One of the Korean cable networks starting to make a name for themselves internationally, as well as domestically in South Korea, is the Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (JTBC). Since its launch back in 2011, it has become known for delivering K-dramas with edgier and far more interesting plot concepts. Its Friday and Saturday slot definitely has the most K-dramas, shows that are really pushing limits. Beloved Eun Dong redefined what a romance K-drama was all about. Last really pushed boundaries for being one of the most intense K-dramas at the time of its airing. Ms. Temper & Nam Jung Gi actually switched the dominant personality to the female lead.
However, I think there is something that JTBC is doing that is getting them plenty of positive attention: taking the concepts other Korean television networks have used and making them better.
At this moment, many K-drama fans may be saying my hypothesis is ridiculous, and it can be, as it is based only on two K-dramas at the moment, but two that have happened quite closely in accordance to the K-dramas whose concepts they “borrowed” from. With that in mind, the first one I want to talk about is Fantastic.
The reason why I brought up Fantastic first is because I actually insinuate that its plot is similar to Uncontrollably Fond. However, where Uncontrollably Fond failed in its delivery with the concept, Fantastic succeeded. All one has to do is look at the synopses of both K-dramas to see the similar concepts.
Uncontrollably Fond: Shin Joon Young (Kim Woo Bin) and No Eul (Bae Suzy) were a couple in their teenage years, separated by an ill-fated relationship. Later in life, they meet again when No Eul, who is a documentary producer, is tasked to film the documentary of Joon Young, who is a famous actor-singer. Shin Joon Young agrees to the documentary and even plans to win back No Eul’s heart within three months as he was diagnosed with cancer and only has that amount of time to live.
Fantastic: Lee So Hye (Hyun Joo) is a popular drama series writer and Ryoo Hae Sung (Joo Sang Wook) is a very popular actor who technically is not very good at acting. In the past, the two were working on a drama together. Not only that, they had developed feelings for each other. Because of certain situations, they grew apart. More than 10 years later, they reunite to work on a new drama. Eventually, they fall in love with each other again and want to get their relationship right compared to last time. Sadly, So Hye finds out she has cancer and has only six months to live. As a result, Lee So Hye and Ryoo Hae Sung are doing everything they want to do as a couple with the limited time they have.
As any K-drama fan can see, there are a lot of similarities between the synopses for Fantastic and Uncontrollably Fond. Kim Woo Bin and Joo Sang Wook’s characters are popular actors, while Bae Suzy and Kim Hyun Joo’s characters work in television. One half of each relationship is affected with cancer being Hyun Joo’s character in Fantastic and Woo Bin’s character in Uncontrollably Fond. Finally, they are, at their cores, love stories.
The difference is the direction and execution. In many instances, when a person faces their mortality in such a short time, like six months, and they want to live out the rest of their life to the fullest, the progression is often fast. Uncontrollably Fond kind of slogged in this area in that the story may have moved forward for 12 episodes but never progressed.
I thought JTBC one-upping Uncontrollably Fond with Fantastic was just a coincidence, but then they released Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. It seems that it is utilizing the “strong woman” concept of a plot far more than another K-drama that used it too, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo. Just the titles alone show they are emphasizing the character being a “strong type.” The only difference is that Do Bong Soon (Park Bo Young) is strong from a blessing that is passed on to the women of her family, while Kim Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung) is an actual weightlifter. By making Do Bong Soon’s “strong woman” abilities magical, it becomes a very unique factor pertaining to the story as she is trying her best to hide it from everyone. With Kim Bok Joo, she just happens to be a weightlifter trying to earn records, but it seems more like an accessory.
Once again, K-drama fans may be angry with my analysis, but the viewership ratings help prove my point. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo struggled and did not even earn double-digit ratings on a Korean public channel. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon is almost at 10 percent viewership and it airs on a channel Koreans pay in order to watch.
Ultimately, is this enough to ascertain that JTBC is taking plot concepts from other K-dramas and making them better? With only two K-dramas like it, it is hard to say. However, if there is a third K-drama that comes out this year in which its concept is similar to a concept seen in another non-JTBC K-drama, then we might have our answer.
[Featured Image by the Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (JTBC)]