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Korea Wave Hits Middle East

2005/12/11 | 217 views | Permalink | Source

Students majoring in Korean at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt hold pictures of Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo, the two leads of "Winter Sonata", on Friday. A male student in the bottom of the picture wears clothes based on the costumes worn by Bae in the soap.

Requests for Bae Yong-joon's telephone number or e-mail address and for Yoon Doh-hyeon's hit song "I Think I Love You" are common among some 1,000 e-mails and letters. Bae Jung-ok, a producer of the Arabic-language production team of KBS' Radio Korea International (RKI), receives every month from listeners in Arab nations. Yet three or four years ago, a mere 20 to 30 arrived, swelling to about 100 last year. "Though it is still in an initial stage, you could say that the Korean Wave has reached the Middle East".

Egypt was unclaimed ground until late last year, when the KBS hit soap "Winter Sonata" was aired there. The response was explosive. More than 300 Egyptians launched a fan club and opened a "Winter Sonata" website, and a growing number of people are requesting a rerun. "Unfortunately, there has been no follow-up Korean drama since 'Winter Sonata' was aired. I'm dying to watch another Korean drama", one says.

Members of the "Winter Sonata" fan club exchange original soundtrack CDs online. At the request of Egyptian viewers, KBS has opened an Arabic version of the drama's website. On it, one Egyptian wrote "I've become a fan of Korea, the country of 'Winter Sonata.'" Kim Sin-il, a producer of KBS, says it's evidence that Korean drama is understood in the Arabic cultural sphere.

It's not just Egypt. Since Oct. 9, the KBS soap "Emperor of The Sea" has been broadcast by Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) for an hour every Sunday night, and has enjoyed respectable ratings. "Emperor" ranks 32th out of 1,000 shows currently on air. Among the well educated and in higher socioeconomic brackets, the show ranks 10th. KBS agreed with Jordan to air the show in the country and could take "Winter Sonata" to Tunisia and Iraq.

The MBC historical soap "Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace)" is scheduled to hit the airwaves in Iran at the beginning of next year. MBC is also looking into a plan to distribute the drama for free in other Middle Eastern countries. "There is good chance the Korean Wave will spread rapidly through the Middle East because the region has a strong homogeneity in language and culture", an MBC insider says.

Why? Perhaps it is partly because strong anti-American sentiment in the region means American popular culture seems tainted. "In the Middle East, there is a widespread anti-America and anti-Hollywood sentiment", says KBS producer Kim Sin-il. "Also, Korean dramas, which have hardly any sex and violence and focus on family values, seem to fit with the conservative values of the region".

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