For the longest time, what is now known as Hallyu (Korean Wave) had mostly been confined to the realms of TV dramas, movies and music, not surprisingly generating an increasingly significant crossover between the three media, phenomenon which slowly but surely broke age old taboos, like that of film directors producing for television, and viceversa. Largely and perhaps unfairly ignored was what has been one of the most fascinating success stories in all of Korean entertainment, domestically produced documentaries like Tears of the Amazon (아마존의 눈물)
Even only as recently as three-four years ago, this part of the TV industry was a neglected afterthought, an arena where talented professionals did their best to thrive despite the little support they received (be it in terms of budget or even the idea that the canvas was as large as their imagination and journalistic fervor could allow), and not surprisingly very few highlights. Most documentaries produced from the early 1990s up to the first few years of the last decade felt like a necessary evil, a sort of "quota" a public broadcaster like KBS had to fill no matter what. It's hard to say whether it was the Hallyu's success which galvanized the broadcasters to invest and risk more in documentaries, but we're now witnessing a bonafide revolution in this field, and you're about to experience two of the most shining lights of this surprising and exciting renaissance.
In 2008, MBC embarked upon a very ambitious project, a trilogy of "blockbuster" documentaries about the effect of global warming and the increasingly devastating impact man is having on the masterpieces of nature blessing this planet. Set for three installments, the final of which will broadcast in 2011, this "Tears" franchise is not only an earnest tentative to bring environmentalism to the mainstream with the kind of production values few Korean documentaries could ever benefit from before, but also a Korean spin on the BBC-National Geographic-Discovery triumvirate, with a down-to-earth, rather "grass roots" approach to the proceedings.
A 1.5 billion won budget, fancy aerial cinematography equipment like Cineflex cameras and a grueling 250 day shoot speak volumes about the scale and scope of this project, but what is most striking about Tears of the Amazon
is its human touch, putting more emphasis on the people behind and in front of the camera than wondrous landscapes shot with admirable panache, without ever descending into the kind of syrupy exercises in exotica which plagued many a Korean documentary of the past. The five part documentary, broadcast early this year in celebration of the station's 48th anniversary, quickly rose to the top of the ratings chart, with a peak of over 25% (not only the highest rating of all time for a documentary, but all the more impressive in an environment where even most hit dramas have a hard time cracking the 20%), and was later even released in theaters with a slightly repackaged version, which gained quite the following, another proof of the increasing popularity of Korean documentaries.
Tears of the Amazon
focuses on seven aboriginal tribes of the Amazons - particularly the Matis and their gradual transformation after their first contacts with modern civilization, and the Zoe, which live on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, avoiding any outward contact and maintaining their style of life intact. Showing how the rapid and gradual destruction of this natural paradise is affecting those tribes, Tears of the Amazon
- just like its predecessor Tears of the Arctic (북극의 눈물)
- brings a new dimension to the discourse about global warming and environmentalism, through humanism which feels honest enough not turn the real matter at hand into a mere springboard for political diatribe. And for K-drama fans, it's even narrated by Queen Seon Duk
's own Bidam, Kim Nam-Gil, so all the more reason to check it out.
Watch Tears of the Amazon on DramaFever!