Growing up as a Korean-American, I was often asked, “Where are you from?” This question became a kind of standard line that opened or punctuated many first encounters. Sometimes, the follow-up inquiry of “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” also entered the conversation. Occasionally, though not very often, the direct question “Are you Korean?” did find utterance. When the questioner is reminded of the existence of Korea, Korea is found to be either an unknown entity or one that has been forgotten. Within this line of questioning, Korea is excluded, and the reigning paradigm that comes is: “Always China and Japan, but only sometimes, if ever, Korea.”
Although Koreans have reminded the rest of the world of the existence of Korea, it is the global appeal of hallyu that is at the vanguard in promoting the reemergence of Korea into global vogue. Hallyu, sometimes romanized as hanryu, is defined as the “Korean Wave.” The term addresses the rise in global popularity, especially in Asia, of South Korean cultural products such as New Korean Cinema, K-pop (Korean popular music), Korean television melodramas, Korean computer games, and Korean new media. This rise in South Korea’s soft power creates a new factor in measuring socioeconomic success—Gross National Cool. This change in Korea’s status from a forgotten nation to an unforgettable nation is enacted not by hard power but rather by soft power. Namely, it is the global success of hallyu as a cultural phenomenon that transforms what was once just a Korea-centric event into a global venture. In short, hallyu makes the long-delayed Koreanization of world culture possible. Under this framework, Korea’s new “place in the sun”1 now positions the country as an attractive, active, creative, and invited player. To be truly cosmopolitan and in tune with the zeitgeist, one cannot help but be marked by the present cultural dynamism and spark of Korea’s cinema, television, music, computer games, and new media.