FSN Conversations: the South Korean ‘Sherlock’ Promos

I showed one of the South Korean OCN promos for Sherlock during my talk at FSN to what appeared to be (in the darkness of the room) great surprise. Obviously, there was no opportunity to talk about them in more detail, so I wanted to go into them in a bit more detail here. First, the promos for both Series 1 and 2:

Now that you’ve seen those, take a moment to refresh your memory with the BBC trailers for the same seasons. Just for comparison’s sake.

Sherlock was broadcast in South Korea – at least in this iteration – on OCN, a popular cable movie channel that is, critically, not a public broadcaster. And where, in Japan, the trailers for Sherlock on NHK (the national public broadcaster) were simply subtitled versions of the BBC trailers, in South Korea OCN targeted not the audience that was supposed to love Sherlock – the old-school Sherlockians, the “Sherlock fanboys” – but an audience that they knew already existed in their own (popular) cultural context, and one which had been the impetus for the highly successful exportation of a specific iteration of South Korean popular culture in the form of the Korean Wave – women.

And not just women. Women who like boys. Pretty ones. And boys in relationships. Pretty ones. Pretty, pretty boys playing together.

Case in point: Antique Bakery.

What would it be like if the entertainment industry actually valued women as media consumers?

In 1999, manga artist Fumi Yoshinaga began serializing her story, Antique Bakery in the mainstream women’s monthly comic magazine, Wings. The story was set in a Tokyo patisserie and, among other things, featured a vague boy’s love (BL) storyline that was subsequently developed and made explicit in a doujinshi (‘amateur’ comic) written and distributed by Yoshinaga herself. In 2001, the manga was made into a Japanese television drama of the same name (and, incidentally, one of my all-time favorite dramas), featuring – among others – the well-known actors Koyuki, Abe Hiroshi, and Shiina Kippei, as well as music by the superlative Mr. Children.

It was made into an anime series for commercial broadcaster Fuji TV in 2008; in the same year, a South Korean adaptation of the story was released as a feature film, as seen in the trailer above. Watch the trailer.

Two things stand out across the different iterations of the story: first, the consistency of its emphasis on ‘beautiful boys’ and how they are intended entirely for female consumption. Indeed, for the most part this is a world into which heterosexual romance does not make a meaningful appearance, but not because it’s a masculinist world; rather, the men of the story play, to varying degrees, against type in working in the decidedly feminine milieu of the patisserie.

Second, yaoi/slash themes are given greater/lesser play depending on the medium and intended audience of each adaptation; however, the homosexuality of one of the key characters (the pastry chef) is never, to the best of my recollection, played solely for broad laughs. It is taken most seriously in Yoshinaga’s doujinshi, but remains a consistent presence – to a greater or lesser degree – across all of the various iterations of the story.

So, here we have a transnationally circulating property, written by a woman who operates both within and outside mainstream manga production, targeted explicitly at women in such a way as to foreground how seriously both the Japanese and South Korean media industries take women as a media consumer demographic.

And here’s the thing: neither Japan nor South Korea are, in of themselves, intrinsically less patriarchal than the United States (to take the example of my own country). But where conservative media industry practices in Hollywood actively shut women out of the vast majority of media properties on the basis of nothing more than vague protestations that women ‘won’t pay’ to see X or Y or Z, in Japan and South Korea, women are considered a market worth attracting – women’s money is as good as men’s.

And so, when you see the so very slashy OCN trailers for Sherlock series 1 and 2, it’s not that they ‘get’ something that no one else does; or, rather they do, but it’s not a political or socially progressive grasp of sexuality so much as a shrewd awareness that slash/yaoi sells, and it sells to women. And seeing it – as so many people have written about so eloquently – inherent in the visual text, rather than rejecting out of hand even the possibility of its existence, they choose to capitalize on it for the specific purpose of attracting a moneyed female audience.

In this sense, the South Korean Sherlock promos are a case of localization, but not ‘national’ localization. ‘National’ localization is subtitling or dubbing the BBC ads into another language. ‘National’ localization is adapting the show to another, more locally relevant, format.

This is not ‘national’ localization. This is popular cultural localization; localization that happens at the place where like (the Sherlock homoerotic “subtext”) meets like (SK popular cultural love of pretty boys looking prettily at each other).

And the fact that OCN is prepared to follow the money – to give a specifically female audience not (necessarily) comprised of old-school Sherlockians and Sherlock ‘fanboys’ not only what they want, but what’s eximplicit in the text, no matter how much the show’s producers insist that anyone who sees it is delusional – really foregrounds the extent to which Anglo-American media are prepared to work against their own economic interests to maintain the fiction of an androcentric audience.

3 Replies to “FSN Conversations: the South Korean ‘Sherlock’ Promos”

  1. So, I don’t know if this comment will persist, my “like” seemed not to. Obviously I came here from today’s tumblr post (I’m workfornow there.) I remember reading this earlier but CRITICAL ERROR I didn’t watch the trailers. (Including them in the paper presentation imparts all the BAM! impact that (any) text lacks and certainly makes it impossible for me to imagine arguing with your premise (as to whom Sherlock is marketed in SK & why that would be seen as a viable audience.)

    This time I did watch the trailers. Well yuppity yup yup YUP, them there songs which backed them absolutely nailed down anything that might have been open to interpretation, didn’t they? They leave no doubt that this is a show with a romantic love relationship at its heart, declared or not.

    I’m baffled that the economics you lay out don’t demand more attention. Ah well. You probably can discuss why in great detail with illustrative examples.

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