By Lee Hyo-won
The last episode of the TV series "Taewangsasingi" (The Four Guardian Gods of the King) airs tonight.
The drama's legacy, however, is expected to live on, especially now that it is showing on the small and big screens in Japan. The "blockbuster" TV drama is garnering a cult following with the likes of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" empire, with novels, books, CDs and DVDs among other products pouring onto the Korean and Japanese market.
Weaving together age-old myths and remnants of ancient Korean history with sophisticated computer graphics, "Taewangsasingi" has led the renaissance of period dramas on TV.
It has transcended the boundaries of conventional Korean TV soaps and signaled the rise of a new genre "TV picture", which combines the advantages of TV dramas and movies, according to director Park Jong-won
of "Eight Days", a mystery thriller set during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) that is currently airing on cable movie channel CGV.
Spanning 24 episodes, "Taewangsasingi" enjoys the narrative structure of a TV series, thereby having the advantage of telling an in-depth story, but super-sizes everything. Boasting a record 43 billion won budget, its action-packed battle sequences, period detail and CG-enhanced visuals evoked comparison to films such as "The Lord of the Rings". (Naturally, its broadcasting schedule was delayed several times due to the extensive post-production work).
Not surprisingly, "Taewangsasingi" recorded a stellar audience rate, consistently attracting about 30 percent, according to TNS Media Korea.
The popularity is expected to transfer to Japan, especially since hallyu megastar Bae Yong-joon
leads the production's high-profile cast. Bae, affectionately called "Yonsama" by his Japanese fans, created the syndrome with his tearjerker drama "Winter Sonata
" a few years ago.
The first episode of "Taewangsasingi" aired Monday night on NHK's satellite broadcasting channel BS-HI. The series also hit the big screen Tuesday. Two 60-minute episodes will be screened over 12 showings at 10 movie theaters, over a period of six months. Actor Yoon Tae-young
, one of the male leads, is currently in Japan to promote the series, visiting fans in theaters.
The drama has gone mobile as well. NiftyTV offers the subtitled series for streaming on cell phones and personal computers.
In March, the series' preview DVD topped Japan's Oricon DVD chart within the first week of its release, and in June, the navigation DVD (a guide to the series) also became a much-coveted item among fans. A special edition DVD featuring interviews with the stars and behind-the-scene footage is due early next year, followed by a full DVD set of the entire series.
`Taewangsasingi' in Print
In Korea, the series was bought to life by acclaimed novelist Kim Chang-gyoo, based on the drama's original script by Song Ji-na
, the creative mind behind some of the most popular TV soaps in Korean history such as "The Sandglass
In September, the first volume of the novel "Taewangsasini" was simultaneously released with the first TV episode and immediately became a best-seller on major online bookstores such as Yes24 and Aladdin. The book sold out within two weeks, demanding two additional reprints that month. Catering to anxious fans, the publisher had the second volume in stores earlier than the original release date.
In Japan, a guidebook accompanying the series was already published in July. Containing photos, character sketches, plot summaries and detailed historical background information, the first 30,000 copies sold out, and the new batch of reprints continues to sell well, according to SDD, the Japan-based distributor of "Taewangsasingi" goods. The second volume, released in October, also created a stir.
Befitting a country known for its manga or comic book empire, a comic book version of the drama was released last month. Celebrated cartoonist Riyoko Ikeda, best known for her international hit "Roses of Versailles", brought the cartoon version to life.
A photography book is slated for release on New Year's Day.
The original soundtrack of "Taewangsasingi" is highly popular in Korea. The album garnered much attention for featuring tracks by Jo Hisaishi, the music maestro behind Hayao Miyazaki's beloved animation films such as "Spirited Away". Hisaishi also participated in the making of the music for homegrown film "Welcome to Dongmakgol
". Internationally popular boy band TVXQ also recorded for "Taewangsasingi", and hot newcomer Jun-seo also shot to stardom for his soulful track.
Bae's star power is gaining full momentum. As of Dec. 3, Yahoo Japan, the biggest auction site in Japan, lists about 150 "Taewangsasingi" items including the CD and other goods such as posters, key rings and various stationary goods featuring Bae. Even the perfume Bae's character Damdeok gave to his lover in the series is a hot item. The DVDs and guidebooks mentioned above are also selling well.
Rakuten, Japan's largest online shopping mall, lists some 400 products, including the manga "Taewangsasingi". Japanenjoy, a company that enables Koreans to access Japanese auction sites and online stores, said that the number and variety of products are expected to go up now that the series has started airing in Japan. These items featuring an armor-clad Bae model seem to be replacing the myriad of products for the star's character from "Winter Sonata
Recently, various sources reported the waning of hallyu, or the Korean wave, as the Korean entertainment business lacked the stronghold of mega hits like "Winter Sonata
" or "Jewel in the Palace" ("Dae Jang Geum
"). "Taewangsasingi" might be a breath of fresh air.
Meanwhile, Bae is finally in the hospital, receiving due treatment for the injuries he suffered while filming. The star hurt his finger, shoulder and knees doing action scenes for the drama. He had, however, delayed getting medical treatment so that the shooting of the drama could meet its designated deadline.