For better or for worse, the “Analyzing Korean drama and film titles” sub-series will have multiple parts, many more than I anticipated. Why am I so wordy? Sigh. I’d argue that I’m just a completist.
Rules of thumb:
1. “의” indicates possessive. For instance, “A Man의 Story” can be translated to “A Man’s Story” or “Story of a Man.”
2. Koreans often omit pronouns. They can be implied by context.
* 그저 바라 보다가 (romanized as “Geu-jeo Ba-ra Bo-da-ga”): “Geu-jeo” means “just” or “still.” “Bara bo-da” means “look” or “stare.” The “da-ga” at the end indicates that the verb is in the past “ing” form. Thus, the closest literal translation of this 2009 KBS drama starring Hwang Jung Min and Kim Ah Joong is “Just As (I) Was Looking (At You),” with all the added pronouns implied. If you take the first character of each word (Geu-jeo Ba-ra Bo-da-ga), you get “Geu Ba Bo,” which means “That Fool” (“Geu”=”That”; “Babo”=”Fool”). In Korea, this drama was called by both the longer title and the shorter title created by its acronym. Internationally, the drama became known as That Fool, but officially, it earned yet another new English title, The Accidental Couple.
* 나는 전설이다 (romanized as “Na-neun Jeon-seol-yi-da”): “Na-neun” means “I.” (“Neun” is a part of speech called particle.) “Jeon-seol” is a “legend.” “Yi-da” is another particle, and when attached to a noun, it indicates that that noun is the predicate of the sentence and in essence functions similarly as the English verb “to be.” Thus, you have “I Am Legend” or “I Am a Legend.” The word play here is that the main protagonist’s name is Jeon Seol-hee. So you can also read this title as “I Am Jeon-seol” or “My Name is Jeon-seol.” The official English title of this 2010 SBS drama starring Kim Jung Eun is I Am Legend.
NOTE: From here on now, I’m no longer going to explain all the different particles and how they modify the nouns and verbs differently.
* 미남이시네요 (romanized as “Minam-yi-si-ne-yo”): The counterpart to”minyeo,” which means a beautiful woman, is “minam,” a noun for a handsome man.(No adjective is needed because the noun itself implies good looks.)
“Minam” is often translated as a “beautiful man” because the “Mi” in “minam” is derived from the Chinese character 美 (Mi), meaning “beautiful.” However, unlike English where the word “beautiful” is rarely used on a man, “Mi” in Korean is gender-neutral. Since the pronoun is implied, the drama’s title can get translated to “You Are a Handsome Man.” And as is similar to I Am Legend above, since the character’s name is Minam, the title can also be read as “You’re Minam.” The official English title of this Hong sisters’ drama is You’re Beautiful.
* 영광의 재인 (romanized as “Young-gwang-eui Jae-in”): “Young-gwang” means “honor” or “glory.” According to Rule #2, “의” (eui) indicates possession. And finally, “jae-in” means a talented person. But since Koreans love stupid wordplay, Young-gwang can be a male name and Jae-in a female name, as is the case of the protagonists in this drama. So, let’s take a look at the many ways how this title can be translated:
1. “Young-gwang’s Jae-in” or “Jae-in of Young-gwang”
2. “Young-gwang’s talented person” or “Talented Person of Young-gwang”
3. “Honor/Glory’s Jae-in” or “Jae-in of Honor/Glory”
4. “Honor/Glory’s talented person” or “Talented person of Honor.”
Since “talented person” can be pretty mouthful, let’s replace it with just plain “man,” and that’s how the title “Man of Honor” came about. This drama is also known by the alternative title Glory Jane, which is equally correct.
NOT ALL BAD IS THE SAME
There are several K-dramas whose title contain the word “bad” – Bad Family, Bad Couple, Bad Housewife, Bad Guy, Bad Love, Bad Friends… But did you know that there were three different words for “bad” used between these titles?
“The Bad trilogy” – There are three dramas grouped together as belonging to the Bad trilogy. They are 불량가족 (Bad Family), 불량커플 (Bad Couple), and 불량주부 (Bad Housewife). Notice that the common denominator in these three dramas is the word “불량.” Contrast this to “못된” in 못된 사랑 (Bad Love) or ”나쁜” in 나쁜 남자 (Bad Guy) and 나쁜 친구들 (Bad Friends).
