The cast and producers of the new sports drama ``Birdie Buddy'' pose for the cameras at a press conference in Jeongseon, Gangwon Province, Feb. 10. From left, Lee Yong-woo and singer-turned-actress U-ee. The series starts airing early this year. / Courtesy of Group8
By Han Sang-hee
The small screen has had its fair share of sports dramas, so the question must be asked: Are local viewers ready for another one? The makers of ``Boys Over Flowers'' are recreating the famous comic book series ``Birdie Buddy'' as a golf drama this year, and despite the reliable production team, it's still too early to predict success.
Another Sports Drama?
Sports dramas here have not yet tasted true success: ``Strike Love'' (a show about baseball) failed to captivate viewers with its weak storyline, while ``Triple'' (figure skating) ended up being a run-of-the-mill melodrama. ``Dream'' (martial arts) and ``No Limit'' (football) also lost their spark due to their lack of realism and shaky storylines.
But the crew and actors of the 20-episode ``Birdie Buddie,'' as well as cartoonist Lee Hyun-sae, firmly believe this time will be different.
``It's true that sports dramas have failed to win the hearts of viewers. This is another challenge for all of us,'' said Song Byung-jun, the head of production company Group8, at a press conference at High1 Resort, Jeongseon, Gangwon Province, early this month.
The original cartoon features the techniques, triumphs and competition of the sport, plus the lifelong lessons and philosophies learned along the way.
The drama revolves around the young and energetic Seong Mi-soo ― played by U-ee, a member of the girl group After School ― who is inspired by golfer Pak Se-ri, and her journey to become the world's best. Seong faces stiff competition from a rich and famous rival but manages to learn a few tricks from former PGA golfer John Lee, played by Lee Yong-woo, who combines the sport with martial arts.
``Our drama is not just about golf, but the process of becoming a golfer in the sport's competitive world,'' Song explained.
South Korea has a number of successful examples when it comes to female golfers, including Pak, Shin Ji-yai and Ji Eun-hee. The series hopes to show viewers the grueling journey required to become No. 1 and what it takes to stay there.
``The role of the athletes' parents is very important as well. We will also try to bring out the love and humanism that their mothers have,'' he added.
Questioning the Heroine
Choosing the right actors is a crucial decision in the production process: Producers don't want to use the same actors over and over again, but it's a bit risky to a recruit newcomer with no experience.
Producer Yoon Sang-ho expressed some worries in choosing U-ee for the main character, but it seems everyone is looking forward to the transformation she will undergo. U-ee previously had a small role in the recently-aired soap ``You're Beautiful'' (SBS).
``This drama will work as another challenge in my life. I will be working as Seong Mi-soo, not U-ee, for the time being,'' she said.
Yoon added that she ``may be a star in the music and commercial scene,'' but she has the potential to create a brand new image.
Other top singers such as Lee Hyo-ri, Son Dam-bi and Ivy have unsuccessfully tried their luck at acting. On the other hand, there have been successful cases ― Sung Yu-ri, Lee Jin and even Yun Eun-hye ― but these singer-turned-actresses focused entirely on their acting, instead of working on both crafts.
Her counterpart Lee will also need some support from fans, as ``Birdie Buddy'' is his second series following last year's ``Style'' (SBS).
50/50 Chance for `Birdie'
This is the eighth time cartoonist Lee's work has been adapted into a drama or film.
``In novels, the theme or storyline may be important, but for cartoons, the characters are very important,'' Lee said.
``There's a saying among cartoonists: if you decide on the characters, the story just comes along. I am 100 percent satisfied with the casting.''
``Birdie'' was released in 2007 and was based on the success stories of golfers Pak and Michelle Wie. It sold more than 28,000 copies and won the Grand Prize at the Korea Cartoon Awards in 2007.
The storyline about a young girl struggling to beat her competitors and reach the top of the hill will be the same, but the crew will add a little bit more.
The computer graphic (CG) experts from ``Taewangsasingi'' (MBC) and ``Tamra, the Island'' (MBC) will join the crew to add more intensity and dynamics to the sports series.
``We will use computer graphics to portray golf in an energetic and thrilling way. The club becomes the sword, while the LPGA scene becomes the dense forest,'' Song said.
Cartoon-based dramas have seen relative success, including ``Boys Over Flowers'' (KBS) and ``Princess Hours'' (MBC), but a handful have also tasted failure over the years.
``Strike Love,'' which was released by Lee in 1985, failed to captivate viewers, while others such as ``Passionate Dealer'' (KBS) and ``Moon River'' (2009) also couldn't to match the originals.
``Birdie Buddy'' is scheduled to air early this year.