To be fair, it is understandable that many would say Lee Min Ho is the primary reason to watch The Legend of the Blue Sea. He is one of the Hallyu stars who is often the center of attention when it comes to gossip and rumors, something he wants to end with legal action actually, as reported by International Business Times earlier this year. He was even subject to a ridiculous rumor pairing him with Taylor Swift. Needless to say, the sudden boom in gossip news pertaining to "All things Hallyu" but more so to Korean actors is debilitating for seasoned fans.
Because of all the white noise caused by the Lee Min Ho gossip spreading like wildfire on the internet, many may not realize this probability about The Legend of the Blue Sea: the reason why it is so popular is because of Jun Ji Hyun more so than Lee Min Ho.
At this point, many K-drama fans, especially the newer ones or those who are Minoz (official fan club of Lee Min Ho), are about to brandish their sharp words to retaliate. However, there is rationale to why Jun Ji Hyun is probably the primary reason why The Legend of the Blue Sea is popular and we can start with the series itself.
According to the synopsis of the plot for The Legend of the Blue Sea, the K-drama is about a mermaid named Shim Chung (Jun Ji Hyun). Back in the Joseon Dynasty, she fell in love with Kim Dam Lim (Lee Min Ho), a son of a magistrate who saved her. Fast-forward to present time, she meets Heo Joon Jae (also Min Ho), a cold-blooded, conman who uses his looks, wit, and hypnosis to pull off his schemes and who happens to look like Dam Lim.
Summarized, The Legend of the Blue Sea is a fantasy romance that spans time.
[WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!]
Within that time, Shim Chung has spent her possibly-immortal life in the ocean, ergo she is ignorant not to the changes humanity has gone through such as improvements in technology or preferences to fashion, but cultural basics such as language and mannerisms. This fact gives K-drama fans the opportunity to view Chung in some unique and often hilarious situations when she replaces her mermaid's tail for human legs and is traversing above the ocean.
Needless to say but Jun Ji Hyun's character, Shim Chung, is far more interesting than Lee Min Ho's characters, Kim Dae Lim and Heo Joon Jae. To put specifics into perspective, the details of Min Ho's character can be seen in other characters from other K-dramas, especially this year. Professional conman: Seo In Guk in 38 Task Force. Flower boy in a foreign country: Song Joong Ki in Descendants of the Sun or Ji Chang Wook in The K2. Playing two different characters in different times: IU in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Now think about Ji Hyun's character's specifics. Just the fact she plays a mermaid learning the ways of humanity makes her role far more unique than Min Ho's. The only role close to what Ji Hyun is playing was back in the 2014 K-drama The Idle Mermaid, a modern-day Korean retelling of Han Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid starring Jo Bo Ah.
Now that we reasoned why Jun Ji Hyun is responsible for the high viewership pertaining to her role in The Legend of the Blue Sea, we can detail the hype she has made prior to the K-drama airing. As mentioned earlier, The Legend of the Blue Sea is a fantasy romance that spans time. This is Lee Min Ho's first time acting in such a particular K-drama. Ji Hyun is known for being in a fantasy romance that spans time, and it is the first K-drama to have an international impact (mostly in China) financially for the Korean television industry and its actors, My Love From Another Star. Thanks to this K-drama, Ji Hyun has become the second-wealthiest Korean K-drama and K-movie star in the industry, though she is currently not the highest-paid. The only Korean actor to surpass her was her My Love From Another Star co-star Kim Soo Hyun. Also, just imagine how seasoned K-drama fans felt when they heard Jun Ji Hyun would star in another series in the same sub-genre as My Love From Another Star. The reactions must have been epic.
Even though this article rationalizes why Jun Ji Hyun is the main reason why The Legend of the Blue Sea is popular, that doesn't take away from Lee Min Ho's popularity either. Just look at the viewership ratings. TNmS Media Korea records the second episode earned 16.2 percent for the nation and 20.1 percent for the Seoul National Capital Area. As for AGB Nielsen Korea, the same episode earned 15.1 percent for the nation and 16.4 percent for the Seoul National Capital Area. No K-drama earns such high viewership, let alone over 20 percent in viewership by its second episode, with just one star. It took the collective efforts of Jun Ji Hyun, Lee Min Ho, and the rest of the cast and crew to pull it off.
The Legend of the Blue Sea airs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 p.m. KST on SBS. For those who do not have access to Korean free-to-watch channels, the series can be viewed for free, with ads, exclusively on Viki.
[Featured Image by the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS)]