Experiencing foreign television programmes for the first time can be a very overwhelming and confusing experience. Each country has its own ways of editing, its own humour and its own ideas of what is and what isn’t entertaining. Place on top of this the need to read subtitles (if you are not fluent in the programme’s language) and you have quite a tough task on your hands. Speaking personally and from an English background, I can certainly say that my first forays into this world were not completely smooth.

So today, we have decided to gather some identifiable tropes of South Korean variety programmes specifically and provide something in the way of an  explanation. Hopefully this article will serve as a preparation guide of sorts for newcomers, but also serve to amuse even the most seasoned SK variety fan!

 | An abundance of subtitles |

Many people have a difficult time reading subtitles and simultaneously watching what is going on onscreen. In K-Variety, this job is multiplied by 100 as a plethora of extra Korean subtitles will also be featured. Many of these sentences and words just reiterate to the viewer what the situation is or how a person has reacted. Many also draw attention to the facial expressions or sneaky actions of another person that is not the centre of attention at the time. The latter can obviously really add to one’s viewing experience as it allows the viewer to spot things they would not have otherwise.

This amount of subtitles in these programmes can be very off-putting for people not used to such a thing in their native programming. Sometimes, it can really seem like overkill and cause a viewer to miss certain things at the expense of others. If you persevere though, you will find that your ability to read rapidly as well as absorb situations vastly improves. To many veteran K-variety viewers, it has become second nature!

See how Song Jae Rim and Kim So Eun’s points are reiterated in the Korean subtitles.

| Cartoon-like sound effects |

This sounds like a ridiculous thing to include in any kind of television programming that is not specifically for children. Sound effects can be overused, unnecessary and generally very annoying additions to something you are watching. However, I am inclined to say that this is largely not the case for K-variety shows.

The sound effects used here often greatly enhance the viewing experience – whether it is in emphasising a slap, a shocked reaction, or simply someone skidding round a corner. The editors of these pieces are clearly very skilled in what they do, and generally will only use a few additional sound effects per episode. These can even make something funnier than it would have been otherwise. Granted, they are not to everyone’s taste, but arguably are not childish when used well.


The sound of steam escaping and a sound for Gary’s reaction to it.

Yoo Jae Suk’s dramatic reactions are aided by great sound effects!

| Instant and multiple replays |

We don’t want you to see something just once, we want you to see it multiple times and in rapid succession! Yes, this can be a weird and rather frustrating element of the programmes at first. These replays usually happen when something shocking has gone on or a person is participating in a physical challenge. You often get a split second replayed a few times as it takes place – presumably so you can get a good look at what is actually happening in very quick time.

Sometimes this is good, as it really does let you see again without the pain of ‘rewinding’ the video, but it may also be a tad unnecessary for some.

So you are sure to see SHINee and Shinhwa members when they slip over.

| Dramatisation of tense moments |

Now, let’s be clear – the moments we a referencing here are not exactly tense per se, but nevertheless moments that keep you glued to your screen. These can be the final results of a game or competition, the execution of a particularly difficult performance, or even just showing what has the presenters and guests all shocked and scared (which, of course, is often the part shown in the next episode previews).

It may sound quite silly and laughable when you read that, but it is amazing how invested you can become in these moments when you are actually watching them. I have even caught myself not blinking or breathing during certain variety events that, in reality, are not all that important. It is a real testament again to the power editing can have over the mood and feelings of a programme.

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Extra drama created through music, replays and reaction shots during this rather intimate game!

| ‘Love lines’ |

A ‘love line’ is a romantic connection between a male and female cast member on a programme. These can begin in any number of small ways – from an innocent exchange of compliments, to another cast member explicitly stating that the two would make a good couple. This often blossoms into a long-running joke of sorts in which the two are perpetually tied together, showing typical relationships dynamics and sharing tender moments as well as experiencing moments of jealousy.

Some of these relationships might indeed be based in reality, but for the most part, they are purely created for entertainment purposes. The male and the female in question will often play along and assume the role as part of their character on the programme.

Kang Gary + Song Ji Hyo = Monday Couple!

Jong Kook and Eun Hye on X Man!

| Personal theme tunes |

Once a cast member has an established ‘character’ on the programme, they often end up having their own theme tunes played in the background whenever they arrive onscreen or if they react in a way that is associated with said ‘character’. This identity is usually just an over exaggerated version of themselves that the cast member plays up to for the benefit of viewers’ entertainment. This by no means is the be all and end all of their participation in the show, but instead offers a chance for the audience to try to guess what might happen based on what they already know of the cast members’ personalities. The accompanying music further brings home the idea of that character, and adds another layer to the programme in their assignment of easily identifiable personality traits.

Suk Jin falls over a lot – cue his theme music!

And of course, Lee Kwang Soo’s theme tune!

| Random Dance offs |

Who cares if the producers have created and extensive criteria and schedule for this episode? We feel like dancing! Seriously though, random dance offs do occasionally take place in K-Variety, so don’t be surprised if the music playing for a particular game sets everyone off on a mad dancing spree. Also, if the episode has hit a little slump, a dance battle may ensue.

Of course, in the world of South Korean entertainment, showing off your talents and personality takes up a lot of celebrities’ lives. These programmes often use dancing as a form of introduction or team partner selection. A good thing is that every single person is encouraged to dance along no matter of ability or sense of rhythm. As long as you are up for a laugh and don’t mind being a little silly, you are welcome to join. It is also wonderful to see the genuine sense of enjoyment experienced by all during these spontaneous moments.

|Great post-production effects |

Again, just to be clear, we are not talking mind-blowing Hollywood-style, in-a-James-Cameron-film special effects here. However, a lot of the special effects in K-variety really help the programme include the viewer as fully as possible. This can be in magnifying someone’s face to emphasise their embarrassment, casting a shadow over someone who has been ignored and even surrounding their body in flames to illustrate their determination and competitiveness.

This is another factor that many might feel would be more at home within a children’s cartoon, but again, it is the quality and execution here that sets it apart. The special effect options for an editor are seemingly limitless and these additions really can aid viewer comprehension (which is often necessary especially when the viewer is not native South Korean).

Sleepy Sohee

BONUS: Yoo Jae Suk’s awareness of editing tropes!

– N.B. Apologies for my clear ‘SBS Running Man’ bias in the examples! That programme  utilizes these common tropes so well in small clips though!

What else makes South Korean television unique? Do you like/dislike these factors? Please let us know!


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I love writing (especially about K-Pop) and am trying to improve my skills with every post!