Korean Weekly News - February 13

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NEWS

Jang Jin's next film after last year's 박수칠 때 떠나라 (Murder, Take One) and the monster success of 웰컴 투 동막골 (Welcome To Dongmakgol) (produced by Jang) will be the gangster noir (and comedy... this is Jang Jin, remember) 거룩한 계보 (Divine Lineage). The film recently cast its leads: Jang regular Jung Jae-Young on one side, comedy mainstay Jung Joon-Ho on the other. This continues Jang's recent trend of using proven box office draws (Cha Seung-Won in 'Murder, Take One') for his films, and will surely bring back all his 'Suda family' in supporting roles. Jung forms Chungmuro's new troika of supporting actors who became stars last year, along with Hwang Jung-Min of 너는 내 운명 (You're My Sunshine) and Gam Woo-Sung of 왕의 남자 (The King and The Clown), after his latest work 'Welcome To Dongmakgol' sold over 8 Million tickets. The film marks the first project of Jang and Kang Woo-Suk's new production company, K&J Entertainment, and tells the story of a gangster who plots revenge on those who betrayed him, after escaping from prison. Shooting will start next Month, for a Chuseok release.

Remember Kwon Sang-Woo hoping 야수 (Running Wild) wouldn't become a hit only in Japan? Looks like he wasn't too far off the mark. While the film didn't completely flop at home, selling around 1.1 Million tickets, it's quite likely it'll become a huge hit in Japan. The film directed by Kim Sung-Soo received 35,000 preorders when tickets were put on sale last February 8, the best ever result for a Korean film released in Japan. Released this weekend, 'Running Wild' could pose a threat for the current record holder, the melodrama 내 머리속의 지우개 (A Moment To Remember), which sold 2.5 Million tickets (for a total intake of 3 Billion Yen), and 외출 (April Snow), which holds the second spot with 2.4 Million tickets. Distributed by Toshiba Entertainment, Kwon Sang-Woo's star power is proving crucial for the action noir. More details about the film's Japanese debut in tomorrow's box office report.

Just as news that his latest film 투사부일체 (My Boss, My Teacher) became the most successful Korean comedy of all time hit the press, Kim Sang-Joong has been cast in his next project. He will star in Lee Mu-Young's new film 아버지와 마리와 나 (Dad, Mary and I), as a legendary guitarist and songwriter with remarkable skills, who one day meets a woman called Mari. Lee, one of Park Chan-Wook's best friends, is famous for helping Park write most of his pre-vengeance trilogy films, and is responsible for the hilarious 2001 black comedy 휴머니스트 (Humanist). Shooting will start in March.

He gained fame thanks to his role in the 2002 megahit 집으로... (The Way Home) where he played an incredibly annoying kid who slowly realizes how much his grandma loved him (awwww), yet Yoo Seung-Ho's career has been far from impressive in recent years, with his spot of 'most popular child actor' taken over by Lee Jae-Eung of 살인의 추억 (Memories of Murder) and 사랑해, 말순씨 (Bravo, My Life). Yoo has been mostly working on TV, with his appearances on KBS' 불멸의 이순신 (The Immortal Lee Soon-Shin), 부모님 전상서 (My Precious Family) and MBC's 슬픈연가 (Sad Sonata), but he'll return to the big screen with his latest project 마음이... (Heart). Now what would this 'heart' of the title be? None other than the lead's puppy (awwww...). The production company actually staged an audition for the role, but since they couldn't find a fitting candidate, the choice eventually went to Yoo, even though at first his image was too 'young' for the role -- or maybe they didn't want to make the obvious choice, Park Ji-Bin. Who will Yoo's partner be? A 4 year old Labrador. For some reason, films with animals give me nightmares, as they either remind me of 25 Trillion Saturday Afternoon Disney Channel Specials, or Korean films like the 1994 Park Joong-Hoon star vehicle 꼬리치는 남자 (A Man Wagging His Tail). But then again there's some exceptions, like last year's wonderful SBS Special 내 사랑 토람 (My Lovely Toram). The film will start shooting in mid February for a Chuseok release, and is directed by first timer Park Eun-Hyung.

