Asian Dramas VS Latin Telenovelas

Korean "Boys Before Flowers" & Mexican "Rebelde", both centering on teen romance and school life for the rich & adapted from already successful dramas

I’ve been planning on writing this post for awhile, even if my experience with Asian dramas has been limited. I’ve watched 3 K-dramas and 1 and 1/2 J-dramas, and a lifetime’s worth of Spanish Telenovelas.  I stopped watching Spanish ones about 5 years ago due to horrible acting and plot predictability. I’ve recently been fed the crack that is Asian dramas (particularly Korean ones) and I am HOOKED. I’m talking about watching 6+ hours straight and spending the next day agonizing over what will happen next, even sneaking peeks at episode recaps, whatever it takes to get my fix. I thought I would try and watch J-dramas for “educational purposes” only, but as soon as I was introduced to Korean ones, that all went to hell. I thought it would be interesting to try and compare and contrast the dramas to the telenovelas, and why I seem to enjoy Asian dramas much more than I ever did Spanish novelas.

1. Length– OMG can telenovelas go on forever and ever! I mean once you’re hooked, you’re talking about a year long (or more) commitment and a SLOOOOOW moving/frustrating plot. I mean seeing as the outcome is almost always the same WHY drag it out for so long? Asian dramas have the perfect length, and are usually no longer than 24 episodes. You can be through with one, can sleep better at night knowing Jane Doe and Joe Schmoe are together, and move on to the next.

2. Acting– Not to down all Telenovela actors, but man some can be downright horrid (I am going to exclude Colombian and Brazilian actors from the mix–they happen to be pretty good). The same can be true for Asian actors, but for the most part I am never truly disappointed. In Boys Before Flowers, for example, while acting skills were lacking for some, lead actor Lee Min Ho practically carried the whole thing. He made it worth watching, and I can rarely say that for a telenovela. I can’t think of one lead in Spanish novelas nowadays that can make me want to watch one (I am excluding the veterans– Saul Lizaso, Arturo Peniche, Kate del Castillo, etc. Yet, even they couldn’t save some of today’s plots). There is way too much overacting in the spanish world these days.

Coffee Prince-- One of my all-time favorites

3. Plot- Let me stress how much I appreciate a fast moving plot! Also, while most dramas are going to end up being about Boy A ending up with Girl B, I’ve seen a lot of unique storylines in Asian dramas. Coffee Prince, for example, dips its toe into homosexual themes while still presenting a light-hearted love story. You’re Beautiful plays around with some of the same themes, but is smart enough to not take itself too serious and makes fun of cliches while still keeping the angst factor. Japanese dramas happen to move faster with even more daring plots, but I have yet to really get into them.

Betty La Fea, a Columbian telenovela and one of the best Spanish-language ones I've seen

4. Love Scenes- Ok this may really depend on the drama, now that I’m seeing. Telenovelas must have desensitized me because to see how the lead couple in “Boys before Flowers” would just press their lips together like dead fish was SUCH a mood killer! I’ve read that this is a cultural thing for Korea, and that PDA is inappropriate. But in Coffee Prince, there were very passionate kisses, without anything being overdone. And the Japanese certainly aren’t shy about kissing, if we are judging from the way the “F4” went about their business in Hana Yori Dango. In telenovelas, people are in bed together practically half the time. Its refreshing to see the focus on something else rather than sex, because I’m watching a drama, not a porno.

5. Music– Again, this depends on the drama/telenovela. Boys over Flowers, Rebelde and You’re Beautiful were all teen dramas that knocked you over the head over and over with their theme songs until you ended up loving them. BBF is infamous for T-Max’s “Almost Paradiiiiiiiiiiise” playing at the most inconvenient times. The latter two had plots centered on music groups, so they were selling us the groups (Rebelde even more so). Coffee Prince had BEAUTIFUL music, but I really don’t have any other adult K-dramas to compare it to. Mexican novelas for the most part are known for the extremely cheesy music, especially the “evil person” scenes … a “NO, Juan Pablo!! Soy tu madre!!” type of line comes to mind. Ugh. Asian dramas win hands down. (Update: I will say I usually fall for a telenovela’s opening theme, as it is usually a nice bolero.)

