Posted : 2016-04-03 17:43
Updated : 2016-04-03 19:30

New hallyu dawns on 'Descendants of the Sun'

A scene from the KBS drama "Descendants of the Sun"

Song Joong-ki, lead actor in "Descendants of the Sun," has emerged as a new hallyu star.
/ Yonhap
Song Hye-kyo wearing a J.Estina ecobag in a scene from the "Descendants of the Sun"
By Park Jin-hai

The final episode of KBS blockbuster drama "Descendants of the Sun" will be broadcast on April 14, but its popularity continues to grow, within and beyond Korea.

The 12th and latest episode of the military-romance drama aired last Thursday had a viewership rating of 33 percent here.

Backed by the drama's immense popularity, lead actor Song Joong-ki, playing unrealistically perfect special unit chief Yoo Si-jin, has become the first ever actor to appear as guest in KBS News 9, a prime time news broadcast, to be interviewed.

"Descendants of the Sun" is set in the fictional war-torn country of Uruk and Song Joong-ki's character Yoo falls in love with Kang Mo-yeon, a doctor from non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders played by sweetheart Song Hye-kyo.

Yoo's special warfare command unit and Kang's medical team are both dispatched to the disaster- stricken country alongside UN peacekeeping troops.

China is also responding enthusiastically to the drama. In notice of the soaring popularity of the drama, China's public security ministry stated on its Weibo social media account, "When chasing male or female stars, do not become too infatuated with them, because sometimes your casual words could end up hurting those who really care for you."

In Thailand, governor Yuthasak Supasorn has asked the Korea Tourism Organization to arrange a meeting with Song Joong-ki for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a huge fan of "Descendants" who urges Thai people to watch the drama due to its themes of patriotism and sacrifice.

Numerics of ‘Descendants of the Sun'

"Descendants" is the first TV series jointly produced by Korean and Chinese production companies and aired in both nations. It has not only created a fantasy for men in uniform, but also became one of the most successful exports of Korean content.

The drama has been sold to 32 countries including the United States, England, France, Italy, Germany and Russia as of March.

China and Japan have bought broadcasting rights to the drama series for $250,000 and $100,000 per episode, respectively. The price per episode of broadcasting rights in China marked a record high for Korean dramas, which is eight times higher than that for 2014 hallyu megahit "My Love from the Star," which was sold at around $35,000 per episode.

An old mine in Taebaek, Gangwon Province, where "Descendants of the Sun" was filmed. The set was torn down after shooting ended in November, but it will be rebuilt because demand to visit the area has soared. / Yonhap

"As soon as the first episode was aired, we reached the break-even point, where gains from the drama sales reached the production cost of 13 billion won," said its production company NEW.

Along with the 3 billion won from product placement advertisements (PPL), it is said to have bagged another 10 billion won from sales of related sound tracks and video-on-demand services.

"We expect ‘Descendents' to create revenues equivalent to two block buster movies which break 10 million audience marks," the NEW official added.

The drama has contract with the Chinese video platform IQiyi that it can expect additional gains when the number of Chinese views on the site exceeds a certain mark.

Recent BBC coverage of "Descendants of the Sun" centered on its popularity across Asia. / Yonhap

Soon after its 12th episode was aired, the romance drama has been searched over 81 billion times on Weibo, Friday, beating all other keywords in the Chinese social media by a large margin.

Local industry watchers say that the economic repercussions from the drama will go above 3 trillion won at least, the estimated economic gains from the SBS drama "My Love from the Star."

Many fashion items from the drama ― even Song Joong-ki's army uniforms ― were heavily sought after. The Laneige lipstick Song Hye-kyo wore in the drama sold out in just three days after it was released on the Chinese language site of Korean online retailer 11st Street, while the J.Estina canvas-sheepskin shoulder bag, albeit its near 150,000 won price tag, and earrings used by Song Hye-kyo also enjoyed selling out in Korea.

The Korean government, taking notice of the possible economic boom from the drama, will rebuild its filming sites, including an old mine site in Taebaek, Gangwon Province, and plan to develop it into a major tourism attraction.

Power of plot

Although "Descendants" holds the common ingredients of melodrama to some degree, in which a heroic male lead falls in love with a pretty female lead, culture critics say that the drama adds something new for viewers jaded with yet another "Cinderella story."

The drama's writer Kim Eun-sook, the hitmaker behind "Lovers in Paris" (2004), "Secret Garden" (2010) and "The Heirs" (2013), replaced the common mainstays of any K-romance drama ― love triangle and nonsensical plot ― by a well-balanced melodramatic plot, which contains something of romance, humanism and a sense of justice.

Popular culture critic Chung Duk-hyun said, "At a time when Korean melodramas are said to have been losing steam, ‘Descendants of the Sun' boasted a great quality. Set in the fictional country of Uruk, the drama series brought fantasy together with a number of different genres to create a high quality production."

Kyung Hee University professor Lee Taek-gwang said that the drama appeals to viewers' desires for justice in a society that appears to lack it.

"Because honesty and righteousness are so rare in this society, viewers seek vicarious satisfaction in ‘Descendants of the Sun,'" Lee said. "Yoo Si-jin (potrayed by Song Joong-ki), in particular, refuses to submit to his superior's irrational and unjust orders, but this is not an option for today's youth."

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