Korean Dramas Continue to Captivate the Philippines

By Jonathan M. Hicap
Korea Times Correspondent

Even before K-pop, Filipinos were long fans of imported dramas.

Soap operas and drama series have become a staple for daytime and primetime viewing in the Philippines.

In the 1990s, Mexican telenovelas became the mania, with huge hits like "Rosalinda" and "Marimar" attracting ratings above 50 percent.

Asian dramas, including Korean, have become hits in the 2000s.

The huge demand from viewers for Asian telenovelas has prompted Philippine TV stations to import Korean and Taiwanese dramas.

Top Korean drama series (locally called "Koreanovelas") like "Lovers in Paris", "Full House", "My Name is Kim Sam-soon", "Stairway to Heaven" and "Coffee Prince" were imported and dubbed in Filipino, instantly becoming hits.

The success of "Dae Jang Geum" (or "Jewel in the Palace") in Korea was also replicated in the Philippines and many other Asian countries.

The Taiwanese drama "Meteor Garden" was also a ratings success when it aired years ago.

Its remake, the Korean "Boys over Flowers" starring Lee Min-ho, Kim Hyun-joong, Kim Beom, Kim Jun and actress Ku Hye-sun, also succeeded in capturing audiences. It was aired in the Philippines on ABS-CBN from May to August and became a phenomenal success.

"It is the phenomenal hit for idol dramas this year with its ratings peaking at 33 percent in the metropolitan area here. It was the No. 5 program overall nationwide following the primetime dramas and newscast, and No. 1 in its timeslot", said Leng Raymundo, ABS-CBN vice president for program acquisition, quoting TNS ratings.

Top Philippine TV stations GMA Network and ABS-CBN are leading the way in importing Korean dramas.

In past years, GMA Network aired a score of dramas, including "Full House", "All About Eve", "My Name is Kim Sam-soon", "Stairway to Heaven", "Jewel in the Palace" ("Dae Jang Geum"), "Autumn in my Heart", "Winter Sonata", among others, according to Joey Abacan, GMA Network vice president for Program Management.

ABS-CBN, for its part, has aired a number of Koreanovelas, including "To Marry a Millionaire", "101st Proposal", "Green Rose" and "Something Happened in Bali".

Abacan says Filipinos love Koreanovelas because they can relate to the stories.

"Filipinos love drama and stories that we can relate to. Most of the time, the Korean dramas are quite escapist and moving. Aside from the touching plotlines, the production is really a visual experience of places that most of us are not accustomed to seeing", he said.

ABS-CBN's Raymundo said Koreanovelas offer Filipino audiences a change of pace from local programming.

"Koreanovelas give viewers a different style of storytelling from usual Filipino soap operas, or "teleseryes". Since Korean dramas are aired only two hours a week, compared to the Filipino daily 30-minute episodes, viewers can expect a faster pace.

The production value of Korean dramas almost approximates those of Western series ― like a 'tele-movie'.

But at the same time, the core stories and the characters are not sacrificed for high-quality production. "There is clear character definition and the stories are expansive both in the physical and emotional sense", Raymundo said.

GMA Network started airing "Shining Inheritance" (also called "Brilliant Legacy") Aug. 31 in primetime. The series topped the ratings during its run in Korea.

In the coming weeks, the station will air dubbed episodes of "Temptation of Wife", "East of Eden" and "Queen Seon-deok".

The success of Koreanovelas has also prompted ABS-CBN and GMA Network to do remakes.

Raymundo said ABS-CBN was the first with its version of "My Girl", which aired from March to August last year and became a ratings success. It also just finished airing a remake of "Only You", which was also a hit with the viewers.

"From the moment it launched, the series was always in the Top 5 primetime shows nationwide", she said.

GMA Network has cast Filipino stars for remakes of "Stairway to Heaven" and "Full House". It previously made an adaptation of "My Name is Kim Sam-soon".

ABS-CBN is set to air its own adaptation of "Lovers in Paris".

"Our viewers are also eagerly awaiting the adaptation of `Lovers in Paris'. The original version did very well for us ― introducing the characters of Vivian and Carlo to millions of Filipinos. We are hopeful that our viewers will embrace Piolo Pascual and KC Concepcion's take on these roles", said Raymundo.

GMA Network is hopeful that it can bring actor Song Seung-heon, who starred in "East of Eden", to the Philippines and meet his fans, Abacan said.

ABS-CBN said there are always plans by the station to invite not just Korean stars but those from Asianovelas. Some who have visited the Philippines are Lee Dong-wook, Eugene, Calvin Chen and Wu Chun.

But why do Filipinos love Koreanovelas?

Raymundo said, "Koreanovelas are a perfect complement to our Filipino soaps and viewers find them refreshing".

"The Filipinos' taste becomes very discriminating, so we tend to ask for more of this novel experience", Abacan said.

Indeed, in the past several years, Filipino viewer tastes for dramas have evolved. They are no longer content with Filipino-made drama series, but welcome Asianovelas, including Korean drama series.

As long as they appeal to the taste of TV audiences, Koreanovelas will continue to warm the hearts of Filipinos.