 I hope you drama lovers enjoyed my analysis (and telenovela lovers please don’t hunt me down! all for fun!) I’m sure there’s more I can write about, but I’d be here all day if I kept going! If you are interested in Asian dramas (Korean), I highly recommend Java Beans’ site (www.dramabeans.com). She’s hilarious and I am in love with her recaps. I have yet to watch a drama that she hasn’t recapped!

Happy watching! (Please note: I am not liable for any addictions this contributes to! haha)

L

Update: AHHH What a noob! I’ve watched MANY more dramas after writing this post… and I guess most of this would hold true, but I do wish I would’ve waited until now to write this! It has gotten quite a bit of google traffic (atleast in comparison to the rest of my site), so hopefully anyone who reads this knows it was written by a total amateur! Also, keep in mind this is a site for learning Japanese, not drama commentary. Should keep my two worlds separate, huh? I might have to rewrite this in the future. Thanks for stopping by!

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About L

Interested in Japanese language and culture, J-Pop, K-Pop and Asian Dramas.
This entry was posted in Dramas. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Asian Dramas VS Latin Telenovelas

  1. Walls Blank says:

    I appreciate your update and I love that you did this comparison!

  2. Mastersydneymon says:

    Thanks for your report. I love “Betty la Fea”.

  3. Jade says:

    I am new to the K-Drama fever and became addicted since Boys Over Flowers was available via Netflix. As you described it, it is crack addicting. One Drama and you are done with normal sleep hours. It was hard to face a lot of the cultural differences at first. Like you I’ve been watching Novelas since the craddle, but stopped watching a few years ago for the same reasons you stated. My favorite Korean Drama hands down so far has been, Secret Garden. Boy how I loved it. Watching City Hunter now. Thanks for the article. It was very interesting.

    • lvsanchez115 says:

      oh wow you found BBF on netflix! I also saw it there, but it was unavailable for the longest time. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with the same feelings about telenovelas and asian dramas! I watched SG, didn’t love it, but enjoyed it (esp Hyun Bin hehe) I hear City Hunter is a good one, it’s def on the watch list. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Vicky says:

    Honestly i understand where you are coming from, but i
    Stillmperfer novelas… I can see how some of the thimgs you stated are true but not all, personnaly i think novelas have more pasion and life. And they are long yes but no where neqr as long as american soaps… The only thing i wish is that they wouls stop making remakes… Actually im writeing two novelas now that are nothing like the typical novelas, they love story isnt even the main plot of either of them.. I like j-dramas just as much as the next guy, but i feel like they dont seem to take them selves to seriously at times….

    • lvsanchez115 says:

      This is a very interesting point of view. I could have never pictured someone trying Asian dramas (Korean ones atleast) and still preferring Latin ones. I guess this article was a bit unfair since what I was really criticizing was Mexican telenovelas. I have seen amazing novelas from other countries (although I still hate the fact that they last forever). And there could be other great dramas from Mexico or elsewhere that never get picked up by our spanish-language channels here in the United States. So, I was generalizing a bit. If you ever do happen to come back to this post, please let me know what you’re watching! I’m curious!

  5. ceci says:

    For the longest time I have thought the same thing about telenovelas and how they are awfully repeated. I was hooked on k-dramas after I saw Goong. Since then I’ve watched soo many k-dramas that I don’t even remember the name of some. I have watched BOF and loved it and I’ve watched City Hunter, Lie to me, playfull kiss, my lady,(something like that) and others. Although I do have to say that what I don’t like the endings to some of the k-dramas. I think they could work a little on that but otherwise they are amazing and like you say sweet and right to the point.