She hit it (relatively) big with last year's Sitcom 올드미스 다이어리 (Old Miss Diary), which will become a film in the near future, but writer Park Hae-Young is already at work on her next project. She's writing a 16 to 20 Episodes Drama for Chorok Media, tentatively entitled 상처 (Wound). The script will be completed before airing, which is nice for a traditional melodrama, since viewers' expectations tend to warp certain Drama scripts (especially towards the end, as writers sometimes fall for the viewers' requests). Park already wrote 7 Episodes, so we're just under halfway, and casting and shooting will follow shortly. 'Old Miss Diary' (Called 'Olmida' by fans) wasn't certainly a masterpiece, but it was a pretty entertaining Sitcom, and hopefully its breezy atmosphere will carry over to 'Wound' as well. The show is about the choices people make when faced with serious problems, the kind of love they tend to look for in those situations. We'll cover this project more in the coming weeks, as casting is confirmed. MBC plans to air it in late 2006.

You know I've been anxiously awaiting (...not) for Yoon Seok-Ho's latest work, the conclusion of his incredibly popular 'Four Seasons' (see, he's like Vivaldi!). His 2000 Drama 가을동화 (Autumn Fairy Tale) ignited the Korean Wave, 2002's 겨울연가 (Winter Sonata) made the trend a force to be reckoned with economically and even culturally (as Japanese housewives wet their trousers every time Yonsama pops on TV), and 2003's 여름향기 (Summer Scent)... uhh... had Son Ye-Jin in a wet t-shirt and Song Seung-Heon emoting like a Vulcan with myopia, so that must count for something. But he's ready for another, final round entitled 봄의 왈츠 (Spring Waltz), and as we reported weeks ago, the show started shooting in Austria, with newbie and former model Seo Do-Young, Korean-American heartthrob Daniel Henney and Han Hyo-Joo from several CF and Sitcoms (replacing Sung Yoo-Ri, who probably fell mysteriously ill after reading the script of the show, and dropped out at the last minute).

The show, which is set to start on KBS this March 6, marks the first foreign location shooting for Yoon, in Austrian cities like Wien, Innsbruck and more, which will at least make for nice scenery, as always with his Dramas. The HD Drama should become a huge international hit, and Henney's presence could stir the hearts of Korean viewers, for at least one episode! Now what I really am curious about is what Yoon will do after the conclusion of his 'Four Season' series. How about a SF Opera with Choi Ji-Woo playing a cyborg who can't emote, and Yonsama as the Korean version of Harry Potter, who then meet on a lonely planet and... wait, I'm giving him ideas. Better stop.

After the big controversy over her 'nude publicity' for the film 애인 (Intimate), and the excellent reaction of the press for her latest work 손님은 왕이다 (The Customer is Always Right), Sung Hyun-Ah will make her return to TV Dramas. She will star in the upcoming SBS Drama 어느날 갑자기 (One Day, Suddenly) alongside Song Seon-Mi and Lee Jong-Won, her first TV appearance since 2001's KBS Sitcom 싼둥이네 (Twins). The show is written by Park Hyun-Joo and produced by Park Young-Soo, and will start shooting next week. Airing date is set after the end of the popular Friday Drama 그 여자 (That Woman).

Waited for news like this for a while: Yang Dong-Geun is coming back to TV! Why should I be excited? Yang has long been one of the most interesting young talents on the scene, and you could say his talent emerged thanks the great 2002 MBC Drama 네 멋대로 해라 (Ruler of Your Own World). In recent years he mostly starred in films -- some good, like 와일드 카드 (Wild Card), some not so good, like 바람의 파이터 (Fighter in the Wind). The exciting thing is that his return coincides with PD Park Sung-Soo's return (the two worked together in 'Ruler of Your Own World'), one of the best PDs in Korea. They'll work on the new MBC Drama 닥터 깽 (Doctor Kang), which will start in March. This is the first Drama for Yang in over 3 years, and he'll share the lead with Han Ga-In, last seen in 신입사원 (Super Rookie). Although the script is a question mark, as it was written by Kim Gyu-Wan of 봄날 (Spring Days), Park is good enough to overcome even an average script. Yang stars as a third rate thug who's on the run from a gang, after his mother mistakenly used the gang's money. He ends up having to serve as a fake doctor, and his struggles and romantic escapades with Doctor Han Ga-In begin. The Drama will start shooting in a few weeks, after casting is completed.

