KOREA: Hallyu phenomenon faces backlash in East Asia

Korean agency speculates protection of local dramas, media industry as motive behind East Asia's rollback on Korean dramas

The Korea Times
Monday, January 16, 2006

By Park Chung-a

The local soap opera "My Lovely Sam-soon" is currently airing primetime in Taiwan. The hit drama is the latest in the booming Korean wave (hallyu), following the huge success of "Jewel in the Palace" there last year.

However, there are signs that everything might not be so rosy for Korean dramas in Taiwan as well as the rest of East Asia. According to a Hong Kong daily last week, the Taiwanese government is considering a ban on the broadcast of foreign dramas during prime time, a measure that seems to be directed against popular Korean dramas.

Yao Wenzhi, head of the Taiwanese Government Information Office, said in a parliamentary interpellation that his office was reviewing a ban or restriction on foreign dramas from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., the Taiwanese daily Wenweipo reported.

Television channels in Taiwan have broadcast hit Korean dramas such as "Jewel in the Palace," "My Lovely Sam-soon" and "Full House" during primetime, and their audience ratings have been surpassing those of local dramas.

Previous to the debate in Taiwan, some Chinese media outlets also decided to cut Korean dramas from their television broadcasts. China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television recently announced that it will cut the quota of Korean dramas by half this year.

China's state-run CCTV along with several provincial television stations also expressed their intention to telecast more dramas from Hong Kong and Taiwan, diversifying the source of foreign dramas, most of which came from Korea last year.

In Japan, a comic book titled "Hyom-hallyu," meaning "Anti-Korean wave," has sold more than 300,000 copies. The story is of a Japanese high school student who comes to realize "the real ugly nature" of Korea.

According to Kwon Ki-young, a manager of Korea Culture & Content Agency, the reason countries in Chinese Economic Area have decided to undermine the Korean wave is to protect their own dramas and support their own movie and television industries.

"In Taiwan, at least four to five Korean dramas are being broadcast every night. If you considered rebroadcasts by cable television channels, the number goes up even more," Kwon told The Korea Times. "Also, while exporting some dramas at a very high price, many Korean drama production companies dump many at a very low price, which is not desirable for building a trustful business relationship."

Kim Tae-won, a managing director of drama production company Olive 9 pointed out that spreading hallyu through unilateral investment rather than a cultural exchange and coalition only sparks animosity from local people toward Korean pop culture.

"The best way to continue hallyu in China and other economies is to pursue its localization, which means producing dramas in China with Chinese staff and supply them directly to the country," said Kim.

"Many Korean production companies in China give the impression that they are obsessed only with making money through the export of dramas and movies rather than sharing their know-how with locals."

During a forum on hallyu contents held in Beijing, Hong Kong and Japan held by Korea Press Foundation in November, panel members from China and South Korea agreed that the current hallyu is only a one-way export of culture without any co-production or cultural exchange.

They said this not only shuns the counterpart countries but also lead them to seek for an new alternative to hallyu.

"Like Hyundai Motors which could draw success in China by employing local staff and an appropriate cooperation regarding manufacturing industry, Korean drama production companies and entertainment companies which target Chinese market should also pursue an appropriate level of cooperation," said Kwon.

"Only when Koreans realize the importance of building such a reciprocal and trustful relationship with China, can the future of hallyu be bright. More and more Korean movie directors and production companies should team up with those from other Asian countries."