  6. Billicent says:

    I love Asian drama so much, they’re much faster-paced than Latin American dramas.
    And the fact that Philippine soap operas are now fast-paced as well……. Well, I can say that more Philippine soaps have lighter, more comedic approaches, yet still family-oriented. The downside of Mexican soaps is that there are always sensual scenes. And also, I love Korean dramas especially those produced by KBS! I am currently hooked on Sungkyunkwan Scandal which is finally dubbed in Filipino!

  7. Bea says:

    Totally biased!
    Honestly, I love asian dramas and latin dramas equally. You can definitely find some great quality novelas if you step away from univision for a moment and focus on channels like telefutura or just go online to watch them. There have been some wonderful novelas in the past from Mexican producers like Rubi (which was also remade in the Phillipines). It’s like anything else, they all have the good and the bad. Although I do love Asian dramas, and I’ve seen quite a few by now, I feel that they do lack the passion. I do agree though, I appreciate the briefness of them. The 50 episode area is just perfect.
    Anyway, I appreciate the edit, although I do wish you would’ve chosen a different title. It’s a little, uh… misleading 😉

  8. Español says:

    Good entry. But when you say “Spanish” you want to say “Latin American”. Of course they speak in Spanish, but they are not Spanish.

  9. Annie says:

    Okay I am going to give my two cents about this argument for I too have ventured into the world of Korean dramas and I am really impressed by not only the acting but the fast paced yet still well written story lines most of the dramas have. However, I think it is a far stretch to say that that Korean dramas are hands down better than telenovelas.

    Let’s start with the history of telenovelas because there is one, especially in the Latin America. Not every novela is produced by the same company. Like in Korea there are different factions that have completely different political and societal views in producing novelas. But to make my argument short I am going to talk about the BIG FOUR Latin American production houses which are the following: Venevision (Venezuelan Novelas made one of best novelas of 80s such as Imperio Cristal, ), Canal RCN (Betty la Fea ) from Colombia, Globo Tv (Brazil produced one of the most controversial novelas like Xica da Silva and India) and lastly the big two from Mexico: Televisa aka the King of Novelas (majority of the novelas including: Corozon Salvaje, Maria Mercedes, Teresa, Amor Real, el Pecado de Yuki, Marimar etc) and TV Azteca (producing the famous novelas like Mirada de mujer)

    In Latin america and in the United States the top novelas being watched by most hispanic viewers and other audiences are produced by Televisa and are viewed by the US company Univision. I don’t include Telemundo’s novelas because 1) it is owned by NBC, 2)when you compare the ratings from Univision novelas it just isn’t fair. Televisa has dominated telenovela programming an ratings since its inception and have always used quality production and acting quality for their soaps.

    Now too argue your first point
    1. Length. Yes telenovelas are long but to be honest it is not that long. Your general novela if it is decent can run up to 60-80 depending on the story. A good novela is usually 124. Which if you look at is roughly 3-4 months. However, sometimes the producers of the novela get greedy and extend the story which causes the story to lag for a bit. And this type of extending began with La Fea Mas Bella (Remake of Bety la Fea from Colombia) when it shot up as the #1 soap in 2.Mexico. Televisa expanded the story by three months which destroyed its magical storyline.

    2. Acting. Excuse me but um Mexican novelas in my opinion and especially from the 80s up until 2010 have always used quality actors in their soaps. I am sorry but I have watched Colombian, Venezuelan, Peruvian, and other Latin American novelas and the acting is no way near the calibre of Mexican actors. Just to give you a hint in history most Latin American actors like Cristian Bach, Juan Soler, Chayanne, Ricky Martin, Salma Hayek, Kate del Castillo, Saul Lizazo etc all went and studied at the Televisa Academy of Acting so that they could be known and be better actors. In regards to Korean acting I think they have improved but the lack of passion in the kisses has to be stepped up if they want to go head to head with telenovelas. Passion is also needed for a great story. For example: In Boys over Flowers although Lee Min Ho was wonderful in his role as Gun Pyoo and you could feel his love for the main character Jan di. Ku Hye Sun who played Jan di portrayed a bit of coldness in the kisses with Lee Min Ho.