18 Months after his latest appearance on TV, with the KBS Drama 오!필승 봉순영 (Oh! Feel Young), Ahn Jae-Wook returns to the small screen, in the KBS2 Drama 미스터 굿바이 (Mr. Goodbye). The show, which will start broadcasting after the end of 봄의 왕츠 (Spring Waltz) in May, is written by Seo Sook-Hyang and produced by Hwang Eui-Kyung. Ahn plays a successful Hotel manager living in New York, who has to suddenly come back to Korea for business-related problems, and meets a woman there. But of course the woman he was living with in the US comes back to haunt him, and we've got our love triangle. Another romantic comedy in the vein of Ahn's past work, the kind of roles Ahn can do in his sleep and work pretty effectively, but we'll see how this turns out. If the other two female leads are good , this could turn out pretty decent. Only problem: PD Hwang was responsible for that ugly mess 웨딩 (Wedding), so I'd lower my expectations a little (although it was mostly a problem of bad casting and acting).

Its first two episodes did pretty badly (under 10% ratings), but the new SBS Wed/Thu Drama 천국의 나무 (The Tree of Heaven) already hit the jackpot right from the beginning. Japan's Sankei Sports reports that the Drama, which concludes a 'Heaven trilogy' after 2001's 아름다운 날들 (Beautiful Days) and 2003's 천국의 계단 (Stairway To Heaven), will start airing on Japanese Satellite channel BS Asahi from April. All three shows come from PD Lee Jang-Soo, who has essentially become the 'second Yoon Seok-Ho', mostly for three reasons: 1) he's making thematically (or emotionally)-connected sequels to his most popular hit; 2) all his Dramas have a huge following in Japan, perhaps because they feature Korean Wave-friendly casts (Choi Ji-Woo and Lee Byung-Heon in the first, Again Choi and Kwon Sang-Woo in the second, Lee Wan and Park Shin-Hye from 'Stairway To Heaven' leading the third); 3) both stink up the place pretty frequently.

Now Lee is a little better than Yoon, as his 2002 SBS Drama 별을 쏘다 (Shooting Stars) is excellent, and 1995's 아스팔트 사나이 (Asphalt Man) is one of the best examples of pre-Korean Wave Trendy Drama. Yet both 'Beautiful Days' and 'Stairway To Heaven' represent some of the worst pap ever put on Korean screens, with oceans of cliches, ridiculous acting, and soundtracks so bad they might cause more mass suicides than Heaven's Gate. While the show will air on Satellite on Thursdays at 9 (prime time over there), Fuji TV already announced they'll broadcast the show as well, so Lee's latest work will get on network TV as well. The show stars Lee Wan (Kim Tae-Hee's brother), 16 year old Park Shin-Hye, and a host of Japanese actors, including Asami Reina, Uchida Asahi and Japanese-Korean actress Sonin.

The new Historical Drama 연개소문 (Yon Gae Somun) got much hotter all of a sudden. We reported a while ago that Historical Drama veterans Yoo Dong-Geun and Jeon In-Hwa would make their return to what made them stars in the first place, but shows like this live and die by their (supporting) casts. Well, now we can rest assured: the amazing Kim Gab-Soo, of 부활 (Rebirth), 해신 (Emperor of The Sea) and a million other roles, and Lee Jung-Gil (again from 'Rebirth') will star in the Lee Hwan-Kyung written Drama. Nothing surprising considering how many Historical Dramas the two starred in, but it's nice to see they keep doing what they're best at. Shooting started last January for the the new Drama, which tells the story of legendary Goguryeo General Yon Gae Somun .

After his career-making performance in 불멸의 이순신 (The Immortal Lee Soon-Shin) and his KBS Acting Award, Kim Myung-Min has become one of the hottest commodities on TV. It was only a matter of time before contracts would start pouring down, and he's finally chosen his next project. He will star in the new SBS Drama 불량가족 (Bad Family) as a gang boss. The show is written by Lee Hee-Myung, produced by Yoo In-Shik, and will start shooting from February 20. Despite the title and Kim's role, it will be a human comedy. The show, produced by CK Media Works, tells the story of a little girl who suddenly loses her parents in an accident, along with her memory. But another family takes her under their wings, and pretend to be her real family -- Kim plays her uncle here.