“불량” (romanized as “bulryang”) is a Korean word used similarly to “delinquent” in English. For example, a troubled teenager is called 불량청소년 (“juvenile delinquent”). If you have bad credit, you are described as having 신용불량 (delinquent credit). Defective goods are called 불량품. Thus, the three dramas in the Bad trilogy can be more accurately described as having the titles “Delinquent Family”, “Delinquent Couple”, and “Delinquent Housewife”, respectively. (Note: “Dysfunctional” works too.)
The word “못된” (romanized as “mot-daen”) in the (awful) drama 못된 사랑 is one used to describe something that is mean-spirited, wicked, or vile. Thus, this drama’s title is more accurately titled as “Mean Love,” “Wicked Love,” or “Vile Love.”
In contrast, 나쁜 (romanized as “na-bbeun”) in the titles 나쁜 남자 (Bad Guy) and 나쁜 친구들 (Bad Friends) is truer to the generic word “bad” in English.
See, not all bad is the same!
NAME THAT SONG!
When you run out of creative juice, borrow some from others! Here are dramas named after very famous Korean songs. It’s akin to the hypothetical naming of an American TV show Smells Like Teen Spirit. It’s a title that doesn’t make much sense, but most American will recognize it right away to be a song by Nirvana. Likewise, most Koreans would recognize these songs right away!
* 넌 내게 반했어 (romanized as “Neon Naege Ban-hat-suh” and translated as You’ve Fallen for Me): This is a pretty recent song from 2004, and to be fair, even many Koreans don’t know that it is a song from the punk rock band No Brain. However, most people have heard it at least once. The words are pretty distinguishable because whereas Koreans have a tendency to omit their pronouns, this song title specifically includes them. This is another reason why I prefer this title to the official English title Heartstrings. The entire series had a theme going on of having each episode named after a song. The drama’s title was an overarching one. Why change that?
* 여우야 뭐하니 (romanized as “Yeowoo-yah Mwo-hani”): Remember how I said adding “yah” to a noun indicates that that noun is being directly addressed? Thus, this drama’s title is translated to “Fox, what are you doing?” In English, it became known as What’s Up, Fox?
“Yeowoo-yah Mwo-hani” is a very famous children’s nursery rhyme/song/game, similar to “London Bridge is Falling Down.” I remember playing it as a child myself. In this game, one person is the “it” and acts as the “fox.” The kids circle around the fox and engage in a conversation with the fox:
“Fox, fox, what are you doing?”
“Fox, fox, what are you doing?”
“Washing my face.”
“Fox, fox, what are you doing?”
“What’s the side dish?”
“Is it dead or alive?”
If the fox yells out “Dead,” everyone has to freeze and anyone who moves becomes the next “fox.” If the fox yells out “Alive,” you have to run away from the fox and try to not get caught. If you do get caught, you become the next “fox.” Or at least that’s how I remember it goes in my very hazy memory.
The song was used in the 2006 film The Fox Family and in the drama What’s Up Fox, the opening theme song was a remix of the popular nursery song.
* 낭랑 18세 (romanized as “Nang-rang 18 se”): Since we’ve had a recent popular song and even a nursery song, we should have a drama named after an old, old, OLD school song too, right? The drama is known as Sweet 18 because it is a common term that already exists in the English language (hmm, or is it sweet 16?), but the meaning of “낭랑” (“nang-rang”) is actually closer to “lively.” The drama is named after the 1949 song of the same name by Baek Nana. If you’ve seen the drama, you’d be pretty familiar with the song from the remix of it used (repeatedly) throughout the series.
* 내 사랑 내곁에 (romanized as “Nae Sarang Nae-gyut-eh”): There was a drama (starring Lee So Yeon and Ohn Joo Wan) by this name. There was a movie (starring Kim Myung Min and Ha Ji Won) by this name. Called My Love By My Side, it is a 1991 song by Kim Hyun Shik. Considered a musical genius and mourned for his tragic death at only 32 years of age from liver cirrhosis, his songs and his distinctive voice is considered iconic in the Korean music scene. Needless to say, his song will be featured in the Beautiful Lyrics series… someday… when I think I can do justice to them. But until then, take a listen!