TV dra­mas need cre­ative touch

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

AKorean wave is sweep­ing across China, with many Chi­nese women wor­ship­ping South Korean ac­tors Kim Soo-hyun and Lee Min-ho as demigods. Chi­nese ne­ti­zens have al­ways been di­vided over South Korean TV dra­mas, but there is no doubt that pro­grams from the neigh­bor­ing coun­try are now en­joy­ing a new round of pop­u­lar­ity in China. And a big part of the credit for that goes to You Who Came From The Star, the South Korean TV se­ries which is on the air now.

Top South Korean ac­tors Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Soo-hyun re­cently earned a pop­u­lar­ity rat­ing of 24.8 per­cent in their coun­try, con­sid­ered strong by Nielsen Korea. You Who Came From The Star and The Heirs have been sub­jects of hot on­line dis­cus­sions through­out Asia. Be­sides, the book, The Mirac­u­lous Jour­ney of Ed­ward Tu­lane, read by the hero in You Who Came From The Star was a hard-to-get item on Ama­zon for a while.

The two TV pro­grams have sev­eral com­mon el­e­ments: a tall, hand­some, and rich hero who loves the hero­ine blindly and al­ways pro­tects her, and an equally hand­some man madly in love with the same woman. Both pro­grams por­tray the pu­rity of love, which is ex­pressed through a kiss or a warm hug. Per­haps that’s the se­cret of their suc­cess; per­haps people are still fas­ci­nated by Cin­derella-type sto­ries.

The widen­ing wealth gap is a mat­ter of so­cial con­cern both in South Korea and China, and the chal­lenges that young people face in their quest for a bet­ter life might have prompted many or­di­nary girls to dream of mar­ry­ing rich, car­ing men. This is pre­cisely what the pop­u­lar South Korean TV dra­mas por­tray. In fact, South Korean TV dra­mas are tai­lored to meet the mar­ket’s de­mands.

In con­trast, Chi­nese TV screens are flooded by knock-off and/or poorly made soap op­eras. Most of the Chi­nese TV dra­mas ei­ther dis­tort the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion, which is a dis­tor­tion of his­tory, or blindly copy for­eign pro­grams. The lack of good sto­ries has of late re­sulted in loads of TV se­ries on time travel or fights in the harems of Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) em­per­ors. These, in short, are the bane of Chi­nese TV pro­duc­tions.

In con­trast, South Korean TV dra­mas have re-in­vented them­selves. In fact, 2013 could be said to be the year of re­birth of South Korean TV dra­mas. Shortly af­ter the enor­mous craze gen­er­ated by Great Jang-Geum in 2003, South Korean dra­mas lost much of their pop­u­lar­ity in other Asian coun­tries thanks partly to bet­ter pro­duced works from the United States and the United King­dom.

Many ne­ti­zens even said at the time that South Korean TV dra­mas had be­come passé be­cause of their stereo­typed themes: traf­fic ac­ci­dents, and cancer and other in­cur­able dis­eases. But all that has changed with the suc­cess of You Who Came From The Star and The Heirs, which Chi­nese di­rec­tors can use as ex­am­ples, as well as in­spi­ra­tion, to im­prove their pro­duc­tions.

The resur­gence of South Korean TV dra­mas can be at­trib­uted to the joint ef­forts of the coun­try’s govern­ment and TV se­ries mak­ers. The South Korean govern­ment im­ple­mented a pol­icy to help TV pro­duc­tions back in the late 1990s, when the first wave of pop­u­lar dra­mas emerged from the coun­try to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of the people in the rest of Asia. Just be­fore the turn of the mil­len­nium, the South Korean govern­ment is­sued reg­u­la­tions say­ing at least 80 per­cent of the TV pro­grams had to be do­mes­ti­cally pro­duced. It also fixed the min­i­mum num­ber of home­made TV se­ries to be broad­cast in the coun­try. That not only helped South Korean TV pro­duc­tions gain a firm foothold in the do­mes­tic mar­ket, but also laid the foun­da­tion for their suc­cess­ful foray into over­seas mar­kets.

Re­cent years have seen great in­no­va­tions in South Korean TV pro­duc­tions in terms of themes and nar­ra­tive pat­terns. Take You Who Came From The Star as an ex­am­ple. Al­though aliens vis­it­ing Earth is an oft-used theme, You Who Came From The Star’s script re­mains log­i­cal and fast-paced. It mixes the plot with ro­mance and mur­der and keeps the au­di­ence guess­ing about how the story will un­fold. When it comes to love sto­ries, the new South Korean tele­plays no longer use the dis­tress card; in­stead, they in­ter­sperse them with whimsy and ro­man­tic punch lines.

The three TV sta­tions, SBS, KBS and MBC, con­trol the ma­jor­ity of South Korean TV mar­ket, each spe­cial­iz­ing in a dif­fer­ent area and cater­ing to people of dif­fer­ent ages. The pro­duc­tions are sleek and use ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies such as high-speed pho­tog­ra­phy and com­puter-gen­er­ated ef­fects, cre­at­ing a real-life vis­ual im­pact.

More­over, the shoot­ing for South Korean pro­duc­tions gen­er­ally starts when the scripts are just one-third ready. Many pop­u­lar pro­duc­tions have their own web­sites, where scriptwrit­ers post part of the fin­ished scripts, invit­ing view­ers to leave mes­sages, dis­cuss the plot and come up with sug­ges­tions for fu­ture episodes. This not only keeps view­ers’ in­ter­est in the TV dra­mas alive, but also helps scriptwrit­ers and di­rec­tors make changes to the sto­ry­lines to suit the au­di­ence’s de­mand.

Hope­fully, the in­no­va­tion-in­duced suc­cess of South Korean TV pro­grams will prompt Chi­nese TV drama mak­ers to think up new ideas and aban­don their bad prac­tice of copy­ing for­eign pro­duc­tions in or­der to at­tract more view­ers at home, and pos­si­bly abroad. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. xiaolixin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

WANG XIAOYING / CHINA DAILY

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