    3. Plot. Now I tip my hands out to K dramas. Their recent plots for their dramas are outstanding.
    And I am really impressed that despite 16 or 26 episodes the story moves forward pretty fast. Now lately in particular Televisa production soap operas that has not been the case. They are still using the same formula of poor girl meets rich guy and they need to get with the program.

    4. Love scenes. I too have been a bit disgusted with the raunchiness of the love scenes in telenovelas, especially since before it was never like that. I feel that they are placing too much emphasis on sex scenes rather than plot. I like that K-dramas are a bit reserved in that area,however it doesn’t hurt to have a quality love scene. For example one of my top favorite K dramas is I need Romance. I was surprised that the 16 drama had about 8 love scenes. And all were done in taste, however Boys over Flowers did not have a love scenes and I was disappointed. Sometimes if done right you need a bit of loving to sweetin the pie, so to speak?

    5. Music. I think both k dramas and telenovelas have been great in the music. I don’t know what novelas you have watched where the villain music is cheesy but so far most novelas are on par with their music. Again you have to remember it depends on the producer of the novela. For example Carla Estrada one of the best Mexican telenovela producers who has produced great novelas like Amor de Nadie, Mas alla del puente, Amor Real, Alborada, etc., always uses great music for her productions.

    In conclusion, I think that K dramas offer a competitive edge to drama productions. I believe that their modern approach to story telling, their improvement in quality acting, and production will pose as a threat to Latin American novelas, especially since in some countries of LA they are one of the top programs. If big production powerhouses like Televisa and RCN don’t get it together they will lose their audience. However, I do foresee in the near future maybe a co-production of televisa with KBS. It could happen. Remember won of Mexicos most legendary soaps el Pecado de Yuki made in the 80s was about a young japanese peasant girl living in Mexico. Couldn’t you see Son Ye-jin (main protagonist in Personal Taste K-drama) play Yuki? I can and recently I am watching Televisa recent novelas introduce Japanese and Korean actors on novelas, so it is only a matter of time. Whatever the case I just hope that all genres of romantic dramas continue.

    • Michael Do says:

      I do agree with you that K-dramas has a big edge over Latin Telenovelas. But I do think because of the popularity of K-dramas in Latin America, it could inspire and create a new generation of telenovelas that could be influenced by K-dramas (and Taiwanese dramas). I’ve also found out that Taiwanese dramas are also being shown in Latin America too (I wouldn’t be surprised if Hong Kong dramas end up getting shown in Latin America) like Office girls (spanish title: chicas de oficina) and The Girl in Blue (Amor Azul in Spanish). So East Asian dramas are going to win more audiences and more rating then Telenovelas, so those companies in Latin America are going to need to step up their game, I will agreed with you on that. But I have couple of ideas that telenovela can learn from K-drama:

      -reduce the episode count for future telenovelas, and make the story fast-paced on the same level as K-dramas/Asian dramas. Also diverse the storyline a bit, the “poor girl meet rich guy” plot seem outdated. I want to see a Telenovelas that has a storyline similar to Korean one, like maybe a Spanish equivalent of Winter Sonata, IRIS, Love Rain, Coffee Prince, etc… That’s what I want to see.

      -if needed, I would want Telemundo, Globo TV, and other big telenovelas production to have their bright upcoming directors to travel abroad in South Korea and study at a Korean film school. I’m sure Korean film school can teach telenovelas director how to put the “Korean/Asian” magic and charm into telenovelas.

      Also I would like maybe telenovelas company to maybe remake K-drama with the unique storyline to a telenovela. Like for example I always thought these K-dramas can be adapted into telenovelas for Latin American audiences:

      Love Rain: I think Brazil can remake this drama. The plot of this drama is so unique I can’t find this in any telenovelas. So maybe Brazil can remake this, I want Priscila Lima to play Yoona’s character for the remake. Who’s Brazilian equivalent of Jang Geun Suk? In the original drama, the 2 couple met each other in Japan, for the Brazilian remake the couple meet in South Korea (a nod and fanservice to the fan of the original drama).

