Two approaches to grab audiencesKorean television drama has traveled far since its inception in the 1960s. Two well-regarded producers, Kim Jae-hyung and Yoon Seok-ho, are both revered for their high-quality dramatic productions, though each has a different style and employs different techniques.
Mr. Kim is recognized for his work with historical dramas, whose viewers are mostly men. Mr. Yoon’s fame has largely evolved from two romance dramas that swept the hearts of Korean women. Different though they may be, both producers deliver the necessary ingredients of dreams, hope and love to an audience of thousands.
Historical dramas’ appeal widens
Television series produced by Kim Jae-hyung largely focus on historical events.
In the past, historical dramas usually were love stories of kings and queens (or concubines), or heroes battling foreign invasions. Mr. Kim has adopted a different angle. His creative world revolves around men: Ambition, friendship and loyalty lure viewers to his shows.
“Tears of the Dragon,” a tale on the creation of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, drew a 30 percent audience share, on average, when it aired during weekend prime time. The drama “Wang Geun,” on the making of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), fared even better ― up to a 50 percent share at certain times.
First act: My way
After the Korean War, Kim Jae-hyung was told to transfer from an academic to a commercial high school, because his father wanted him to become a tradesman.
A single comment from an acting club teacher ― “You’re talented in theater acting”― cemented his career path.
By his second year of high school, he was voice-acting at a local Christian radio station. In his senior year, he grabbed a “best actor” award in a nationwide competition.
Through college, Mr. Kim soaked up Shakespeare and Yoo Chi-jin, a Korean playwright of the Japanese colonial period. By 1959, Mr. Kim, then a college junior, moved on to producing. That same year, the Korean Broadcasting System hired him as a voice actor and radio show producer.
Three years later, Mr. Kim began filming Korean television drama series. He has stayed behind the camera of major historical TV dramas series ever since.
Second act: My love is the history drama.
“Television dramas of the past were all about love between the daughter of a rich family and the son of a poor family, or vice versa,” Mr. Kim says.
“I hated producing such series,” he confesses. “I wanted something more moving, even when filming stories based on the present.”
Mr. Kim’s vision began to bear fruit when he first perused the Joseonwangjosillok, a chronicle of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) up to its last three kings.
“I asked myself, ‘Aren’t there a lot of stories from history that could be made into a television series?’ ” Mr. Kim recalls. “A lot of writers agreed with my idea.”
The producer has transformed historical drama from a genre strictly for older folks and housewives to one enjoyed by all. “Nowadays, all three major local stations air history dramas,” Mr. Kim says, adding that many young writers express interest in the genre as well.
Third Act: Forty years of producing know-how wrapped up in “The King’s Woman.”
Later this year, the producer will present “The King’s Woman,” a 50-part historical drama series, on SBS. The drama is based on a famous book about the turbulent era of 1591 to 1623, when Japanese invasions, political disputes and wholesale reconstruction swept the nation. The main character is the Joseon Dynasty King Gwang Hae.
“The late 16th century was a period when the nation was in political chaos, and at that moment King Gwang Hae protected this land thanks to his extraordinary diplomatic skills,” Mr. Kim says.
He noted that the Joseonwangjosillok mainly detailed the stories of heroes and winners, and omitted information on King Gwang Hae. Even so, “I think it’s pretty appropriate to air this show, as it reflects the current political and social situation both on domestic and international grounds,” Mr. Kim says. The project has taken 25 years; it began in 1978.
Weepy melodramas are his forte
On this drizzly afternoon, one’s first impression of the producer Yoon Seok-ho could be summed up in one word: blue.
From his hat to his shirt to his casual slacks and glasses, everything was colored blue. It is only May, but Mr. Yoon was geared up for summer.
The producer notched his success by producing two romance dramas, “An Autumn’s Tale” and “Winter Love Song.” Viewers dabbed their eyes during just about every episode of the two dramas.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the television rating company, the dramas drew ratings of 23 and 27 percent of all viewership during prime time. “An Autumn’s Tale” was sold to Asian countries, notably China, Singapore, Indonesia and Taiwan, earning $200,000.
The “Winter Love Song,” also sold abroad, earned three times that amount. Moreover, it’s the first Korean television drama to be aired on the Japan Broadcasting Corp.
The success has provided Mr. Yoon with a nice financial cushion; the producer now receives 15 million won ($12,500) for filming one episode. Mr. Yoon is planning to launch a third story under the title, “The Scent of Summer.”
“I was thinking of making a love story that makes your heart throb,” says Mr. Yoon. “A love that’s destiny and the most beautiful love. A love where a person devotes his entirety.” In his soft voice, Mr. Yoon asks, “Isn’t love the most important aspect of life?”
Mr. Yoon points out that he wants to project a young man and a woman who choose love not with their mind but with their heart.
“The main characters will trust their beating hearts and choose a love of destiny to a love they are accustomed to, and that will make the people around them miserable,” Mr. Yoon predicts.
“In this television series there will be a lot of rain,” Mr. Yoon says. “The screen will be softly moist and like the feeling of a soft romantic mist.”
Mr. Yoon says the only thing on his mind for this project ― every minute of every day ― is hunting down the most beautiful settings on the peninsula, places like the woods of Muju, North Jeolla province, or the tea plantations in Boseong in South Jeolla province.
“In my first two dramas most of the scenes were taken on Ganghwa island, but I want to film this project in Jeolla province,” Mr. Yoon says.
The bachelor relates how a necklace of African origin that he came to see by accident will take a key role in his coming drama. The item “is supposed to hold special powers, which bring lovers together even after death,” he says.
Mr. Yoon’s first two dramas have been criticized by some viewers for overemphasizing love.
He responds that television dramas “are actually fantasy, and I believe they give [people] a sense of alternative satisfaction.
“How many people can really say that they’ve had a love experience where they gave it their all?” he continues. “In reality most people compromise or just plainly give up after they tire of desiring love. If such people watch a romantic show and can restore their hope in love, wouldn’t their hope in humanity and in life also return?”
He will begin filming later this month. What about all that free time?
“I travel,” Mr. Yoon replies. “I visited Nepal three months ago and I can’t forget the days I spent at a lodge during my visit.”
It may strike some as ironic that even though Mr. Yoon can weave romantic TV tales that make grown women weep, he is not married.
“I’m still single,” he says. “Maybe I don’t get along with reality and slake my thirst for pure, innocent love by filming romantic stories.”
by Jung Hyung-mo, Chae In-taek