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(Yonhap Feature) 'Descendants of the Sun' dazzles Chinese fans

All News 09:00 April 07, 2016

(Editor's note: This story is the fifth of our feature series on the global boom of Korean pop culture, known as "hallyu" in Korean.)
By Kim Deok-hyun

BEIJING, April 7 (Yonhap) -- Jiang Yijin, a 26-year-old office worker in Beijing, is calling herself a South Korean-drama aficionado.

She spends most of her pastime watching the popular South Korean TV soap opera, "Descendants of the Sun," the story of a romance between a chic-looking Army captain and a doctor in a fictional war-torn country, often forgetting to eat or sleep.

"To put it simply, a Korean drama is more enjoyable than a Chinese one," Jiang said. "It feels like I am really absorbed in the story."

Such binge-watching by Jiang and other Chinese viewers prompted China's public security authorities to issue a warning against watching Korean dramas, saying it could lead to "legal troubles" as women could fall in love with the TV drama's lead male character who is played by Song Joong-ki, according to Chinese media reports.

Since it premiered on Feb. 24 in South Korea and China, the 16-episode TV series has been gaining huge popularity in the two nations as well as other Asian countries.

In South Korea, the KBS 2TV series broke the 30-percent viewership mark nationwide in just eight episodes, according to Nielsen Korea, which compiles TV ratings.

The show has scored over 2 billion cumulative views on iQiyi, the video-streaming website of Baidu, China's top search engine.

Armed with an elaborate screenplay that captures a romantic love story and star-making performances by actor Song and actress Song Hye-kyo, some say the show is eye candy.

However, it has proven a commercial success in China, which has become the biggest market for South Korea's entertainment industry.

"Descendants of the Sun" is also the first TV series jointly produced by South Korean and Chinese firms since Chinese media regulators imposed the regulation that foreign TV programs must get prior approval before being aired in mainland China.

Zhang Yuxin, general manager of iQiyi, said an excellent screenplay and co-production are two of key factors why Chinese viewers have fallen in love with the TV series.

"First of all, the story is very beautiful," Zhang said. "And it is simultaneously aired in both South Korea and China so as to protect the interests of both its (Korean) producer and iQiyi."

The popularity of the show has garnered unexpected attention from China's official military newspaper, which described the TV soap opera as "a piece of great advertisement for conscription."

On March 22, the Chinese military newspaper, the People's Liberation Army Daily, called the TV drama a "good example for military-themed dramas and movies."

The drama "effectively delivers the national culture of Korea (to viewers) and vividly describes the image of the Korean soldiers," it said. The paper then said that China too needs to take note of excellent actors and actresses being fostered by South Korea's entertainment industry.

It said the runaway success of the drama could inspire and act as a warning to do better for Chinese filmmakers.

Kim Ki-heon, head of the Beijing office of the Korea Creative Content Agency affiliated with South Korea's culture ministry, said joint productions of TV programs between Korean and Chinese firms are expected to grow, fueled by the bilateral free trade pact between the two nations.

The bilateral trade pact came into effect in late last year.

"The Korea-China FTA guarantees the high-level of market opening in the fields of movies, broadcasting and intellectual property rights," Kim said.

"South Korea and China are expected to encourage their firms to make joint productions of movies and TV contents under the FTA provisions," Kim said.

Parts of the show were shot at a former mine in South Korea's eastern city of Taebaek and at Camp Greaves in Paju, north of Seoul, that used to be a U.S. military base.

To take account for the increased interest in the locations sparked by the show, South Korea's government tour agency plans to invite foreign media and travel agents to the locations.

"If I have a chance, I would really want to go there," Jiang said.


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