×

Korean TV stars shine behind Bamboo Curtain

Country influenced China's TV, pix, games, fashion

SHANGHAI — South Korea’s TV stars have taken China’s teens and twentysomethings by storm, another sign that the country is opening up to foreign influences.

Other evidence: The hottest discussions aired on Chinese webs are about developments in Korean drama; interviews with actor-singer Jae-wook Ahn run and rerun on major cable stations; and posters of actress Hee-sun Kim covering walls in street corner cafes.

The “Korea Current,” or “hanryu” as it is called locally, started in 1998 when Korean rock group Clon hit Taiwan. Korea fever spread to mainland China and Hong Kong, carried through TV, movies, games, food and fashion.

The biggest contributor, however, is television drama. China began importing Korean shows in 1995, and the number has increased steadily since then. In 2000, the value of imported programming was $1.97 million. This year it will rocket thanks to the Korean drama fad.

Almost all of South Korea’s top TV shows are now available behind the Bamboo Curtain, including runaway hits “Autumn Tale” and “Soonpoong Obstetrics.”

And the Chinese government agreed last month to change the law restricting Korean content to 15% of TV airtime and end regulations that made it difficult for Korean celebrities to enter the Chinese entertainment market.

This is a sea change from a year ago when the government banned Koreans from holding concerts in the country for six months after a group of entertainers canceled their live show at the last minute.

Jin-hong Chung, professor of communications at the Korean National U. of Arts, says: “The main reason for this trend is that Hong Kong, which was once the culture base for all of China, is no longer functioning as such. Korea just stumbled into the niche market.

“I think the Chinese find comfort in Korean celebrities because they don’t look very different from them and often display sentiments (in dramas and movies) that they can relate to.”

That Korea fever is hot and growing is most obvious in a very unlikely sector: tourism. Huge numbers of Chinese female fans pour into Seoul to see their favorite Korean actors and actresses.

In early August, 250 fans from eight countries, including China, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, came to South Korea for the Ahn Jae-wook Forever Summer Camp to hang out with the singer-thesp famous for dramas including “Star in My Heart” and “Goodbye, My Love.”

On Aug. 18, 500 teens from China flooded Seoul to attend the Korea Wave Music Camp, organized by entertainment company Star Korea. The celebrities on hand include Ahn plus rock groups NRG and Position.

Similar events are wildly popular in China, where recently established branches of companies including Star Korea stage regular concerts, almost always to full houses. Favorites at these shows include actors Dong-gun Jang and In-pyo Cha and singing groups Baby Vox and Clon.

Meanwhile, China’s favorite Korean celebrities Ahn and Kim have been cashing in on their popularity. Ahn recently modeled for a TV monitor company and boosted sales by 150%. The actor is also scheduled to star in a Chinese drama for $8,000 per episode, a royal sum by mainland standards.

Kim, who starred in last year’s summer blockbuster “Bichunmoo” and drama “Mr. Q,” signed a two-year contract in early August to become the face for a major Chinese mobile phone company, TCL, reportedly receiving about $1.5 million for the job.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Born This Way AE Network

    A&E Sets Holiday Finale Special for 'Born This Way'

    A&E Network has set a holiday finale special for “Born This Way,” the Emmy-winning reality series that chronicles the transition to adulthood for eight young men and women with Down syndrome. A&E plans to air the hourlong finale in December for the docu-reality series that ran four seasons, starting in 2015. Before the special debuts, [...]

  • Melanie Hamilton - Comcast Spotlight

    Comcast Spotlight Hires Google Exec Melanie Hamilton as VP National Sales

    Comcast Spotlight, the ad-sales division of Comcast Cable, named Melanie Hamilton as VP, national sales. An 11-year veteran of Google, Hamilton was most recently the internet giant’s head of industry for the telecom sector and led its AT&T account. At Comcast Spotlight, Hamilton will oversee the company’s national sales strategy across both holding companies and [...]

  • HBO-Chernobyl

    Sky Outlines Plans for 'Cinematic' Original Content to Rival HBO, Showtime

    Comcast-backed Sky has outlined plans for expanded and “cinematic” original content to rival U.S. networks HBO and Showtime. Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Thursday, Sky managing director of content Zai Bennett explained some of the ways the broadcaster plans to invest in original content after its programming budget was recently doubled by new owner Comcast. [...]

  • TV Ratings: ‘BH90210’ Drops Again, 'Big

    TV Ratings: ‘BH90210’ Drops Again, 'Big Brother' Tops Wednesday

    Fox’s “BH90210” revival continued to slide in the Wednesday night ratings. After posting an impressive 1.5 debut rating in the 18-49 demographic, the show slid 40% to a 0.95 in week two, and now an extra 15% to a 0.8 in week three. The show’s total viewership has also declined slightly from last week’s 2.5 [...]

  • Hyde Park Entertainment chief Ashok Amritraj

    Ashok Amritraj's Hyde Park Launches Large-Scale Production Venture in India

    Top-level talent including Paul Feig, Gurinder Chadha and Anurag Kashyap are on board as leading Hollywood independent Hyde Park Entertainment makes a major launch into the Indian production scene. The company is headed by Ashok Amritraj, the highest-profile Indian executive based in Los Angeles. The diversification move is made possible by the growing success of [...]

  • Sean Spicer Dancing With the Stars

    Sean Spicer Hopes 'Dancing With the Stars' Gig Will 'Move the Country Forward'

    In the face of a swift backlash, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he hoped his role as a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” can help “move the country forward in a positive way.” Spicer told CNN on Thursday that his “DWTS” posting was about entertainment, not politics. ABC revealed Spicer [...]

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders

    Sarah Huckabee Sanders Will Join Fox News as Contributor

    Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the more controversial holders of the office of White House Press Secretary in recent memory, will join Fox News Channel as a contributor. The former Trump administration advisor is expected to contribute commentary to Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox News Digital and the Fox Nation streaming service, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content