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Korean Soap Operas Sweep Asia

clock03-29-2010, 12:03 AM
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Mushy South Korean Soaps Lapped Up Across Asia

Mon Oct 11, 8:08 AM ET

By Edward Davies and Lee Jun-goo

[Resim: r2253694325.jpg]

Japanese tourists take a picture in front of a signboard featuring South Korean actor Bae Yong-joon at a department store in Seoul September 24, 2004. From Taiwan to Thailand, South Korean television soap operas and dramas are proving an enormous hit across Asia. Photo taken September 24. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

SEOUL (Reuters) - Yoko Otani is not very interested in visiting South Korea (news - web sites)'s imposing Joseon Dynasty palaces.

Nor is shopping for fake handbags in Seoul's sprawling markets particularly high on the 45-year-old Japanese receptionist's agenda on her four-day trip to South Korea.

Otani and her friend, Takako Ishida, have come to visit locations linked to the hit South Korean TV drama "Winter Sonata," on a trip organized by a Japanese travel company.

From Taiwan to Thailand, South Korean television soap operas and dramas are proving an enormous hit across Asia.

"He's not like Japanese men," chuckled Otani, referring to the bespectacled Bae Yong-joon, co-star of "Winter Sonata," who has become a heart-throb for many across Asia.

Otani was enjoying a meal of Korean barbecued beef at a restaurant in a posh part of Seoul that is sometimes frequented by Bae, who is known in Japan as "Yong-sama," a deferential tag often reserved for royalty.

The formula for dramas such as "Winter Sonata" is a bittersweet love story between clean-cut, good-looking actors against a backdrop of pretty countryside with melancholy music providing the soundtrack.

Traditional Asian values such as respect for parents run through the plots and there is generally barely a whiff of sex despite the sometimes turbulent love triangles that emerge in the plots.

"I like it because it's a pure love story," said Chieko Suhiro, whose daughter, Yuka, was posing next to a signed photo of 32-year-old Bae hanging in the Seoul restaurant, called Mr Park's House.

The success of the dramas has led to a surge in visitors to South Korea, particularly from Japan.

About 300,000 people were expected to join soap tours to South Korea this year, up 70,000 from last year, said Lee Ga-young at the Korea National Tourism Organization said. About a third of the visitors are expected to be from Japan.

Na Myung-sook, manager of Mr Park's House, has no complaints.

She gets up to 100 Japanese on weekend nights hoping to catch a glimpse of their idol, Bae, whose favorite meals were beef bone soup and a raw Korean beef dish, Na said.


The surge in interest in Korean culture started in the late 1990s, led by the popularity of Korean actor-turned-pop star Ahn Jae-wook in China and the release of movies such as "Swiri" and "Joint Security Area."

The success of "Winter Sonata," released in Korea in early 2002, and other such dramas has sustained the buzz.

Keen to jump on the bandwagon, a "Korean Entertainment Hall of Fame" was recently opened in the basement of the national tourism office in Seoul, complete with a collection of cardboard figures and hand-prints of some Korean pop stars and actors.

Across the region, things Korean are in.

After a long love affair with all things Japanese, Singaporeans have their eye on Korea. Several Korean dramas have recently been launched on prime-time television.

Young Singaporeans have been snatching up merchandise emblazoned with images of Korean stars and the city-state is seeing its own version of Japan's "Yong-sama" craze.

"I never paid attention to Korean pop-culture until I watched 'Winter Sonata.' From there I started to look out for Korean music and actors," said Wong Kah Wai, a 26-year-old teacher.

In Thailand, Korean soaps are dubbed into Thai and run in prime slots.

South Korean media reports said golfer Tiger Woods had even tried to arrange a meeting with Korean actor Song Seung-heon, who stars in "Autumn in my Heart," on behalf of his Thai mother.

Woods is due to visit South Korea and Japan later in the year and his mother is apparently a big fan of Song.


Hirata Yukie, a professor of sociology at Seoul's Yonsei University, says the popularity of Korean soap operas in Japan is partly the result of a shared geography and cultural affinity.

The implications for the neighbors' relations, sour for decades because of Japan's harsh rule over the peninsula for much of the first half of the 20th century, can only be positive, she says.

"It will be an opportunity for each to know their cultures better." (Additional reporting by Fayen Wong in Singapore and Miho Yoshikawa in Tokyo)
clock07-07-2012, 06:02 PM
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