The untimely death of Kim Mi-soo on Wednesday was not the first controversy for “Snowdrop,” a romantic melodrama that marked the Korean series debut of Walt Disney and its Disney Plus streaming service.
Produced by powerhouse JTBC and marking the acting debut of Jisoo, part of K-pop girl group Blackpink, “Snowdrop” on paper must have looked like a comfortable headline and audience grabber. Instead, since its launch in mid-December, the show has been dogged by claims that it is either trivializing or distorting history.
Its story is set in 1987, a pivotal moment in South Korean history when the country was transitioning from dictatorship to democracy following a student uprising and free and fair elections. Protection against North Korean intervention, however, was used as a justification for brutality by South Korea’s outgoing military regime.
But the series puts the emphasis on romantic intrigue and features a liaison between a South Korean university student (played by Jisoo) and North Korean spy (Jung Hae-in), rather than the twisted political intrigues of the time. In a supporting role, Kim played a nerdy student and telephone operator through whom messages were passed.
Many viewers in Korea, watching on JTBC, were quickly outraged by alleged inaccuracies. The show’s main sponsors Teazen and Puradak Chicken withdrew their support, denied that they knew of “Snowdrop’s” political content, and made groveling apologies to consumers.
Some 30 petitions seeking the show’s removal were organized, with one sent to the country’s president after it had gained 325,000 signatures.
The president’s office chose not to get involved, arguing that the flap arose from incomplete information released by the broadcaster. Instead, work to defuse the situation was passed to the broadcast regulator the Korean Communication Standards Commission (KCSC) and JTBC.
JTBC, claimed it was free to tell any story it liked, and said that viewers would understand more when they had watched all 16 episodes. To date only seven have aired. But JTBC also threatened to sue the show’s detractors for libel or slander.
On Wednesday, a lawsuit brought by a civic association was thrown out by the Seoul Western District Court. But the court’s verdict is a hollow victory for the producers and broadcasters.
“Even if ‘Snowdrop’ is based on a distorted historical viewpoint as claimed by the complaint, it is difficult to believe that viewers will blindly accept it,” the court said.