What is the most Korean?
“The most Korean is the most universal,” said Bong Joon Ho, the director of the award-winning movie Parasite (2019), as he accepted his Oscars at the Academy Award. However, this was not Bong’s first time mentioning what is to be like ‘the most Korean.’
Back in 2011, during Bong’s visit to Chapman University, he shared with the people that it is the corruption that is most Korean. Moving into the 21st century, people often connect the term “corruption” with countries like Russia, Mexico, El Salvador, and of course the notorious North Korea. South Korea, on the other hand, is many times considered as a democratic country with low crime rates and a booming economy ever since the 1960s (The Miracle of the Han River). However, in reality, all this economic growth and fortune was built on the dirty hands of the Korean government.
President Park Chung-hee, father of the deposed president Park Geun-hye, implemented the five year plan to establish a solid foundation by emphasizing the need for quality infrastructures for future expansions. He took unpopular but necessary measures to rapidly put Korea on a track for development. To do so, he struck deals with a number of Korean capitalists. Monopoly privileges in the Korean market were given in return for financing upcoming elections and projects as well as to enrich themselves. This eventually led to the rise of chaebols (family owned conglomerates) such as Samsung, LG, Doosan, Daewoo, and much more.
Director Bong portrays this 1960s to ‘90s kind of corruption in his movies by redefining such a genre as ‘political blockbuster.’ In his movies Memories of Murder (2003) and Parasite (2019), Bong carefully depicts the dark side of the two-faced Korean society at the time through these movies.
Memories of Murder is about South Korean detectives investigating a series of mysterious murder cases when South Korea was still under military control. Despite it being a crime movie, it is actually more about why these investigations had to fail as Bong sets the setting of the corrupt 1980s Korean society. Moreover, in Parasite, Bong went a step further. The movie touches upon different societal conflicts including class polarization, the vanishing middle class, and the devastating reality of the weak having to fight one another.
The ‘90s in Korea was when people faced all kinds of struggles. The IMF crisis especially made people suffer. Surprisingly, this was the era when Koreans started to drink coffee. The bitter taste of coffee well represents many Koreans' tough everyday lives. To endure the bitterness of both the taste and their lives, Koreans added sugar and creamer to make it sweeter so that they could energize themselves and move on to a brighter future. This combination was later released under the name of mixed coffee or Korean instant coffee as a packaged sachet containing an adequate ratio of respectively 2:2:2 of coffee, creamer, and sugar. This convenient and affordable instant mix coffee resonates the qualities of busy workers during this time of rapid industrialization. Soon, coffee mixes became the symbol of office culture in South Korea. Many television series and movies feature Korean instant coffee as a part of corruption and inequality rooted in Korean society.
Coffee has a recurring role in representing the two-faced Korean society. In My Mister (2018), Lee Ji-An (Lee Ji-eun or IU) tears open two sachets of instant coffee to treat herself after a hard day at work. In Moving (2023), Ms. Kim, a female office girl, has to make coffee for their boss. Lastly, in Narco-Saints (2022), Kang In-gu (Ha Jung-woo) bribes the local Surinam military authority by giving two boxes of Maxim instant coffee. Even though coffee is used to symbolize different things in so many distinct contexts, we all know for sure that Korean instant coffee, as seen on K-dramas, is being consumed and loved by so many people around the world. Through KimlyParc and our beloved Original Vegan Korean Latte, our founders Chae and YJ hope KimlyParc to grow into a brand that can introduce the taste and culture of Korea which everyone can enjoy everywhere at anytime.
For more, take a look at this SCMP article