400 Years A Romance

My Love from the Star is the most rated Korean TV drama on China’s biggest film and TV fan site Douban. According to Douban statistics, over 93,000 arty youths have watched it and over 32,000 wrote excited comments. Beer and fried chicken have become a national snack in China among the young because that is the main characters’ regular food in this TV drama; a type of YSL lipstick is said to be sold out in China because that is what the female character Cheon Song-yi uses; go searching on China’s largest C2C shopping site Taobao, you’d find millions of commodities labeled “the same style as can be found in My Love from the Star”: dresses, shoes, cosmetics and bags.

It has gone beyond any Korean TV drama because China’s President Xi Jinping mentioned it during his visit in South Korea that My Love from the Star is adored by China’s young people and it has deepened the understanding between the young from both countries. Furthermore, China’s first lady Peng Liyuan was reported to say to the press that Mr. Xi used to look like the male protagonist acted by Kim Soo-hyun 김수현.

Why a foreign TV drama can be so popular in China?

The Language

In 1990s, Hallyu, aka Korean Wave, flooded in China and there is a growing number of Chinese studying Korean. There are currently over 100 universities that offer a Korean major in China, besides thousands of different private courses all over the nation. Some Chinese websites featuring Korean language study guide has a daily PV of 200,000. Official statistics indicates in 2013, there were 450,000 Chinese students that went to South Korea to study. This number is expected to reach 500,000 in 2014. The top 3 chosen majors of these students are: business, technology and engineering, and arts.

Where are the people that are interested in Korean language learning? How old are they? Are they male or female?

Baidu Index has a clear picture of those who are interested in “Korean language study” in China from Sept. 2013 to Sept. 2014: the most economically-developed regions are, without an exception, on the list – Zhejiang, Guangdong, Beijing, Jiangsu, Shandong and Shanghai. Interestingly, this list also echoes that of Korean-TV-drama-lovers over the same period of time. The only difference being the gender ratio: among the TV drama viewers, there are 44% male. One might wonder how many of these male viewers are actually watching Korean drama due to some girl’s influence or urge, a thing which does happen in China. Meanwhile, it is noticeable that the above groups have very strong purchasing power.

The Cast

Korean Wave has a long history in China and Chinese fans are familiar with quite a number of A-listers from South Korea. Kim Soo-hyun is the new favorite. Fans remember clearly his roles in Giant, Dream HighThe ThievesThe Moon Embracing the Sun and Secretly Greatly; go great lengths to sing odes to his face, eyes, eyebrows, lips and gestures.

The female lead Jun Ji-hyun 전지현 has been liked in China for a much longer period of time. It all started with a film that was popular in Asia: My Sassy Girl, in which Jun played a naughty girlfriend of a rather dull guy. Their playful love was like a Korean version of Jeux d’enfants. It’s just that the girl is louder, more mischievous and violent. In 2001, it refreshed the traditional Asian vision about how a girl should behave and the film spread in most Asian countries like wildfire. Jun was only 20 that year and instantly became a superstar. In China, years after her first strong filmic appearance, people would refer to her as the Sassy Girl. But of course, Chinese audiences could not forget her roles in the films like Il MareDaisyThe Thieves and The Berlin File. It may give you a start, but think about it: Jun Ji-hyun has remained an A-lister for about 15 years already. Amazing energy!

Would The Star be as popular in China as it is today with a different cast? Hard to say. It is also doubtful whether the creators have considered the Chinese audiences’ tastes and preferences while casting.

The Story

A tall handsome young man with supernatural power and millions of fortune who has lived for hundreds of years is desperately in love with a girl. Sounds familiar? Maybe this reminds you of Twilight written by Stephenie Meyer. But hey, vampire is now history. In the case of My Love from the Star (simplify as “The Star” in the following text), we are talking about an alien. There is no such creature on earth. He has to come from another planet, charming and traceless. A natural mystery.

Chinese audiences are not unfamiliar with such a knight in the shining armor: dramas like It Started with A KissMeteor GardenIn Time With You all have a male character that sound like Do Min-joon, but The Star blends them all and creates a new sensation: almost an all-in-one boyfriend type: His home is a museum. He is eloquent and knowledgeable. He can move fast as light. He can even stop time! There is nothing he cannot do and the girl does not even have to speak out her concerns.

Dreaming of a time travel? Ride with Do Min-joon!

Then what kind of a girl should he falls for?

Someone he met 400 years ago still lingers in his heart.

Here comes Cheon Song-yi, played by Jun Ji-hyun. A national goddess with elegance, wits and any good qualities that you can imagine, Song-yi does not care about her grace or status once falling in love. Independent and tough, she would be a kind friend to girls and a gentle girlfriend in front of her love. Moreover, actress Jun Ji-hyun did a homerun in her performance. At some point, the audiences are reminded of that sassy girl from 2001.

According to screenwriter Bo Bonnie’s observation, the character building in The Star is quite different from the past pop Korean TV dramas. In Success Story of a Bright Girl, the main storyline is about the male protagonist’s career development; in My Name Is Kim Sam-sun, the story goes around Kim Sam-sun and her boyfriend run a business jointly, while in The Star, the girl’s career takes the majority of the story – her story is the real history. Sure enough, as an alien richer than Bill Gates, Do Min-joon does not need a job or career. So this is a story about how the national darling proves her own innocence, escape jeopardy and rise back to the top. Girl power is the core of this story; also presented is a beautiful dream of everlasting romance.

A script echoes the current social values shall not find it hard to meet its audiences. If you know some Chinese slang, you’d notice a recent catchphrase: Nv Hanzi, loosely translated as tomboy, an existence that challenges China’s traditional girl image. Song-yi is a Nv Hanzi, only cuter if need be.

The Platform

Three top Chinese video sites screen this drama: iQiyi, Youku and Le TV. So great was the passion of The Star ‘s fans that the video sites decided to offer Chinese transcript synchronizing the TV drama’s broadcasting in South Korea this February, something that has never done before in China.

According to a KBS employee, the price of each episode of The Star is about 30,000 USD, so the total price of this drama would be less than 4 million USD. But it generates 1 billion hits on iQiyi alone and brands like CHANEL, Dior, Samsung and Estee Lauder, etc. – millions of profits, which further activates video sites promotion of The Star.

It is predicted that the Korean TV drama’s price will continue to go up. Also to be noted is that a Chinese parody of The Star is now available on China’s video sites.

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