where to watch Asian dramas online

(This appeared in my popasia column on Jan 13, 2012)

A Taste For Drama

Fans of Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Hong Kong dramas are feeding their addiction through streaming sites

Yasminka Lee in Bangkok

Gone are those days when fans of Japanese, Korean or Taiwanese dramas have to regularly visit their friendly neighbourhood pirate to get the latest shows, most likely crudely subbed in English. Or scour the Internet to buy these subbed dramas from enterprising fans.

More than a decade since Taiwan’s Meteor Garden and South Korea’s Winter Sonata broke into pop culture consciousness, technology has made it easier for drama fans to watch the latest episodes of their favourite shows, wherever they are in the world.

Sites that stream these dramas are all over the Web, each offering similar and yet unique features that make the experience more enjoyable for the regular fan.

One of them is Dramacrazy, which not only allows netizens to watch dramas, but let them add videos as well. The service is free and advertisements support the site. Users also have the power to make dramas popular so they will be licensed, which means, a company will buy the rights to sub them in English and distribute them in DVD format. This works for fans who would want to add their favourite shows into their collection.

Dramacrazy also has a ranking system but one has to register as a member to be able to vote for a favourite drama.

Among the site’s top 10 dramas are You’re Beautiful (Korea), Hana Kimi (Japan), Boys Before Flowers (Korea), Hana Yori Dango (Japan), Secret Garden (Korea) and Coffee Prince (Korea). It’s also interesting to note that Nobuta wo Produce (Japan), which came out in 2005 and is about an unlikely friendship among three high school students, remains in the top 10 despite the release of newer dramas.

There are certain videos, however, that can’t be viewed on the site due to licensing issues with specific countries. But the fan need not fret, there are other websites that offer similar services, and for free too.

ViKi is perhaps the largest translator community on the Internet. Anyone who is a member can help sub a drama project. It claims to offer 150 languages and started out as a “joint class project in the graduate schools of education at Harvard, and business at Stanford,” its “About Us” section said. Its founders are supposed to have a string of entertainment and start-up successes and the ViKi team itself is as diverse with members from Egypt, Hungary, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Venezuela, Vietnam and the US.

“Together with the ViKi translator community, we bring down the language barriers that stand between great entertainment and its fans, wherever they are. Our mission is simple: to bring you entertainment beyond borders, when, where and how you want it, in your language,” it said. The website appears to be based in Singapore judging from its contact form.

The only downside when watching videos on ViKi is seeing the comments of other viewers flash live onscreen. Of course, one can switch it off, especially when it gets annoying as the comments range from nonsensical to pure rants.

There are some who prefer Epdrama based in The Netherlands that not only features dramas but also has links to mangas and animes.

Unlike Dramacrazy and ViKi, Epdrama accepts donations from its community to maintain server bandwidth expenses. It has a target of US$100 monthly and the names of the donors are posted on the site.

Another popular streaming site is MySoju, where one can find dramas not only from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, but also from Hong Kong and China. “Feeding your drama addiction,” it proclaims on its homepage.

MySoju, however, merely provides links to videos that are hosted on other sites and does not provide the subtitles to the videos. So there are chances that the source here would be similar to that of Dramacrazy, Viki and the others.

The surfing experience on MySoju though is better than other websites because not only are the shows arranged by country, they are also grouped according to genre. Aside from the typical romance or drama, they also include suspense and wuxia, among others.

It also has a poll showing the most popular dramas as selected by the members. Some of the dramas in the top 10 are similar to Dramacrazy’s list but with certain addition like Fated To Love You (Taiwan), We Got Married (Korea), Shining Inheritance (Korea), Queen Seon Duk (Korea), They Kiss Again (Taiwan) and East of Eden (Korea).

SugoIdeas specialises in Taiwan entertainment. Aside from dramas, one can find Taiwanese variety shows here. It has also curated dramas as far back as 2001 (Meteor Garden) and “pre-2000”. Some are not subbed in English, however.

The team behind the site acknowledges that it functions more as a mere index and database of content found publicly on the Internet, and that it does not host any media content  on its servers. But what makes the site different from the rest is its “download centre”, where anyone can get episodes of the shows they want.

The proliferation of these streaming sites has of course given producers a headache as they violate copyright laws. It is also bad for the distribution business as most people would rather get these shows for free than buy them. Besides, not all dramas available commercially have English subtitles.

The people who also manage these websites made sure in including disclaimers that the content are from third parties, thus, are not their responsibility.

As a result, producers and TV networks have clamped down on video hosting websites like YouTube. This  has made it harder for netizens to upload videos and make them available on these streaming sites. But where there is a will, there is a way for the drama fan.

asianpopdom@gmail.com

Where to watch

Dramacrazy (http://www.dramacrazy.net)
ViKi (http://www.viki.com)
Epdrama (http://www.epdrama.com)
MySoju (http://www.mysoju.com)
SugoIdeas (http://www.sugoideas.com)
Veoh (http://www.veoh.com)
Crunchyroll (http://www.crunchyroll.com)
Asian Rice (http://www.asianrice.tv)
Video 4 Asian (http://www.video4asian.com)
Drama Net (http://www.drama.net)
Drama Sub (http://www.dramasub.com)
Free Drama Online (http://www.freedramaonline.com)
Drama Fans (http://www.dramafans.org)
Asian Dramas (http://www.asian-dramas.com)

(First published in AsiaNews magazine on Jan 13, 2012. Copyright Asia News Network)

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