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Asia Minute: South Korea’s soft power wave sweeps through Emmys

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Phil McCarten/Phil McCarten/Invision/AP
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Lee Jung-jae accepts the Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for "Squid Game" at the 74th Emmy Awards on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)

South Korea marked another global pop culture milestone this week. The Netflix television series “Squid Game” took half a dozen Emmy Awards — including best dramatic actor and best dramatic director.

This is the first time that any actor, director or series working in a language other than English has won an Emmy.

Two years ago, the South Korean social satire “Parasite” became the first non-English language movie to win the Oscar for best picture.

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Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
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Bong Joon-ho holds the Oscars for best original screenplay, best international feature film, best directing, and best picture for "Parasite" at the Governors Ball after the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Last year, South Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn won best supporting actress for her role in “Minari” — about Korean immigrants trying to make a living in Arkansas in the 1980s.

Critics say the soft power of the Korean wave connects global audiences with current social concerns — Squid Game blisters in its criticism of capitalism’s widening gap of economic inequality.

"Parasite" and "Minari" took on similar societal themes in different ways.

A current hit on Netflix uses humor and compassion to tell the story of a young lawyer who’s on the autism spectrum — “Extraordinary Attorney Woo.”

On a different level, the durable popularity of K-pop groups including BTS continues to echo around the world.

And other hits are coming: this year, the drama “Decision to Leave” is up for an Oscar — Park Chan-wook has already won the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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