'Han liu' brings culture of China to South Korea

( ) Updated: 2016-05-19 13:44:24

'Han liu' brings culture of China to South Korea

Hu Ge as Mei Changsu in Nirvana in Fire. [Photo/IC]

Switch on a TV channel in South Korea and you are likely to hear Chinese. Chinese TV shows are heading to South Korea and setting off "han liu" (汉流), or literally a wave of China.

Nirvana in Fire sets social media ablaze

Domestic costume drama Nirvana in Fire was broadcast in Chinese with Korean subtitles at the end of 2015. CJ Entertainment, one of the media giants in South Korea, used the line "I want to choose you, your highness King Jing" in the preview in its original language. The show became an instant hit, as it was at home, as soon as it went on air. According to People's Daily, the term Nirvana in Fire also became a hot word on South Korea's social media.

There are two indexes when judging the popularity of a TV drama in South Korea: the ratings, and number of views online. When Nirvana was on air last December, the series ranked No 7 in online purchases, as viewers are required to pay to view dramas online. In a country that produces a considerable volume of dramas every year, it is quite difficult even for domestically produced works to squeeze into the top 10 list, let alone a drama from abroad.

The popularity of Nirvana also raised sales of peripheral products. Tours on filming locations offered by travel agencies exceeded their capacity, and publication right of the Korean-translated namesake novel, which the series is based on, was also highly sought-after by publishers.

Seo Miyoung, a member of Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange, has been a fan of Chinese actor Hu Ge (who starred as the protagonist Mei Changsu in Nirvana) for years. At the 10th Asian TV Drama Conference held in Fukuoka of Japan last Fall, Seo witnessed her idol taking home the award for "Asian Special Contribution Award".

"I learnt that the latest TV series starring Hu Ge is a hit in China, and that it will also be broadcast in Korea. We are all very happy about that," said Seo, who work for the Foundation to encourage cooperation and exchange between the film and TV sectors of China and South Korea.

Related: How 'Nirvana in Fire' became a hit abroad

Domestic hits tickle Koreans' taste

Chinese dramas are well received in South Korea, just as works from the US and Japan are. According to a report by South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, kung fu- and costume-themed productions were very popular among male audiences in their 40s in the past. However, with the recent hits like Young Sherlock, The Four and The Virtuous Queen of Han, all created based on Chinese history, the audience base have become younger with more and more fans in their 20s and 30s and a significant rise in female viewers.

Zhonghua TV, a station established in 2004 designated at broadcasting Chinese dramas, films, documentaries and variety shows, is currently showing many dramas that were also highly-rated in China, such as the controversial The Empress of China starring Fan Bingbing, and The Disguiser, also starring Hu Ge.

During an interview with People's Daily, a representative from Zhonghua TV said the station takes several aspects into consideration when selecting productions. The familiarity of the cast to South Korean audiences is a big factor to consider; works starring Fan Bingbing, Ruby Lin, Hu Ge and Wang Kai are regarded as preferred choices. Dramas centered on Chinese history, such as costume dramas on Tang (AD 618-907) and Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasties and stories on the Three Kingdoms (AD 220-280), also strike a chord with the South Korean audiences.

According to Zhonghua TV, domestically hit productions also suit the tastes of South Korean viewers, as a good work will be appreciated anywhere in the world. Dramas on modern lives in China and South Korea are very similar in nature hence the station prefers to import costume dramas instead. With the ever-rising quality of Chinese productions, the station also plans to raise the quota of Chinese dramas in all genres in the future.

The Long March rebroadcast three times

"Understanding China opens the door to the future," said Cho Jae-gu, founder and former CEO of Zhonghua TV. Zhonghua TV was established to let South Korean audiences know the real China and learn about the politics, societal issues and culture of China. The Long March, a drama that tells the story of the long march by the Chinese Community Party, was rebroadcast three times since its original airing in 2004, as it stirred the interests of both the general public and the South Korean politicians.

It is undisputable that Chinese dramas are gaining popularity in South Korea, said Cho. Aside from Zhonghua TV, ChingTV, TVB Korea and Wuxia TV are three other stations that specialize in showing Chinese programs. Furthermore, watching programs in Chinese with Korean subtitles has become an important channel to learn the Chinese language.

Free trade agreement between China and South Korea has taken effect since Dec 20 last year. In response, Shanghai and Seoul has each hosted week-long film weeks aimed at promoting cultural and filming cooperation and exchanges under a freely trading environment between the two countries. Han Sukhee, Consul General of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai, believes that exchange on showbiz between China and South Korea are closer than ever and that she hopes the bond will be even more tighter in the future.

And the bond is getting stronger. CJ Entertainment, aside from importing Chinese programs, is also working with China to produce dramas. Love Through a Millennium, a Chinese drama based on South Korea's Queen Inhyun's Man, topped viewership ratings among its peers during the period it was broadcast. Zhonghua TV is also paying attention to works adapted from online novels in China.

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