Cross-border love story a hit in S. Korea

Crash Landing On You stars Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin.
Crash Landing On You stars Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • South Korea's biggest current television hit is an unlikely tale of a billionaire heiress who accidentally paraglides into the North and falls in love with a chivalrous army officer serving North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Crash Landing On You is unashamedly fantastical in its plotlines, but has drawn praise for its portrayal of everyday life in the North, even down to the accent and words.

The division of the peninsula is a regular theme in K-drama and K-movies, but it is unusual for so much of a show to be set in the North - in Pyongyang and the countryside - and defectors have complimented its accuracy.

Portraits of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il - father of the current leader - appear on the walls of every home, with propaganda slogans in the streets of the set.

The crew included a writer and an actress from the North: "I felt like I was back in a North Korean village," said Kim Ah Ra, who played a villager.

The 16-part series, which reached its climax on cable network tvN on Sunday, became the second highest-rated drama in South Korean cable television history with an average nationwide rating of 21.7 per cent, according to Nielsen Korea.

The television series, which debuted last December, opens with the heiress to a South Korean business empire, played by actress Son Ye-jin, being swept up by a tornado while paragliding and crashing on the wrong side of the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).

She meets a handsome North Korean soldier (played by Hyun Bin) - the son of a top military general - and the two fall in love as he hides and protects her.

It is an implausible scenario in a one-party state where intruders are jailed and disloyalty heavily punished.

Even more surreal, after she returns to the South, the hero and several comrades slip across the DMZ and into Seoul undetected to save her from a villain.

 
 
 

But viewers have been fascinated by the villagers' humble lifestyles - the neighbours remain technically at war, with any contact between their citizens banned.

In one scene, a woman places a plastic bag over her bath to keep the water warm for longer. In another, a resident pedals vigorously on a bicycle-powered generator after a blackout to keep the television set on.

South Korean fans found it humorous, but defector Han Song Ee was reminded of frequent power cuts in her homeland.

"Every home has a pedal power generator in North Korea," she said in a YouTube video. "I cried watching the scene."

The series portrays North Koreans as being well-disposed towards the South.

On a visit to a Jangmadang - an informal but increasingly widespread and tolerated black market in the North - a vendor tells the heiress her company's cosmetics are among her most sought-after items.

One North Korean soldier is a fervent fan of South Korean dramas and secretly watches the forbidden clips even when on duty, while a North Korean teenager uses the latest South Korean slang.

Mr Thae Yong Ho, a former senior North Korean diplomat who defected to the South in 2016, said: "One thing for sure is that if this television series is smuggled into North Korea, it will be hugely popular."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2020, with the headline 'Cross-border love story a hit in S. Korea'. Subscribe