K-drama series tweak formulas for lucrative Chinese market

Korean singer- actress IU (above left) stars in the Korean remake of Chinese hit Scarlet Heart.
Korean singer- actress IU (above left) stars in the Korean remake of Chinese hit Scarlet Heart. PHOTO: ONE

The remake is the first series that lets Singapore viewers watch a Korean drama at the same time as its original broadcast

When the Korean remake of the popular 2011 Chinese series Scarlet Heart premieres here on Aug 29 at 9pm on Sony's Korean entertainment Channel One, it will be aired in Singapore simultaneously as in South Korea.

This is the first time viewers here will be able to watch a Korean drama at the same time as its original broadcast - a luxury viewers in China enjoyed for the first time with Descendants Of The Sun earlier this year. Singapore viewers could watch Descendants only eight hours after each episode's telecast in South Korea.

Both Descendants and Scarlet deviate from the Korean television industry norm - they wrapped filming and post-production before going on air.

In South Korea, dramas are filmed and aired concurrently.

Ms Virginia Lim, senior vice- president and head of content, production and marketing, and networks for Asia at Sony Pictures Television, says: "In recent years, there are definitely more South Korean dramas being pre-produced. The fact that these dramas are being reported in the news for being pre-produced suggests that this is still not a common practice for the South Korean drama industry."

Upcoming pre-produced dramas announced over the past year include coming-of-age historical drama Hwarang and time-travel epic Saimdang: The Herstory, starring A-list cast Lee Young Ae and Song Seung Heon.

There are pros and cons for pre-producing a drama, says Ms Lim.

"One benefit is having more time to prepare, produce and promote the drama. Being pre-produced allows the build-up of anticipation for the series, through publicity and online buzz among fans, as we have seen for the Korean adaptation of Scarlet Heart.

"The trade-off is that the production team will have less room to incorporate viewer feedback that comes after the drama has begun airing, such as extending the series if it is well received."

For instance, the producer behind K-drama behemoth My Love From The Star (2013) added one episode to satisfy its legions of fans.

But the lucrative Chinese market is a huge incentive for Korean drama producers to change the way they work.

A simultaneous telecast in China and South Korea prevents the problem of piracy.

And to get approval in China for the simulcast, dramas have to be completed before they go on air. Singapore does not have the same restrictions as China, as broadcasters are self-regulating.

To K-drama fan Ng Kay Chyn, the difference between a pre-produced and live-shoot drama is minimal.

The 19-year-old student says: "The writing and production quality for pre-filmed dramas are generally better than the ones shot as they are aired.

"I think Descendants was well written, even the romance scenes. K-dramas usually go overboard with the romance, but I felt that it was just right for Descendants."

• Scarlet Heart premieres on Channel One (StarHub TV Channels 124, 820 and 823; and Singtel TV Channels 513 and 604) on Aug 29 at 9pm. It airs on Mondays and Tuesdays at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'Catch Korea's Scarlet Heart as it airs'. Print Edition | Subscribe