Korean Weekly News - February 27

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FILM NEWS
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Debuting soon with his new TV Drama 공주님 (Princess), Kim Rae-Won has decided what his next project on the big screen will be. Kim has been cast in 해바라기 (Sunflower), his first film since last year's mid-sized hit 미스터 소크라테스 (Mr. Socrates). This seems another action Drama for Kim, who has been trying to distance himself from the pretty boy image he built over the years, starring in TV Dramas like 옥탑방 고양이 (The Attic Cat) and romantic comedies like 어린신부 (My Little Bride). The film marks the directorial debut of Kang Seok-Beom, who wrote the script of the 2004 romantic comedy 홍반장 (Mr. Handy), starring Eom Jung-Hwa and Kim Ju-Hyeok. Shooting will start in June, for a November release.

Kim Ok-Bin has been attracting the attention of industry insiders ever since her debut, in last year's horror film 여고괴담 4: 목소리 (Voice). After shining in the two episodes special 하노이 신부 (The Bride From Hanoi) and being cast in Lee Jae-Yong's multi-platform project 다세포 소녀 (Dasepo Naughty Girls), Kim is currently receiving praise for her performance in the KBS Drama 안녕하세요 하느님 (Hello, God!). But this week the talented youngster added another project on the list, after being cast in Kim Young-Bin's 질주 (Racing). The film already cast popular Lee Dong-Geon, from hit TV Dramas 파리의 연인 (Lovers in Paris) and 낭랑18세 (Sweet 18), as a car racer who finds love after an accident put him into a state of despair. The film starts shooting at the end of the month, and will simultaneously release in Korea, Japan and Hong Kong this August.

A longtime bone of contention amongst those who would have liked to see a reform of the screen quota had always been the performance of independent films in the country. Often released over a few screens in major cities, passing the 10,000 tickets is a true rarity for those works. And when gems like Song Il-Gon's 깃 (Feathers in the Wind) and Yoon Jong-Bin's 용서받지 못한 자 (The Unforgiven) are amongst the films suffering this condition, you know it's not a matter of quality. And besides that, with the nearly insignificant impact the home video business has on a film's commercial success in Korea, their only venue to exploit seem to remain Film Festivals. But something might change in the future, if the success of the Digital Omnibus series by KT Films is any indication. Released last February 14 for free on their site, the three films were viewed by over 350,000 netizens in a mere week, an impressive result considering the absence of big stars.

The three films are I'm OK by 백만장자의 첫사랑 (The Millionaire's First Love)'s Kim Tae-Gyun, 폭풍의 언덕 (Wuthering Heights) by 말아톤 (Marathon)'s Jung Yoon-Cheol, and finally 기억이 들린다 (The Whisper of Memories) by 엽기적인 그녀 (My Sassy Girl)'s Kwak Jae-Yong. Of course Internet Films are nothing new in Korean Cinema, after the incredible success of Ryu Seung-Wan's cult parody 다찌마와 리 (Dajjimawa Lee) in 2000, but the format has usually been used by big directors like Ryu, Jang Jin and Kim Jee-woon to try new things. The three directors of those KT Films might be big names too, but the success of this Omnibus project might open a new page for low-budget, indie films with no stars in the future. And that can only be a good thing.

It was likely to happen anyway, but the company needed confirmation via the box office result: 흡혈형사 나도열 (Vampire Cop Ricky) will have a sequel, or better, two. The vampire action comedy, featuring Kim Soo-Ro in his first ever solo leading role, is having a pretty satisfying run at the box office, passing the 1.5 Million tickets and probably going for the 2 Million, quite a good result considering the low budget. Lee Si-Myung's second directorial effort after 2002's SF Blockbuster 2009 로스트 메모리즈 (2009 Lost Memories), the comedy also stars Son Byung-Ho, Oh Gwang-Rok, Cheon Ho-Jin and Jo Yeo-Jung, who will all come back for the following two installments of the series. Script for the first sequel is currently being written, and it's expected it will be a little bigger in scale, with more refined action scenes, and focus more on the 'superhero' aspects of the character, compared to the original.