It's pretty clear what will happen (the girl regains her memory and finds all about her painful past), and things could get nasty, but SBS is doing OK recently, what with the success of the hilarious 마이걸 (My Girl) and the impressive resurgence of 서동요 (The Ballad of Seo Dong), so we'll have to see. I wouldn't worry too much about the young girl, as there's plenty of great child actors (especially female) acting on TV right now, but we'll have to see the rest of the cast before making any predictions. What we can do is look at the writer/Pd's duo past work: writer Lee worked on the lamentable 2003 SBS Drama 요조숙녀 (My Fair Lady) with Kim Hee-Sun and Go Soo (which was atrocious), and previously on the Drama which made Jang Na-Ra a star (for 15 Minutes), 명랑 소녀 성공기 (A Joyful Girl's Success Story). In PD Yoo's case, things look a little better, as he was responsible for last year's excellent 불량주부 (Woman of the House), and 2004's decent 폭풍 속으로 (Into The Storm). 'Bad Family' is slated to air from March 8, so we'll know the rest of the cast pretty soon.

TV DRAMA WRAPUP

In a week when news that Shim Eun-Ha will become a mommy soon hit (already? That was quick), something a little more shocking happened: MBC has found their first hit in several months. With the popularity of 마이걸 (My Girl), the ratings of all its competitors were alternating between the average and decent, but the real battle would start once the show concluded last week. Many people expected SBS to hold the 20%+ ratings of the Lee Da-Hae Drama for the following show, 천국의 나무 (The Tree of Heaven), but it started with an almost embarrassing 8%. Sign that people are tired of over-the-top melodramas? I don't know, but I'm not touching the new Lee Jang-Soo Drama until it's over, as 천국의 계단 (Stairway To Heaven) made me almost damn the day I started watching Korean TV Dramas. Some people expected 환금사과 (Golden Apple) to take the remaining audience and show a big improvement. Good show, but nothing particularly exciting, and the acting could be better. But even the most optimistic fans of the station, which gave us so many wonderful shows over the years, could not expect MBC to do so well with their latest show 궁 (Princess Hours).

I spoke many times of my reservations about the casting and acting of the show, not exactly what I'd call quality. But there's something about 'Princess Hours' which keeps making people come back. Starring unexperienced former singers (Yoon Eun-Hye of BabyVOX, Kim Jung-Hoon of UN), first timers in the acting game (Joo Ji-Hoon) paired with talented veterans (Kim Hye-Ja, Choi Buram, Shim Hye-Jin), the show takes advantage of MBC Art Direction's department and their talent to carve one of the most visually impressive shows of recent memory. Might be because a good portion of the show was completed before broadcast, but I haven't seen a Drama looking so good in a long time (with the exception of a few Historical Dramas), and watching this on HD must be a treat. Of course the story is mostly targeted at teenagers and is quite predictable, but all considered it's not completely devoid of charm. With impressive rates in teen demographics, 'Princess Hours' is the first MBC Drama to pass the 20% rating in months, and it went so far as 25%, ratings which 'My Girl' never hit even on its last episode. People in the Korean Media expect the 20 Episodes show to hit the low 30s soon, which would set the rating wars on fire, after two months of domination by the same two-three shows.

But this week saw the beginning of another MBC Drama, 내 인생의 스페셜 (The Special of My Life), a 10 Episodes Drama (all completed before broadcast), which will replace 늑대 (Wolf) while Han Ji-Min and Moon Jung-Hyuk heal their injuries. I didn't expect much, with Kim Seung-Woo (who's quite good in comedies, but atrocious in melodramas), Myung Se-Bin (pretty much a waste of time) and former singer Shin Sung-Woo (who hasn't show much beyond charisma so far) heading the disappointing cast. Yet, the first two episodes were a pleasant surprises, perhaps because of Sung Ji-Roo, who's always a wonder to watch. The script might be a little cliched, but it seems quite solid, and since everything is already in the can, there's no need to worry about writers copping out to please the fans. I could have done without the show exploiting the Daegu subway tragedy (still inked in many Koreans' memory, especially those who lost friends or relatives in the accident), but a good start. I don't know, I came in with low expectations, and what I got wasn't bad at all. And strangest of all things, now I actually miss 'Wolf' a lot less, if not for Eom Tae-Woong's loony character.

