[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Royal rehash sparks fresh controversy

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[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Royal rehash sparks fresh controversy

One of the sure-fire tales to base a TV drama on is that of the temptress Jang Ok-jeong (1662-1701) from the Joseon Dynasty. Local stations have re-created the story numerous times to commercial success. And the actress playing the lead invariably gains stardom.

KBS2-TV this month began a new take on the classic with "Jang Huibin" at 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Critics first scorned the idea of this rehash, saying the network was only jumping on the bandwagon. But viewers don't seem to mind; audience ratings are higher than 15 percent.

It is indeed a dramatic story. Jang Ok-jeong, raised in a middle-class family, decides to approach the royal court after her family comes to ruin. With her comely looks, shrewd nature and a bit of luck, she succeeds in catching the king's attention. In time, she gives birth to a son. When her son becomes the crown prince, she is conferred the court name "Huibin" and the title of first concubine -- quite a success, but not enough to satisfy her ambitions. Using political factions, she dethrones the queen and gains the crown. But her jealousy and ambition get the best of her, and five years later the king strips her of her crown, and calls in the former queen, Inhyeon.

Naturally our heroine gets furious. She comes up with a plan to have a shaman put a curse on the queen, and the queen passes away soon after. The king finds out about Jang's evildoing and orders her to drink poison.

As eventful as the story is, the new show based on it is creating its own spats.

Even before the show began its run, the lead actress, Kim Hye-soo, whose ambitions many say match those of Jang Huibin, found herself in legal trouble. Kim was so desperate to star in the series that she broke a movie contract and was consequently sued by the movie agency. The agency eventually withdrew the suit. Ms. Kim, role in hand, seemed ready to do anything for her role, such as shooting bathing scenes that look gratuitous but boost ratings.

But the lawsuit controversy was just the beginning. One of the drama's production staff at KBS was involved in a fight with a member of the outside production company that makes the drama. The KBS man was whacked over the head with a cell phone, and ended up with five stitches in his forehead. Last week, the Korean Producers Association released a statement saying that its members would no longer employ that production company.

Through it all, the new show has managed to keep going. Perhaps what really interests audiences is not the drama on-screen but off.

"What's on Korean TV" appears Wednesdays in the JoongAng Daily.

by Chun Su-jin

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