‘Fog’ lifts love onto social agenda

Skein about intergeneration affair stirs pot

SEOUL — A controversial TV series is daring to shed light on social change in deeply conservative Korea.

“Blue Fog” is a 20-part skein about a married man in his 40s who gives up his family and successful career when he falls in love with a single dancer in her early 20s.

Airing on KBS-2, one of Korea’s three major broadcasters, the illicit love affair is leading a wave of shock shows that have replaced the traditional Cinderella-style tales.

“Until recently, television was thought of as a role model for its viewers, and the broadcasters aired programs accordingly,” Korean Broadcasting Institute researcher Youn-kum Ha says. “But more dramas are becoming blunt about featuring taboo subjects, partly to attract viewers.”

“Blue Fog” started with a meager 9% viewing rate back in March, but had rocketed up to 21% by the time the 15th and 16th episodes unspooled earlier this month.

Critics denounced the program as immoral before it began airing. Some even claimed it encouraged statutory rape because of the wide age gap between the couple. Harsh words poured in on the KBS Web site, with many chastising the company for showing it during the weekend family hour at 8 p.m.

Social conscience

Viewer reaction changed when auds realized that producer Min-soo Pyo was out for more than sensationalism — he wanted to make a social statement.

“In a patriarchal society like ours, men live with certain pressures, such as endless responsibility towards the family and community. But they never stop to look to see if they’re happy,” Pyo says. “I wanted to tell a story about such a man. This is not a love story; it’s about a man who finds himself through love.”

With such an attitude, and little sexual content beyond kissing, the drama is being touted as a “socially significant” program that’s sparking open debates on key social issue.

One talkshow recently held a vox pop, asking people on the street whether the hero should go for love or honor his responsibility to his family.

But “Blue Fog” is an anomaly. The general opinion is that many other dramas featuring ugly images of broken homes are cheap ploys to attract auds.

Such dramas include “Rule of Marriage” (MBC), about a divorced woman involved with a younger man; “Full Sun” (KBS-2), about a money-hungry man deserting a pregnant girlfriend; “Dear Mother, Sister” (MBC), about a surrogate mother hired to birth a son; and “Ondal Princes” (MBC), about a man with three wives.

Shock appeal

“We Love, What Can We Do?” (KBS-1) is a particularly controversial story about a divorced woman who marries a single man, not knowing that she’s pregnant with her former husband’s child. This stirred much criticism from females, who make up about 70% of evening drama auds.

“There have never been so many primetime programs with such outrageous plots at once,” says Korean Broadcasting Institute researcher Chang-yun Joo. “This is terrible, because it standardizes broken homes and gives youths wrong ideas about what a normal family should be.”