Most K-drama fans would agree that once you start watching K-drama that suits your taste, it’s difficult to drop watching halfway through when the storyline unfolds. Some writers would even go as far is re-writing the storyline at the last minute just before the show airs- making it mega difficult for the viewers to predict the ending.
The Korean drama production is undertaken as quickly as possible under very tight schedules. The filming crew, writers and actors spend months shooting into the night, lacking sleep, overworking to produce something good for the viewers.
Hallyu, a.k.a the Korean Wave is a term which refers to the rise of the popularity of the Korean culture which began in the late 90’s. The word ‘Hallyu’ is said to be first used by the Beijing journalists who were awed by the China’s growing mania for Korean media for K-dramas, K-movies, K-pop music videos and so on. During the era when social network services were not very oriented, K-drama in particular accumulated solid fan base from all over the globe.
For this article, I want to introduce four TV dramas that were aired over a decade ago, around the era when the term, ‘Hallyu’ was formed. TV dramas that made huge hits in many countries of the world and these shows played a huge role in paving the way of Hallyu.
Jewel In The Palace
The popular K-drama, ‘Jewel In The Palace’ which aired in 2000, is based on a historical scene and the story about an orphan who is trained in a King’s palace to pursue her dreams as the king’s top chef. The main character is named ‘Jang-geum’ and according to the old documents, her name is actually mentioned once for being rewarded for her services in the palace. The storyline for the drama is all fiction but the scenes displaying traditional food, recipes, health tips from the ancient times really adds a very special element to its production.
In Korea, ‘Jewel In The Palace’ ranked tenth as the most viewed drama of all time. The episode which aired March 23rd in 2000 had the ratings of 57.8% who tuned in. Considering the fact that the last episode of the hit drama, the ratings for ‘The Heirs’ (2013) received the 25.6%, the record of the ratings of “Jewel In The Palace” is solid proof how massive this drama was in the year of 2000.
When ‘Jewel In The Palace’ was aired for 54 episodes, it received huge support from numerous countries across Asia, Europe and Africa; getting repeatedly aired on many National TV channels with extremely high ratings.
A popular K-drama that aired in the year of 2000 was called ‘Truth’ or ‘Honesty’ which attracted many viewers and is one of my favourites despite its dramatic storyline and suspense. This was one of the shows that the writer had to change the ending for fear of getting complaints from the netizens. Unlike the drama’s title, the show is mostly about the lies, cover-ups, cheating, blackmailing and most of all, enough drama to draw viewers and keep them entertained.
Ja Young (Played by Choi Ji-woo) is from a poor family who lives in the basement of her affluent classmate, Shinhee’s house since Ja Young’s dad is a chauffeur of Shinee’s (Park Sunyoung) family. While Ja Young is a top student in the school, Shinhee does not show any ability academically. Things start to get more complicated when Shinhee’s family bribes Ja Young to take the college entrance exam for Shinee. For months before, Shinhee was tormenting her to help her cheat in exams. Real trouble emerges when Shinee’s crush, Hyun-woo (Ryu Siwon) starts going after Ja Young and they eventually start to date; this is when Shinee starts scheming for bigger and nastier plans.
One of the main characters was actually supposed to die in the original story, but instead of wrapping up the show with a sad ending with a character dying with a loss of memory, it was overturned and the story was re-written so justice was served. The majority of the viewers are said to actually sympathize with the villains at their last scene. If you’re interested to know how the show came to an end, maybe you should check this drama out sometime.
In 2002, a TV drama with the title, ‘Miss Mermaid’ was aired. The title drew a lot of attention since the viewers could not fathom the meaning and the intention of its title. The main character, Ahri-young (Seohi Jang) was not on any TV production for many years and she seemed to be a fresh face for the viewers.
Ahri-young is a successful drama writer who is from a very dysfunctional family background. Her father left the family for another woman who is a well-known actress, consequently her mother was left blinded from the shock and her autistic brother was kidnapped and later died.
Ahri-young plans on avenging her father since her childhood and after she becomes a popular script writer and starts writing a story for a TV drama; she casts her father’s new wife for the leading role. Ahri-young also plans to steal her stepsister’s husband-to-be for herself and things become complicated when her feelings get in the way of her plans. She hurts many people along the way, initially her plans seem to work out as she had planned, but not for long the plans start to take different turns.
The ending for this TV drama series was quite ambiguous and not quite what people would normally expect; the series seemed to drag on and the story was overall quite outrageous nearer to its ending after 256 episodes. Overall, this drama really did stand out due to its very unique script and top class acting. Even the names of the characters were surreal, making this production quite memorable.
Stairway to Heaven
Stairway to Heaven was a drama that was aired from the end of 2003 until February of 2004 for 20 episodes, accumulating very high ratings; an average rating of 38.8%, and 45.3% for its finale.
Jungsuh (Played by Park Shin-hye) and Song-joo (Baek Sung-hyun) grow up together and they share a special bond. Song-joo is the heir of a Jaebol company and they make plans to go abroad to study together. Jungsuh’s mother had died years ago and her dad remarries. The step-mother brings her own two children, Yoori (Kim Tae-hee) and Taehwa (Shin Hyun-joon) to live with the family – those two siblings, especially the step-sister causes a lot of misery and needless trouble for Jungsuh during the whole show. The step-mother is an actress who is a spiteful and jealous type and she starts manipulating her husband to keep Jungsuh from going abroad. Years later, Song-joo returns to Korea to take over the company. Yoori who gets eager to stop Jungsuh from meeting Song-joo, drives after her and runs her over then taking Jungsuh’s nearly dead body to her real father to hide it away.
Most people, including Song-joo are deceived Jungsuh really died in a car accident by an unidentified driver. Yoori blatantly takes Jungsuh’s place as his fiancé. Jungsuh has a memory loss and lives her life not knowing her true identity. Of course, the story doesn’t end there and goes on. The ending I was not able to foresee, since it wasn’t that predictable until the end.
In 2004, the broadcast rights were sold to Japan for around ? 1.2 billion which was at the time a record price for a Korean drama export. According to a survey by SMAP Station in May 2007, Stairway to Heaven ranked as the third most popular Korean drama in Japan. This drama also aired in the Philippines in 2004, as one of the highest rated programs ever in the country. In 2005, the broadcasting rights to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ were sold to eight countries across Latin America.
—- J Chung