Modern version of a classic tale finds success

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Modern version of a classic tale finds success

One of the biggest hit dramas today is “Kwageol Chun-hyang” on KBS2-TV every Monday and Tuesday night at 10:00 p.m. Translated as “Chun-hyang the Super Heroine,” this series is attracting a big following, evident in the high audience rating of 26 percent, a leap from 13 percent when it launched last month, which is something of a surprise to KBS as well. The TV drama’s official fan club now numbers about 70,000 members, starting from a mere 4,000.
The budget for one episode of “Chun-hyang” is about 60 million won ($54,000), which is pretty low, compared to other blockbuster TV dramas costing around 100 million won. “Chun-hyang” was also filmed only in Korea, declining to follow the “let’s film abroad” fad on the TV drama scene.
This low-budget, completely homegrown drama, however, is taking the public by storm. Such dialogue lines from the show as “Don’t ya bother” or “Hey, you, ajeossi,” (a middle-aged man) are even becoming popular with adolescents.
Based on a folk tale about a star-crossed couple, Chun-hyang and Mong-ryong, the TV drama gives the story a twist by setting it in the present day, which is apparently working. People are getting enthusiastic about the characters in the drama ― Chun-hyang the Super Heroine, Mong-ryong the Hot Blooded and Hak-do the Cold Blooded. So, what’s the secret?
The miniseries follows the basic structure of the folk tale. Chun-hyang (Han Chae-yeong) and Mong-ryong (Jae Hee) meet, fall in love and then have to say good-bye against their wishes. Mong-ryong then comes back home after passing a state exam with flying colors, only to find Chun-hyang being preyed upon by Hak-do.
The charm of this modern-day adaptation lies in the subtle and fun, twist. Everyone feels surprised and refreshed with the up-to-date setting of something that’s almost common knowledge.
The characters’ use of modern speech is also a possible reason that many viewers are drawn to the retelling of the classic tale. To Mong-ryong, who’s concerned about something, Chun-hyang casually says, “So you’re putting on airs at a place like this, huh? You’ve seen too many movies.” Mong-ryong is no slouch either. After they are apparently married, he asks Chun-hyang, “Hey, you’re regretting this already, huh?”
In the folk tale, both Chun-hyang and Mong-ryong are sweet 16, as they are in the TV drama.
Minor characters playing villains are also drawing the attention of the audience. Some viewers have even asked the TV producers to concoct a happy ending for Chun-hyang and Hak-do (Eom Tae-ung), far different from the original. Hak-do, a villain in the folk tale, is portrayed in the modern version as an affluent, charismatic and well-mannered man.
Kim Yeong-chan, a professor of mass communications at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, says, “Villainous characters are evolving to become more complex and gentle, thus realistic, which brings more sympathy from the viewers.”
Another key factor in its popularity lies in the speedy storytelling. The speed accompanies meticulously calculated directing, shown in the well-structured composition of the characters on screen.
The sound track, composed essentially of rock music, also adds to the roller coaster ride experienced by the audience, many of them young students enjoying winter break.
In this “Chun-hyang the Super Hero” there is of course no serious reflection on life, it is merely for entertainment. With its unexpected success, though, we can anticipate more modern day dramas based on folk tales. KBS-TV has already reportedly started to plan dramas based on the classics “Gu-unmong” and “Baebijangjeon.”


by Baik Sung-ho, Lee Ji-young
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