S.Korean drama 'River Where the Moon Rises' raises ire of Chinese netizens over 'copied costumes'
Published: Feb 21, 2021 10:21 PM

Photo: Screenshot of Weibo

Hit South Korean period drama River Where the Moon Rises, set in the ancient Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BC - 668), has earned an unprecedented low score of 2.3/10 on major Chinese media review site Douban after it irritated many Chinese netizens who have condemned the drama for "plagiarizing" costumes from Chinese dramas. 

The drama starring South Korean stars Kim So-hyun and Ji Soo was released on South Korean channel KBS2 on February 15 and tells a classic Goguryeo folk tale between the Princess Pyeonggang and On Dal.

The drama has proved to be extremely popular among South Korean audiences as the average nationwide viewership ratings have reached 5.8 and 9.7 percent. However, some of the show's content and the way it depicts the history of the kingdom has evoked the anger of many Chinese viewers.

Photo: Screenshot of Weibo

Many Chinese netizens have posted photos of the costumes in the drama on social media alongside photos of costumes from Chinese period dramas, noting that many similarities exist. 

For instance, under one comparison post users note how the helmet and armor worn by Kim's character looks almost the same as those worn by Chinese actress Zhao Liying in the period drama Princess Agents, while Kim's hairstyle is similar to the style famous Chinese actress Gong Li wore in Zhang Yimou's film Curse of the Golden Flower. Another post compares the clothes Ji wears in one scene to those worn by Zhang Ruoyun in the Chinese drama Joy of Life

Some Chinese netizens also showed concern that South Korea is trying to use the drama to claim that the history of the Goguryeo Kingdom belongs solely to the history of South Korea and is not related to the history of China or North Korea and to stir up nationalist sentiment among South Korean netizens. 

Lü Chao, director of the Research Institute for Borderland at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday that the Goguryeo Kingdom was located in the northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula as well as the southern and central parts of what is now Northeast China. Eventually the kingdom came to an end when it was destroyed by an alliance between the Korean Silla Kingdom (57-935) and the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Fan Xiaoqing, an associate professor with the Theater and Film Academy of the Communication University of China, told the Global Times that when it comes to film and TV, keeping an open mind is much more important than fighting over the origins of a specific culture.

"There are many similarities in cultural elements between China and South Korea. River Where the Moon Rises may be inspiration on this historical and traditional culture. We should have a tolerant attitude toward this," said Fan.

The clothing maker for the drama on Sunday explained on SNS that the costume design is based on murals found in Goguryeo Kingdom tombs, according to a Sunday blog post from movieiii, a popular film and TV review and critic account on Wechat. 

"We utilized ideas from the Goguryeo Kingdom tomb murals and other historical documents, which explicitly are from ancient Korean studies, in the process of creating these garments."

According to reports, the relics of the ancient Goguryeo (Koguryo) Kingdom tomb site were inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004. The murals of the Goguryeo Tomb in Northeast China's Jilin Province were illegally excavated in the late 1990s and were later illegally transported to South Korea, where some of them are now displayed at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul.