Pho, Sinigang, and Glorious Singing: Southeast Asia in Korean Films and TV dramas

Written by on January 29, 2014 in Arts, Worldwide Korea Bloggers

Whether it’s food like Vietnam’s pho or the Philippines’ sinigang, whether it’s a beautiful Vietnamese girl that Korean guys fall for or a Filipina mother who faithfully devotes her efforts to raising her child, we surely are seeing more of Southeast Asia and its people in Korean films and television dramas nowadays.

Chalk it up to Korea’s steady movement towards multiculturalism. Southeast Asians, especially Vietnamese and Filipinos, have been marrying Korean men since the late 1990s. They are also giving birth to Koreans of mixed descent. And we can see this phenomenon reflected in Korean movies and films. Although still few, the number of these films and TV shows is increasing.

And as a Southeast Asian who’s a Korean Studies geek, I love it. Here are some films and movies that feature elements of Southeast Asia that I’ve seen. Feel free to add to the list!


Wandeugi (완득이), the 2011 blockbuster starring that hot actor Yoo Ah In, is a coming-of-age film of a high school boy named Wandeuk. One aspect of his growth had to do with discovering his Filipino mother, and re-building a mother-son relationship with her.

In the last few scenes of the movie, during the gathering of Wandeuk’s family and friends for dinner, her mother, played by current National Assemblywoman Jasmine Lee, served a Filipino dish called sinigang (tamarind soup, which is, of course, sour).

Screenshot from the 2011 Korean blockbuster hit “Wandeugi”.

Seeing how interested the Korean characters in the film were about this food, I suppose, shows how eager and open Koreans may be to trying something from Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines.

Golden Bride

While on the subject of food, this TV drama called Golden Bride (황금신부) featured Vietnamese food, specifically pho, in the show. Pho may be already well-known in Korea, anyway, judging from how many Vietnamese restaurants are in Seoul. But still, it’s nice to see it in a Korean drama.

Screenshot from the 2007 SBS drama Golden Bride.

Screenshot from the 2007 SBS drama Golden Bride.

Most poignant for me was when Jin Joo’s father-in-law stayed up all night just to make the noodles for pho from scratch—and suffered a broken finger in the process! More than the appearance of pho on Korean TV, what was touching about this gesture was how the Korean father-in-law put in so much effort to make her half-Korean, half-Vietnamese daughter-in-law feel at home in Korea despite feeling homesick for Vietnam.

And then there’s the Vietnamese wedding scene between Jin Joo and Jun Woo. After showing a grand Korean wedding scene, this drama then showed an intimate Vietnamese wedding between the two lead characters. Here, we see how Korean drama attempts to include vital aspects of Vietnamese culture. 

A Wonderful Moment/ My Little Hero (마이 리틀 히어로)

In this film, a Korean-Filipino boy named Glory tries to fulfill his dream of being a performer. He picks Korean musical director Yoo Il-Han to be his mentor, but, because of Glory’s mixed descent and un-Korean appearance, Il-Han was at first reluctant to be associated with him.

Screenshot from the 2012 Korean movie A Wonderful Moment/ My Little Hero.

Screenshot from the 2012 Korean movie A Wonderful Moment/ My Little Hero.


As the story progressed, however, Il-Han began to see similarities between him and Glory, particularly in their struggle to make it in a land that considers them foreign. The child, then, whom Il-Han considered as different, now became a kindred spirit of sorts to the musical director who suddenly remembered his struggles in New York as an international student who turned into a working class person as he strove to gather enough funds for his tuition in his dream school. He began to understand Glory’s motivation for working hard and for dreaming, making him realize that a Korean like himself and a half-Korean like Glory aren’t so different after all.    

About the Author

Mitzie Correa

Michelle Camille Correa is a Filipino graduate student, majoring in Korean Studies in a university in Thailand and a university in Korea. When people ask her why this roundabout way of learning about Korea, her reply often would be, "Because it sounded like a good idea at the time." When she's not buried in books, she watches Korean TV dramas and movies on the internet. She is deeply indebted to fan subbers whose extreme dedication allows language dummies like her to enjoy K-dramas with ease.