The really interesting thing is that three of the best TV Dramas showing at the moment all come from Kim Jong-Hak Productions: the aforementioned 'Special', SBS' 서동요 (The Ballad of Seo Dong) and KBS' 안녕하세요 하느님 (Hello, God!). The three shows, all airing during the Monday/Tuesday night slot, hold over 50% of the entire viewership, something quite unexpected, and perhaps even unprecedented in Korean TV History. Kim's production company hit some stinkers in the past, but it seems doing incredibly well now, with many interesting Historical Dramas in the making, trendy Dramas deviating a little from the usual formulae, and interesting new concepts like 'The Special of My Life'. After Olive Nine started contracting many of the most acclaimed (or popular) Drama writers in the country and the good period Kim Jong-Hak's shows are facing, the war between production companies seems to rage this year more than ever, and it can only mean good things for the future of TV Dramas.

TV DRAMA RATINGS
01/31~02/12

01. 37.5% 별난여자 별난남자 (The Bizarre Bunch)
Daily Drama - KBS1 [Cast: Jung Joon, Kim Ah-Joong, Go Ju-Won]

02. 29.1% 하늘이시여 (Dear Heaven)
Weekend Drama - SBS [Cast: Yoon Jung-Hee, Lee Tae-Gon, Jo Yeon-Woo]

03. 25.2% 궁 (Princess Hours)
Wed/Thu Drama - MBC [Cast: Yoon Eun-Hye, Song Ji-Hyo, Joo Ji-Hoon]

04. 24.9% 마이걸 (My Girl)
Wed/Thu Drama - SBS [Cast: Lee Da-Hae, Lee Dong-Wook, Park Shi-Yeon]

05. 23.7% 서동요 (The Ballad of Seo Dong)
Historical Drama - SBS [Cast: Lee Bo-Young, Jo Hyun-Jae, Ryu Jin]

06. 22.9% 그여자 (That Woman)
Friday Drama - SBS [Cast: Shim Hye-Jin, Jang Dong-Jik, Oh Yoon-Ah]

07. 19.7% 들꽃 (Wild Flower)
Daily Morning Drama - SBS [Cast: Lee Ah-Hyun, Seonwoo Jae-Deok, Kim Jung-Hak]

08. 19.3% 고향역 (A Place Called Home)
Daily Drama - KBS1 [Cast: Song Ok-Sook, Park Hyung-Jae, Kim Cheol-Gi]

09. 18.7% 황금 사과 (Golden Apple)
Wed/Thu Drama - KBS2 [Cast: Park Sol-Mi, Park Ji-Bin, Jung Chan]

10. 18.7% 결혼합시다 (Let's Get Married)
Weekend Drama - MBC [Cast: Yoon Da-Hoon, Kang Sung-Yeon, Ju Hyeon]

TOP RATED DRAMAS OF 2006
01/01~02/12

01. 37.5% 별난여자 별난남자 (The Bizarre Bunch) - KBS
02. 31.9% 슬픔이여 안녕 (Goodbye To Sadness) - KBS
03. 29.9% 하늘이시여 (Dear Heaven) - SBS
04. 25.2% 궁 (Princess Hours) - MBC
05. 24.9% 마이걸 (My Girl) - SBS
06. 24.1% 서동요 (The Ballad of Seo Dong) - SBS
07. 23.0% 황금사과 (Golden Apple) - KBS
08. 22.9% 그여자 (That Woman) - SBS
09. 22.3% 인생이여 고마워요 (Thank You Life) - KBS
10. 19.7% 들꽃 (Wild Flower) - SBS

Sources
Star News: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Yahoo Korea: 1, 2
My Daily News: 1
Hanguk Ilbo: 1

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