‘Voice’ K-Drama Age Adjustment Shows OCN Should Be Praised For Not Bending Backwards For Censorship [Opinion]

When I first watched Voice, the first K-drama to air this year under the Orion Cinema Network (OCN), I was both shocked and surprised at the direction it went. I’ve been watching K-dramas since 2010, and really started to dive into them around 2013. I will tell you that despite the genre, there are certain “rules and conditions” that seem synonymous across all K-dramas. When it comes to depictions of violence and shock aversion, Voice seemed to throw those “rules and conditions” out the door.

Heo Ji Hye's murder in 'Voice' first episode.
In the first episode, Heo Ji Hye -- the wife of Detective Moo Jin Hyuk -- is brutally murdered with a kettlebell. [Image by the Orion Cinema Network (OCN)/Screen Capture from Episode 1 - 'A Voice in the Dark']

OCN did not hold back on making their viewers cringe in shock as the first scenes of Voice‘s first episode showed a brutal murder of a woman named Heo Ji Hye, who is the main character Moo Jin Hyuk’s wife, by a serial killer with a kettlebell. The camera does not black out right before the actual act of murder, but shows the murder itself. We actually watch the victim getting her head caved in with a kettlebell though it is blurred out to an extent.

Apparently, this more intense direction for suspenseful melodramatic K-dramas proved to be popular as the viewership ratings provided by AGB Nielsen Korea and TNmS Media Korea were high for a K-drama on a Korean cable network. However, there were some viewers who felt it was way too much, especially for a K-drama rated for viewers 15-years-old and older. Enough complaints accumulated to put Voice through censorship review for, you guessed it, depictions of violence and shock aversion by the Korean Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), as reported by Korean news outlet Nate.

Right after the censorship review, Kim Hong Sun, the producer of Voice, made an official statement on the matter pertaining to the remaining episodes during a press conference.

“We are showing certain visuals and sounds according to its situation correctly. Due to some discomfort the viewers have felt, we will adjust a few things and make sure it doesn’t disrupt the flow of the drama.”

Apparently, that adjustment was the viewer rating as it adjusted from 15-years-old to 19-years-old. According to Naver, OCN claims they adjusted the age rather than tone down the violence because they “want to keep the story as realistic as possible.” Take note that the plot of Voice is based off of real life events that did happen. Ergo, adjusting it to “make some feel comfortable” would have ruined the integrity of the story.

During a disturbance call, a body wrapped in plastic is found in the closet of a hoarder granny's apartment. [Image by the Orion Cinema Network (OCN)/Screen Capture from Episode 6 - 'Secret of the Trash House: The Pupil in the Wall']

Personally for me, I am very happy that OCN in their very formal and civilized way told the viewers who were uneasy watching Voice and the censorship review to “screw off.” In my opinion, this direction the Korean cable network is taking is pivotal in Korean television in general.

OCN Chose The Integrity Of Voice Over Pleasing Everyone

Usually, any network television station (doesn’t have to be Korean) will try to produce a television show that pleases as many people possible. The higher the ratings, the higher the profit right? Needless to say, but Voice is unique among other K-dramas as it really pushes boundaries of comfort. Like I said earlier, I’ve been watching K-dramas since 2010, and K-dramas, even suspenseful melodramas, in the past have never been this intense.

That intensity and suspense actually helps OCN deliver the story that Voice is trying to tell. The depictions of violence and shock aversion assist in the aggressive portrayal of good versus evil. If OCN were to bend over backwards for the censors and actually minimize the two, the antagonist wouldn’t be as feared or disliked as if he was not. That goes against the K-drama’s integrity. Also to OCN, it is the primary reason why they changed the age rating to 19-years-old.

OCN Chose To Be Unique Among Other Korean Networks

K-dramas may update with the times but for the longest time, they were usually cookie-cutter versions of themselves. Romantic comedies are very similar vice the characters and plot. Melodramas are very similar vice the characters and plot. Historic fiction, action, suspense, and so on and so forth fall in the cookie-cutter, ticky-tacky assembly line. I mean why change the format when it works right?

For most Korean cable networks, they want to stand out. Probably the biggest reason is that they air on pay-to-watch television so they have to entice viewers by “not being the norm.” OCN surely fits that bill with Voice by showing intense situations even though they risked being rejected because they weren’t the status quo. That definitely showed when it was being reviewed for censorship.

OCN Stayed True To The Core Fan Base

There is a reason why Voice is the number one K-drama airing on Korean cable channels right now. Just because it isn’t what is shown on Korean public television doesn’t mean it can’t be popular and earning six percent viewership for being on a network in which viewers pay to watch it is an accomplishment.

If Voice went through the censorship ringer, it runs the gamut of affecting the core viewership, the fans who loved it since day one, in either liking it more or liking it less. I believe K-dramas are going in such a direction because Koreans are getting tired of the same old thing over and over again. I am not saying said other K-dramas are bad, but it can become tiresome if that is what is available through the years, over and over again. Take U.S. television for example, many other shows are starting to make it simply because they aren’t crime dramas or hospital dramas. Seriously, how many investigative crime dramas can the U.S. pump out? Bones, Castle, the many spin-offs of CSI, 24, and more.

OCN Stayed True To U.S. International Fans

I think OCN and other Korean cable networks are attempting to create content not primarily for Koreans, but also for an international fan base. tvN did attempt to do a Korean adaption of Entourage for example and right now, the K-drama version of Criminal Minds is in the works. These are all U.S. dramas, something I find peculiar with the past two years of K-dramas.

Originally, Korean networks would find influences in other Asian entertainment especially other popular television shows in other Asian countries. Boys Over Flowers is based off of a popular manga of the same name. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo is the K-drama adaption of C-drama Scarlet Heart. Now they are finding influence in U.S. dramas either in shows or in presentation. Voice is surely a K-drama that finds some influence in U.S. dramas in presentation. A lot of the plot twists and a darker direction for example.

Ultimately, we as K-drama fans will see if OCN made the right decision in keeping the integrity of Voice. As of now, it is still doing well especially with the 11th and 12th episodes beginning the true fight between good and evil. With four more episodes left, I can only expect said viewership to go up as K-drama viewers anticipate how it will end. Still, the fact that OCN stayed true to Voice and its primary fan base should be worthy of giving them praise. Other Korean networks would have folded but OCN took a risk, a calculated risk, to remain steadfast and I believe they are reaping the benefits of the choice they made.

Voice airs on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 p.m. KST on OCN. For those who do not have access to Korean cable channels, it can be viewed on DramaFever, Viki, and OnDemandKorea depending on region.

[Featured Image by the Orion Cinema Network (OCN)]