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Local Epic Dramas to Air in Japanese Homes

2008/04/15 | 335 views | Permalink | Source

By Han Sang-hee
Staff Reporter

Japanese fans have been loyal to Korean dramas ever since the successful "Winter Sonata" (2002), starring Bae Yong-joon, visiting the filming sites and attending fan meetings of their favorite Korean stars. The demand is still high as they seek for more and something different.

At the MIPTV/Milia 2008, an annual international exhibition of audiovisual and digital contents held in Cannes, France, Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) signed a contract with a Japanese broadcast company for the export of four of their period dramas, "Dragon's Tears" (1998), "King and Queen" (1999), "The Age of Warriors" (2003) and "Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin" (2004).

Until recently, the Korean dramas Japanese viewers enjoyed watching were mostly "soap operas", with heartthrob celebrities starring in heartbreaking love stories. But the new dramas being sent to Japan are quite different ― they have historical backgrounds and plots.

"Tears of the Dragon" (1998) depicts the life of King Taejong of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), while "King and Queen" shows the passion and power during King Sungjong period of the same kingdom. "The Age of Warriors" is a story of the lives and warriors who lived during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392), while "Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin" is a biographical drama of the Joseon admiral who saved the country from numerous Japanese invasions. Yi is one of the most admired figures in Korean history.

Although the stories are based on history with a pinch of imagination it is quite easy to catch up with once you understand the dialogue. What's notable is that another country, especially Japan with which Korea has had strained relations in the past, would want to watch period dramas depicting Korea's ancient history.

"It started with `fusion' period dramas like `Taewangsasingi' ("The Legend" - The Four Guardian Gods of the King) that stars Bae Yong-joon. People simply wanted more. The interest was originally on a `trendy drama' with a historical background, but now, it's more about pure period dramas. It is easier for the Japanese to understand Korean period dramas than other foreign countries' because of cultural, geographical and historical similarities. We (Korea and Japan) know each other quite well", An Jung-mun, the deputy director of the Global Strategy Department at KBS told The Korea Times.

He also added that Japanese viewers tend to focus on the drama itself, not the historical background or plot.

"Unlike Koreans (who are very sensitive to historical facts and storylines within a drama), Japanese seem to care less about these elements. It's more the entertainment quality they are after", he said.

Currently, "Hwangjin-i", starring actress Ha Ji-won ― a period drama that depicts the life of a gisaeng during the Joseon Kingdom ― started airing on NHK BS2 this month. The drama recorded an audience rating of 1.3 percent, higher than that of the first episode of "Winter Sonata", which was 0.3 percent, according to the Global Strategy Department of KBS.

Some may have worried that hallyu, or the Korean wave, has been dwindling as a whole, but for period dramas, it seems that hopes are high for yet another strong wave.

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