[ENTERTAINMENT]History Rules the Air Waves on Most Nights

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[ENTERTAINMENT]History Rules the Air Waves on Most Nights

If you are not acquainted with the Korean historical drama "Taejo Wang Gun" ("Wang Gun, the First King") you are definitely out of touch with the currents in Korean popular culture. The drama, which airs on Saturday and Sunday evenings on Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), deals with the life of the legendary Wang Gun, who founded the Koryo dynasty (A.D. 918 - 1392). Since last year, "Wang Gun, the First King" has gained tremendous popularity. The latest episode was watched by 51.1 percent of the TV viewing population, defeating a competing soap opera and news programs.

Mimicking KBS' success, other Korean TV stations are also producing historical dramas. "Wang Gun, the First King" has inspired three competitors bringing the total number of historical dramas to four on three broadcasting stations. You can watch at least one every evening, except Fridays. The one thing they have in common is that they focus on the confrontation between good and evil as personified by a range of colorful characters.

On Monday and Tuesday evenings, "Yeo-in Cheonha" ("Women Who Rule Over the World") is aired on channel six, by the Seoul Broadcasting System. It is set in the Choson dynasty (A.D. 1392 - 1910) and tells the travails of Jung Nan-jung, the daughter of a concubine dealing with the problems of her social status. "Women Who Rule Over the World" is second to "Wang Gun, the First King," in popularity, recording an average viewer rating of 30 percent. "Hong Guk-young," aired at the same time by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, tells the story of Hong Guk-young, also of the Choson period, Korea's longest dynasty, who became very powerful, but was later expelled.

On Wednesday, KBS started airing another historical drama, "Myeongseong Hwanghu" ("Myeongseong, the Last Empress"). It features Lee Mi-yeon, Korea's most sought-after actress, as the Choson lionhearted empress who tried to save her country from being colonized by Japan only to be assassinated.

The popularity of these programs suggests that the TV stations must be making a lot of money from them, but according to the producers of the dramas, the cost of filming runs as high as 60 billion won ($4.6 million). This includes payment to the permanent cast and extras and the cost of building the sets. For "Wang Gun, the First King" the cost of producing a single episode is, on average, 210 million won. Representatives of the broadcasters insist the dramas are made to enhance the station's image rather than for profit.

Kim Jong-seong, a director of "Wang Gun, the First King" suggested that the reason for the programs' popularity is largely economic. "Since the financial crisis, Koreans have withdrawn into themselves. For them, the heroic figures in the historical dramas seem to offer a symbol of hope," he said.

The economic climate in Korea will get better, but the heated interest in the historical dramas will probably remain. The TV stations are planning to produce them for another decade, taking full advantage of this good fortune.

by Chun Su-jin

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