One of the most-popular plot points utilized in Korean dramas, or K-dramas, ever since the Hallyu or Korean Wave took off are contract marriages. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, contract marriages are marriages made out of benefit for both people in it. Usually, the groom comes from a wealthy background and is searching a contract marriage to appease some sort of condition through money. As for the bride, she is often from a common, sometimes poor, background who finds the money important for one reason or the other.
Contract marriage K-dramas were at their peak the decade after the turn of the century. Within that time period, Full House (2004) and Delightful Girl (2005) were the top contract marriage dramas with the former being best with a premier viewership rating of 25 percent average and a final viewership rating of 40 percent average. Though the storytelling and direction were amazing at the time, a lot of the success Full House had probably centered on its main stars, Rain (Please Come Back Mister) and Song Hye Kyo (Descendants of the Sun).
After 2010, however, contract marriage K-dramas took a nosedive in ratings overall. To be fair, K-dramas in general were affected with the decline, but with contract marriage K-dramas only earning an average of five percent viewership, they were surely a loss for the broadcasting systems they aired on. That is why currently-airing Marriage Contract is garnering plenty of attention. It is the first contract marriage K-drama to break the 20 percent viewership threshold, a feat last accomplished back in 2006 with Goong.
Marriage Contract is a K-drama, airing on the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), starring Lee Seo Jin as Han Ji Hoon and UEE as Kang Hye Soo. Hye Soo is a single mother who struggles to raise her daughter while paying off her late husband’s tantamount debt. Ji Hoon, on the other hand, is the son of a wealthy family. The latter suddenly finds himself seeking a contract marriage to save his mother, who is dying of cirrhosis of the liver. The woman who would sign said contract marriage will donate a part of her liver to save Ji Hoon’s mother. In return, Ji Hoon will pay an exorbitant amount of money. Hye Soo eventually agrees to the contract marriage after learning she has an inoperable brain tumor. In return, Ji Hoon would pay enough money to provide for Hye Soo’s daughter until she reaches adulthood.
The aforementioned synopsis is technically unique from other contract marriage K-dramas because in those dramas, the contract marriage is often made in selfish means, either it be paying off personal debt or fulfilling a requirement for a personal endeavor or venture. In Marriage Contract, both main characters are doing the marriage contract to help another. For Han Ji Hoon, it is for his mother. For Kang Hye Soo, it is for her daughter. K-drama fans recognize this and are able to relate to their situations.
The last time a contract marriage K-drama reached 20 percent was back in 2006 with Goong. That means it took a whole decade for another K-drama of this kind to even reach its success. Why extremely popular contract marriages Fated to Love You and Mask, only reached around 10 percent and they were some of the best-directed K-drama ever made with a ton of star power backing it up.
To see why Marriage Contract is so popular, the 16-episode series airs on MBC on Saturdays and Sundays at 9:45 p.m. KST. For those who do not have access to Korean channels, they can be viewed for free (with ads) on both Viki and DramaFever pending region allowance.
[Image via Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Promotions of “Marriage Contract”]