Films with specific Buddhist content do not make up a significant percentage of Korean cinema, and among them not many can be confirmed as the products of self-conscious Buddhist religious practice. Rather than relying on the self-understanding of the filmmakers, however, I read the 'Buddhist film' within the historical lineage of a specific cultural tradition of popular oral performances, as well as its derivative tradition of popular narratives. Seen in this light, the thin trickle of films joins forces with a well-established and traditional deployment of art as religious practice. Hence, rather than isolating the films withing their modern temporal framework, I instead view them as the contemporary evolution of a process that began as far back as the eighth century.
Since its production in 2003, 'Dae Jang Geum' or 'Jewel in the Palace,' the 54 episode Korean TV drama, gained popularity around the world. Part of the 'Korean Wave' of TV dramas, it has been dubbed into several languages and has aired on TV in Japan and China, among other places. In 2007, millions of people in Iran watched a Farsi dubbed version on national TV. Unofficial 'fansubbing' has provided access to the series in countless languages, from Arabic to Tagalog. On the surface, the series tells the story of the first female physician who earned the special title of 'the Great' in the kingdom of Korea in the first half of the 16th century, dramatizing an era of Korean history in a way that makes it appealing to people who live in different parts of the world today. Although it focuses on how society and religious authorities were against the presence of a woman in high ranking positions, and includes the requisite love story for productions of this sort, an important aspect of the series is its emphasis on a traditional system of nutrition and medicine.