South Korea is having a moment. Between the hit Netflix show Squid Game, the chart-topping boy band BTS, and the Academy Award-winning movie Parasite, the country’s culture suddenly seems to be everywhere.
With each allusion to Hallyu—the so-called Korean wave of cultural exports—an invocation of Seoul’s soft power is often not far behind. Unlike hard power, which forces others to follow your wishes, soft power helps you win their support by demonstrating the appeal of your culture and values. That Squid Game and Parasite are an expression of Korean soft power seems to have become an accepted fact. The reality may be more complex.