Thu, Apr 14, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Asia binge-watches Korean military drama

The drama built its phenomenal success on the same staples that have made k-dramas a lucrative cultural export: attractive lead actors, melodrama and romance

By Hwang Sung-Hee  /  AFP, Seoul

A scene from Descendants of the Sun.

Photo: AFP/Next Entertainment World

Millions across Asia will sit down this week for the finale of a hit South Korean drama series that has triggered relationship health warnings in China, a thumbs-up review from Thailand’s junta chief and a trans-regional passion for its two young stars.

Descendants of the Sun tells the story of an army captain sent on a peacekeeping mission to a fictional war-torn country, Uruk, where he meets and falls in love with a surgeon working with a medical NGO.

The 16-episode show has garnered impressive domestic ratings for broadcaster KBS, but its real success has been overseas and the series has been hailed for reviving the so-called Hallyu (Korean Wave) of k-pop and k-drama that started spreading across Asia in the early 2000s.

It has proved particularly popular in China, where it has been simulcast on the video-streaming site and has notched up more than 2 billion accumulated views, while becoming one of the top-ranked search and discussion topics on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

“Will I be able to find an acceptable husband if I keep watching K-dramas?” said one Weibo user, describing herself as “totally in love” with lead actor Song Joong-ki’s character.


Such obsessive yearnings triggered a tongue-in-cheek warning from China’s Public Security Ministry about thousands of women who were suffering from “Song Joong-ki sickness.”

“When chasing male or female stars, do not become too infatuated with them, because sometimes your casual words could end up hurting those who really care for you,” the ministry advised on its own Weibo account.

And it is not just China.

In Singapore, advertising executive Jamayne Lam, who described Song as “every girl’s dream,” confessed to getting hooked on the drama after just 10 minutes and binge-watching all 11 available episodes in two days.

In Hong Kong, where it’s shown on Viu TV — a free-to-air channel that also has an online portal — the series is popular with commuters who like to view it on their smartphones while travelling to and from work.

“After watching the first episode, I could not help but chase it,” said Susan Yuen, a 30-year-old clerk, adding that waiting for the latest episode upload had become a weekly routine for her and many colleagues in her office.

Korean dramas normally begin airing before later episodes are filmed — allowing for ratings-boosting script adjustments.


But Descendants of the Sun was pre-recorded in its entirety — a major “risk,” according to its South Korean producer Next Entertainment World (NEW).

“None of the pre-recorded dramas have been successful in the past,” a spokeswoman for NEW told AFP. “But it was necessary to pass Beijing’s censorship rules for our first simulcast in China.”

Censors did make some changes to the Chinese-version of the drama, including deleting a fight between South and North Korean soldiers in the first episode.

Pre-recording paid off by allowing a strong pre-broadcast marketing strategy that included airing movie-like teasers in South Korea and China three months in advance.

The drama has now been sold to 32 countries, including non-Asian broadcasters in the Us, England, France and Russia.

Its success is built on the same staples that have made k-dramas a lucrative cultural export: attractive lead actors, melodrama and romance.

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