You who came from Korea

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-25 21:38:01

A scene from You Who Came From the Stars Photo: CFP

"The day of the first snow should be a time for fried chicken and beer." If you're a fan of TV dramas this line may not be all that unfamiliar to you. It comes from You Who Came From the Stars, a South Korean TV soap opera that has become extremely popular recently in China and some Southeast Asian countries.

A neighboring country to China, many TV dramas produced in South Korea have become quite popular among Chinese audiences. After Endless Love (2000) and Dae Jang-geum (2003) kicked off a wave of popular Korean dramas a decade ago, two new works from Korean broadcast channel SBS The Heirs and You Who Came From the Stars are set to start another trend.

South Korean fad

If you type in key words related to the two dramas on China's leading online shopping website, you will see pages upon pages of unofficial show merchandise from clothing, bags, accessories to cosmetics.

After the broadcast of The Heirs at the end of 2013, 26-year-old lead actor Lee Min-ho has not only captured a great number of fans but has also begun doing commercial endorsements for His appearance during this year's CCTV Spring Festival Gala was also featured heavily in CCTV promotions for the event.

As the next big drama after The Heirs, You Who Came From the Stars has made an even larger impact.

The snack combination often mentioned by lead actress Jun Ji-hyun, fried chicken and a bottle of beer, has become a new favorite among fans in China despite rising fears over H7N9. According to a report on, a Japanese chain restaurant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province sold several thousands of this meal combination during the evening of Valentine's Day on February 14.

The popularity of You Who Came From the Stars is not limited to average folk, many professionals and stars have become fans as well. Famous mainland actress Zhao Wei posted on her Sina Weibo that the drama is "really good" and she applauded the fact that TV drama had reached such a standard. 

Yu Zheng, a domestic TV drama scriptwriter, also showed his love for The Stars. "After watching 12 episodes, I still think the plot is great. It is simple but has tension. A good combination of outdoor and indoor scenes." Yu said The Stars is worth studying.

Soap opera 3.0

South Korea produced TV dramas always boast that they are a gathering of handsome men and beautiful women. Actors like Lee Min-ho, Kim Woo-bin and Choi Jin-hyuk from The Heirs all began as models and so have excellent figures that capture audiences' eyes.

Model-turned-actress Jun Ji-hyun is also widely accepted as an A-list star in South Korea. As some Chinese media outlets have commented, she easily switches between a goddess-like star and a maniac woman when playing her role.

Yet South Korean TV dramas once experienced a long depression over the past decade or so, being overshadowed in China by dramas from the UK and US.

Criticized for old fashioned and dilatory plots, some audiences felt that these shows repeated themselves in almost every story: car accidents that result in loss of memory, incurable diseases like cancer, romance between brother and sister.

Recent works, represented by The Heirs and The Stars, have shown a change in theme and storytelling methods.

The Heirs, a story about romance and power struggles among the upper-class, points out the cruel truth that if one wants to wear a crown they must endure its heavy weight.

Meanwhile, The Stars, about an alien who has secretly lived on Earth for 400 years, wins out by having two story lines, a romance and a murder case, developing in parallel. This makes for the perfect balance between relaxation and tension.

TV variety show director Pang Bo told the Global Times that she pays extra attention to the technical parts of The Stars out of professional habit. She feels The Stars is far more elaborately made than many Chinese dramas.

"I've watched a few special episodes about the behind-the-scenes production process, and realized that the special effects for certain scenes, even if they are only five to 10 seconds, will use up to 60 different frames. Domestic computer generated effects, in comparison, are too rough," she said.

Different strokes

While tear provoking South Korean soap operas once played a dominating role among foreign TV dramas in the Chinese mainland, today's TV drama market has become more evenly divided.

"South Korean dramas portray daily life, Japanese dramas have beautiful pictures and very literary dialogue, US dramas catch audiences with their speed and suspense, and UK dramas have strong local culture," Zhuang Yu, a Chinese TV drama scriptwriter gave her analysis.

She further pointed out that it is difficult for current domestic works to reach such a high standard, to a large degree, due to China's current level of development.

Your vision is limited when you stand on a low platform, Zhuang said, using the example of popular 1991 Chinese TV drama Stories from the Editorial Board, in which there was a scene where Chinese were not able to understand how dishes could be washed by a machine in the US.

A lack of capital is also an important reason that "disqualifies" many domestic TV dramas.

According to a report on economic news portal, actor salaries make up around 40 to 50 percent of a Korean drama's budget, but in China that amount can reach as high as 70 percent. As a result, only a little money is left for the production itself.

Zhuang agrees, but says it's difficult to argue with this system. "The stars are what sell," she said.

"There are government restrictions as well," Zhuang added.  

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