horror, abomination dubbed K-drama. The experience was a first for me and by god, it was to be my last. Whatever my feeling, it clearly had the effect intended as the previously mentioned familiar signs of a show doing well here took place.
In the process of trying to find some indications of sentiment at the time, I came across this Facebook post from TVJ.
These hardly serve as ratings but it's just a good sampler of the vibe of the viewer towards the show at the time. Mind you scrolling just a little bit down from these and people are complaining. In essence, it's Jamaicans being Jamaicans, or the internet being the internet both statements are true. Overall the vibe I was able to glean seemed more in the way positive.

"The Third Wave"

Bluefields, Westmoreland
The Sheriff in Town
Following this boom in Kdrama related content, something of drought followed. The trap of never-ending reruns was the only thing on offer for Jamaican Kdrama fans television-wise.
In the meanwhile, something else was happening in cinemas. The Korean Embassy launched a Korean Film Festival in 2012. It doubled also as a celebration of 50 years of diplomatic ties between the nations and perhaps a consorted effort to keep the flame alive.

Launching then with four films, the event has been held every year since, (you can listen to this segment regarding its third staging here on The Jamaica Information Service), ignoring 2020 and not just in Kingston but in my city Montego Bay. Covering the two major cities in the East and West of the island, which side rant-

[I mean if the Korean embassy can be perceptive enough to actually include other places outside of the capital, why can't our own government institutions get with the program (╬▔皿▔)╯]

Anyways, some of the films to make an appearance have been Familyhood, My Love, My Bride, War of Arrows, The Sheriff in Town, The Thieves among others.
Flyer for the 2018 staging.
Kim Seong Hun (right) third secretary at the ROK Embassy at the 2018 staging- Jamaica Observer

Unfinished Journey

While a new Kdrama has yet to reappear on television since Sam Soon, the effect of their first being aired has definitely been felt. More and more fans have been popping up across the island and plenty of fan groups big and small have been spawned through their airing. Additionally, the effect of other segments of Hallyu, particularly K-pop has spawned even more spin-off interest in the Korean TV and movie scene. Certainly, I have seen a great rise in the popularity of such mediums as a bit of an OG in these parts and hope to see the day k-drama reappears on local television. Fingers crossed they show something that aired after 2013. Cheers to Montego Bay with love, to my fellow community members around the world. Keep binging ~\(≧▽≦)/~

Personally, I'd love for this idea to be taken up by other MDL'ers as well. With so many of us from all over the world, I'd love to see other articles about Drama Where Your From.

*All photos excluding posters, maps, screenshots, and officially cited are my own. So here's a bonus round of pics I've taken from around the island.

Little Ochi, Saint Elizabeth
Lover's Leap, St Elizabeth
Montego Bay Convention Center, Montego Bay, Saint James
Saint Paul's United Church, Montego Bay, Saint James
University of The West Indies, Mona, Kingston
Cranbrook Flower Forrest, St Ann

Editors: BrightestStar (1st editor)