      Coffee Prince: That drama was a hit in all of Latin America, I do see a potential remake for Latin America in the future.

      Trot Lovers: The current KBS Drama, I think it can be adapted into a Brazilian setting. Replace trot music with bossa nova for the Brazilian remake. Also to make a nod to the Korean original, Eunji from the original K-drama should make a cameo in the Brazilian remake as a trot singer at a fictional Korean-Brazilian festival (again a little fanservice to the fan of the original drama).

      Prime Minister & I: I think Brazil should remake this drama. I want Yoona to make a cameo as a Korean journalist (for KBS) that ask/interview the Brazilian prime minister.

      My love from another star: I think the plot is interesting for a Latin American telenovela remake. I think Brazil can remake this drama.

      You’re Beautiful: this K-drama got a Japanese and Taiwanese remake, so why not have a Latin American country remake this drama. I think Argentina can tackle the remake. To make a nod to the original drama, The Argentinian’s A.N JELL will meet their Korean counterpart in 2 episodes (meaning Jang Geun Suk, Park Shin hye, Lee Hongki, and Jung Yong-Hwa will make cameo apperance in the Argentinian remake).

      The Moon embracing the sun: I think Spain should remake this drama and get Michelle Jenner (Isabel) to play as Heo-Yeon Woo (Han Ga-In’s character) for the remake. Move Joseon era to 15th century Spain. Keep the story and the philosophical meaning of Moon and sun intact for the remake.

      Telenovelas company should try adapting manga also, like I always thought several manga could be adapted into telenovelas.

      Boys over flower: we’ve already seen a Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese version, why not a Latin American version? this manga can be adapted into a Brazilian setting. Makino become Rita for the Brazilian version. In the Brazilian version, Rita comes from a Favela and because of her high IQ, she got into Brazil’s prestigious high school via a scholarship dominated by rich kids and the F4.

      Itazura na Kiss: Like Boys over flower, I want to see a Latin American adaptation of this manga. I think Mexico (Telemundo) can adapt this into a telenovela.

      So that’s how telenovela can improve themselves and they can learn from their Korean counterpart.

  10. Someone just sent me your link. As I started watching dramas 2 years ago, I fell in love! I started with Korean, branched to the other Asian dramas like Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino, and Japanese but most recently have started watching Argentinean and Spanish dramas (from Spain). For me, it depends on what you like to watch. As romances are the dramas I watch on occasions, it is the other genres that I prefer: crime, melodrama, historical, medical, and fantasy; in no particular order.

    Because a lot of dramas I’ve watched exceed 50 episodes, the length of the telenovelas don’t bother me. My longest drama to date had 122 episodes; I’m currently watching 3 daily dramas with over 100+ episodes. So, I guess whether or not a drama watcher would like Spanish dramas; it depends. I prefer the melos and historical. But my first love will always be the Korean dramas as those are the ones that started my obsession! My recent Spanish language dramas (thanks to DramaFever): http://newkdramaaddict.blogspot.com/2013/06/im-not-just-about-asian-dramas-spanish.html

    • jaysudan says:

      There is no chance of k-dramas and Asian productions ever getting near to the legacy, quality and depth of telenovelas. History is a witness the cultural phenomena of telenovelas.
      Talking about length the best of classic telenovelas like la revancha (1989) Venvision and Cafe con aroma (1994) RCN Colombia; have gone over 250 episodes yet have left audiences worldwide in awe including in my native Africa.
      One has only to recollect the amazing popularity of telenovelas from people’s escapism and connection with their lives. Only imagine for instance that in wartime soldiers from Armenia and Azerbaijan had to call short ceasefires in order to unbelievably follow a Mexican telenovela by Lucia Mendez. Telenovelas are hands down the best.

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