‘Arthdal Chronicles’ criticism gets louder: The tvN series is being accused of plagiarizing ‘Game of Thrones’ and being too boring

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‘Arthdal Chronicles’ criticism gets louder: The tvN series is being accused of plagiarizing ‘Game of Thrones’ and being too boring


Many “Game of Thrones” fans accused “Arthdal Chronicles” of stealing ideas from the hit HBO show. From top, Melisandre, known as the Red Woman in “Game of Thrones” and Taealha in “Arthal Chronicles.” Above, Queen Daenerys from “Game of Thrones” and Asahon from the tvN series. [HBO/CJ ENM]

Cable channel tvN’s new drama series “Arthdal Chronicles” was bombarded with controversies before its first episode premiered. But it faced an even bigger mess as criticisms of the show grew so loud that Studio Dragon, entertainment company CJ ENM’s drama production studio, had to take action.

Before the drama made it to air, media reports revealed that the production had violated labor laws. In April, the show’s crew told Hope Solidarity Labor Union and the Hanbit Media Labor Rights Center that they had been subject to a “murderous” working environment that violated the 68 hours per week they had agreed to. The organizations reported Studio Dragon to the Seoul Employment and Labor Administration. The standards were agreed upon and announced by the studio last September to enhance the labor environment of its staff.

As public disapproval escalated, the studio sent out their defense via email to the press this past weekend. The company insists that it had abided by its own labor rules, but admitted that they had filmed for 113 hours during the week they went to Brunei in order to make the most out of their time shooting overseas. The studio denied reports that an injured staff member was ignored and told to continue working. The studio said that it only found out about the injury after the staff had returned to Korea and claimed that there was no evidence that the injury was due to excessive labor.

But the labor issues were only the beginning of what has proven to be a headache of a rollout for the series.

Looking familiar

After the second episode of “Arthdal Chronicles” aired on June 2, the show’s producer Kim Won-seok took to Facebook to describe how he was feeling about the criticism his project was facing.

“I just have to be the guy who doesn’t work hard. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t diligent enough, but I will think of it that way, because otherwise, [the reality] hurts too much.”

When some people showed concerns, he later uploaded another post, saying, “Thank you all [for your concern]. It just meant that I will work harder until the end. You don’t need to worry about me.”

To ensure that Korea’s first ancient historical drama was a success, the studio brought on a star-studded cast: Jang Dong-gun, Song Joong-ki, Kim Ji-won and Kim Ok-vin.

The series also drew a great deal of attention because of its enormous budget. A total of 54 billion won ($45.65 million) is said to have been used to produce this drama, which peeked the interest of many viewers.

When the show finally made its debut, viewers were not happy with what they saw, and they weren’t hesitant to express how they feel.

Soon after the first two episodes aired, pictures of the characters lined up next to characters from the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones” floated online. Images of the Iron Throne from the HBO series and the throne that Jang sits on in “Arthdal Chronicles” looked awfully similar, according to many “Game of Thrones” fans.

The dispute was further aggravated because the drama promoted itself as the Korean version of “Game of Thrones,” but local fans argued that “Arthdal Chronicles” outright plagiarized the original.


From left, Jang Dong-gun plays Tagon, a ruthless war hero determined to do anything to become the first king of Arthdal. In the middle, Song Joong-ki plays Eunseom, who was born under a blue star, and is said to bring destruction to Arthdal. After he lost both of his parents, he grows up with the Wahan tribe but remains segregated from them due to his strange physical appearance and enhanced abilities. Above, Kim Ji-won plays Tanya, a descendant of the Wahan tribe. Her peaceful days with Eunseom and the tribe are destroyed when warriors, led by Tagon, attack their village and take them away from their home to become slaves of Arthdal. [CJ ENM]

“After watching the fourth episode, I strongly feel that ‘Chronicles’ plagiarized ‘Thrones,’” read a comment posted on the Naver page for the drama. “The main character who interacts with animals, which happen to be wolves; conflict between sovereign and divine powers; two worlds separated by a great wall, etc. There are simply too many to list one by one. Anyone who has seen ‘Game of Thrones’ would see the likeness. Isn’t this too much?”

Others have also complained about the show’s poor use of CGI to create the mythical lands of Arthdal and slow-paced storyline that spent four episodes introducing various characters and plot lines, making viewers lose interest.

Strangely enough, comments left on shortened clips of the show on Naver TV are overwhelmingly positive. Some people wrote that the story was getting interesting and that it was “fresh” and different from typical TV dramas that center around relationships and love triangles.

The drama also seems to be listening to viewers’ opinions. Special video clips that help viewers understand the complicated storyline after each episode ends were filled with comments complaining that the narration was hard to follow because of its fast pace. Beginning with the fourth episode, subtitles were added to make it easier for viewers to understand.

The viewership rating for the show’s fourth episode was 7.7 percent - a middle-of-the-road result considering how much the studio spent to make the show. Its predecessors such as “Mr. Sunshine” (2018) or “Goblin” (2016) recorded 18.1 percent and 20.5 percent for their final episodes, and they did not have budgets anywhere close to “Arthdal.”

Producers dropped another surprise for viewers on Monday evening: Nichkhun of the boy group 2PM and Jisoo of the girl group Blackpink will be featuring in the latter half of the series. The show has kept their appearances a secret in order to avoid spoiling the show’s plot.

Jisoo will make just a short cameo appearance, but producers say that Nichkhun will play a role that will leave a strong impression, even though this is his first appearance in a local drama series.

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]

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