Fans of Korean soap operas will have heard of Autumn in My Heart. The KBS series, which aired in 2000, was so popular that it triggered international enthusiasm for the country’s pop culture – a phenomenon now often referred to as the ‘Korean wave’. The soap tells the story of a brother and sister who get mixed up at birth only to fall in love years later. The show was so popular that the stars Song Seung-heon and Song Hye-kyo shot to fame across Asia – China included.
More than a decade later, another Korean drama about a pair of star-crossed lovers has become the TV series of the moment.
Since mid-December You Who Came From The Stars (admittedly, the name doesn’t translate well into English) has accumulated 1.2 billion views on Baidu’s two online video sites iQiyi and PPS. It has also set a record for the largest ever fee paid for the broadcasting rights for a Korean TV series – although the actual figure has not been disclosed by Baidu.
Local media says the show – produced by South Korean network SBS – is a classic love story with a sci-fi twist. An egotistical actress Cheon Song-yi (played by Jun Ji-Hyun) falls for Do Min-joon (Kim Soo-Hyun). But the relationship must overcome some rather unusual obstacles: Do hails from another planet and has been living on Earth in disguise for four centuries (Cheon falls for his alias: a human university professor). Disaster strikes, as Do is recalled to his home planet…
That synopsis may sound preposterous but there must be something in it, as the series is proving wildly successful. Fans say You Who Came From The Stars is smartly written, blending funny and tender moments. It helps too that the 32 year-old Jun is already a celebrity in Asia having starred as the protagonist in the hit movie My Sassy Girl in 2001 (one of the highest grossing Korean comedies of all time).
“It is really a great show… A TV drama that is filmed so superbly definitely deserves to be complimented,” Chinese actress Zhao Wei wrote on her personal weibo page.
Zhao isn’t the only celebrity fan of the series. Actresses Yang Mi and Gao Yuanyuan are both avid watchers, often posting screenshots of the drama on their own weibo pages.
You Who Came From The Stars completed its run on Thursday, reinstating Jun as an A-list actress in China and boosting the youthful Kim’s profile a fair bit too.
Kim’s fans even took out a page of advertising in the Beijing Times on Valentine’s Day to declare their love for the Korean idol.
As ever, the popularity translates into lucrative appearance fees for the two stars. According to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, Kim is now in such high demand he commands at least $250,000 for turning up at an Asian event.
Meanwhile, fans of Jun are searching high and low for the clothing and accessories she wears on the show. Everything from the exact shade of lipstick to the hairdryer on her dresser is featuring among the most searched items on Taobao, China’s largest online shopping site.
Seizing the opportunity, e-commerce firm Xiu.com even sent buyers to South Korea to snap up similar items to meet demand in China, reports the Nanfang Daily.
“Almost every day we get queries about the shoes Jun wears on the show. Even though they retail for Rmb3,800 ($620), they sold out in 30 days,” reported one vendor on Taobao.
Perhaps more surprisingly, You Who Came From the Stars has helped to resuscitate China’s poultry industry, which has been suffering from the recent resurgence of avian flu.
The reason? There’s a line in the plot, in which Jun’s character says: “Fried chicken and a glass of beer are perfect for a snowy day.” To the delight of poultry producers everywhere, she also feasts on fried chicken during some episodes, making it suddenly fashionable for her female fans to try the same. Fried chicken outlets say they have been mobbed by diners wanting to indulge in the same treat as their heroine. The Global Times says a chicken store in Wangjing – Beijing’s Koreatown – was so popular that patrons had to line up for more than an hour for a table. Another chicken joint in Hangzhou even released a Valentine’s Day special featuring fried chicken and – you guessed it – cold beer, says China Economic Net.
“A lot of college students are obsessed with the show, falling in love with fried chicken and beer. So our business is very strong with sales going up more than 20% since the show started,” one vendor told Anhui Daily.
The state news agency Xinhua – not much of an expert in decoding trends in popular culture – sounded baffled: “As a result of the recent cases of avian flu H7N9, the poultry industry has been hard hit. It’s hard to imagine that a Korean soap opera has singlehandedly helped the industry regain market share.”
Baidu programmers also joined in the fun. On typing “fried chicken and beer” into their search engine, falling snowflakes suddenly appear on the screen.
Keeping track: in issue 227 we wrote about the phenomenal success in China of the drama You Who Came From the Stars (which is also translated as My Love Who Came From the Stars). In that article we mentioned that the Korean series had been watched online 1.2 billion times and had sparked a surge in sales of fried chicken owing to fans aping the female star’s fondness for it. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, other products have proven big beneficiaries too. A glittery Jimmy Choo shoe known as the Abel sold out after it featured prominently in the show. The $625 high-heeled shoe initially sold out in Choo’s Beijing and Shanghai stores, before also selling out in the US and Europe too – driven largely by Chinese buying. The shoe company had been unprepared for the surge in demand, having been unaware that the item featured in the show. The newspaper says that once Jimmy Choo figured out what was happening, it rushed to make more of the shoes, but it took four months to do so. Meanwhile, the Seoul-based drama has now been watched an even greater 2.2 billion times in China. (May 9, 2014)
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