South Korea – The future is now

3sat Documentary 2023

South Korea sets trends. With K-Pop, hit series and brands like Samsung and Hyundai, the country is on the road to success. But South Korea is also struggling with a negative record: it has the lowest birth rate in the world.

In South Korea they call it the 4 No’s: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no children. More and more women are refusing traditional roles. At the same time, pressure to perform and competition create social gaps and push people to their limits. What’s going on in the tiger state of South Korea?

Script and Direction: Maria-Christina Degen
Producer and Produktion SRF/3sat
Editor: Jeanne Rüfenacht
Camera: Kay Anliker
Redaction: Lisa Röösli
Editorial Management: Raja Autze

Photo credits: Maria-Christina Degen except:
9,11,17,18 Kay Anliker

South Korea is a strategic pivot point in world politics. The ideas of a democratic and authoritarian order have been irreconcilably opposed here for 70 years. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, Swiss soldiers have monitored the armistice agreement, which was never followed by a peace treaty. North and South Korea are still formally at war. In the wake of the latest global political upheavals, this border, which is considered the most dangerous in the world, is once again in focus.

But the people of South Korea have other priorities. The country is writing an unprecedented success story: from one of the poorest countries in the world to a progressive, democratic industrial nation with soft power. A rapid rise, achieved through a collective effort, iron discipline and long working hours. Being successful is still the ultimate goal today.

“Palli palli” – “quick, quick” is a common word in South Korea and is now part of Lauren Guardia’s everyday life. The 35-year-old works at NCSoft, one of the three largest computer game companies. To pursue her dream job, she left Switzerland and quickly moved to Seoul. The dynamic capital is attracting more and more foreigners with career ambitions. Because creative industries are booming.

For some, South Korea is an opportunity, for others it is crumbling under the pressure. South Korea has the highest suicide rate among industrialized countries. End-of-life courses are intended to provide relief. 55-year-old Youngsuk Shin is taking part for the second time. She writes her will, lies in her own coffin and practices being dead – in the hope that the despair will subside and she will gain a new perspective on her life.

“A country where children are unhappy is destined for an unhappy future,” says Nury Kim, one of the country’s harshest critics. Many people start to cry during his lectures. The German scholar believes that turbo-capitalism and competition are driving society towards hopelessness. The consequence is trends like the “4 No’s”: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no children. Together with students, Nury Kim wants to change society and publish a book. It is intended to uncover the reasons for the phenomenon of “family refusers” and show ways out.

Confucianism has had a strong influence on the Korean people. Modern South Korea seems to be growing out of the dusty traditions of patriarchy. “Korea’s democracy is comparable to that of European countries in the 19th century,” says political scientist Taehun Lim. But society is changing. Young people demonstrate almost every day against rigid role stereotypes and social inequality. The Transgender Jungle also fights for more equality, more freedom and more democracy: for a future in the here and now.

The film accompanies people who seize their professional and private opportunities in South Korea. He looks for reasons for the growing gap between the sexes and also shows the dark side of economic success, for which many sacrifice everything. Courageous women speak openly about the pressure to perform and succeed and about their decision not to have a family. Dropouts talk about their new life, far away from the stress of the big city. And the film delves into the colorful world of K-Pop and tries to understand why centuries-old traditions still shape people today.