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TV DRAMA NEWS
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She's been quite busy, what with the shooting of Bong Joon-Ho's latest film 괴물 (The Host) wrapping up recently, and her theater work. But Bae Doo-Na will return soon to the small screen, with the MBC TV Drama 썸데이 (Someday). Bae's last appearance on TV was in the excellent Omnibus Drama 떨리는 가슴 (Six Love Stories), one of the best shows of 2005. If that weren't enough, good news continue: the show, produced by Yellow Film, will wrap all of its production before broadcast, and will star Bae as a 순정만화 (Romance Comic) writer who found instant success on her debut, and will mix animation with live action. A mix of explosively cheerful and cynical elements, her personality will mirror in some ways the characters she creates for a living. This is the third project of the year for Yellow Films, after the Gam Woo-Sung/Son Ye-Jin Drama 연애시대 (Alone in Love) and the the Lee Seo-Jin/Son Tae-Young Drama 프리즈 (Freeze). 'Someday' is expected to start airing in the second half of 2006, and will start shooting as soon as the male lead is confirmed.

Thought MBC's problems were over, after the critical acclaim for 내 인생의 스페셜 (The Special of My Life), and the rapturous popularity of 궁 (Princess Hours)? Think again. Their upcoming Weekend Drama 진짜 진짜 좋아해 (I Really Really Like You), a sort of modern day 대장금 (Dae Jang Geum), risks collapse even before broadcast. Singer-turned-actress Eugene, who was going to play the lead in the show slated for an April broadcast, hurt herself while snowboarding at the Yongpyeong Ski Resort, injuring her left elbow and shoulders. After receiving treatment at the resort, she was diagnosed with 8 weeks of rest, making her participation in the Drama at risk. The show started shooting last February 20 in Kangwon Province, and is only a month away from broadcast. Now two things can happen: the script is changed to give Eugene some time to recover (Weekend Dramas develop over 50-70 Episodes, so it wouldn't be the first time) and her character is introduced a little later, or the producers replace her with someone else, which if things are as serious as they seem might be the only way to go. The show was supposed to follow the popular Weekend Drama 결혼합시다 (Let's Get Married), and stars Eugene as a Blue House cook who falls in love with the bodyguard of the President's son.

It was supposed to be just a quick fix, to replace 늑대 (Wolf) after two of its leading stars (Han Ji-Min and Moon Jung-Hyuk) suffered accidents, but the new MBC Drama 내 인생의 스페셜 (The Special of My Life) ended up making viewers quickly forget 'Wolf'. The show, starring Kim Seung-Woo, Myung Se-Bin, Sung Ji-Roo and Shin Sung-Woo, was already long in the can before it started airing. Although ratings are pretty low (around 10 to 12%), the show has been well received both by critics and the audience, for offering something different. With a film like atmosphere, and the strong acting of supporting characters like Sung Ji-Roo, 'Special' is even attracting attention overseas. Now, the curious thing is that the show was originally 12 Episodes, but MBC decided to edit it down to 8, meaning the Episodes aired tonight and tomorrow will wrap up everything.

At first it seemed like the station didn't fully trust the show's ratings potential, but now the reason for its early departure is pretty obvious: start 공주님 (Princess) as soon as possible to get an early lead in the Monday/Tuesday slot's ratings war. But netizens are asking for the real deal, either on MBC's Cable channels or via a DVD Release, and it seems foreign companies interested in the show are asking the same thing: 12 Episodes or nothing. Sung Ji-Roo commented: "I don't know if I should feel thankful or sorry to Eric (Moon Jung-Hyuk). We worked really hard on this show, so I'm glad it's finally emerged from obscurity, and is receiving good reviews." This new case of fully-completed shows being well received by critics and netizens brought up the issue of 8Pics' 비천무 (Bichunmoo), the China-Korea co-produced Drama starring Joo Jin-Mo and Park Ji-Yoon, which already screened in the Chinese market (and is already available on DVD, albeit with no English Subtitles and not even a Korean track).

The show wrapped up shooting almost a year ago, but nobody in Korea has picked it up yet, which in a way is influencing other producers trying to wrap up shows before broadcast. Hwang In-Roi tried to do that with 'Princess Hours', but they had to rush things because of MBC's problems, and couldn't finish production ahead of broadcast as they initially planned. And although Fusion Dramas like 태왕사신기 (The Four Gods) can have the luxury of completing the show before broadcast, it seems other companies are hesitant to work this way, as the chances of disappearing into obscurity just like 'Bichunmoo' (adapted from the same manhwa of Kim Young-Joon's 2000 Wuxia) are big.

Yet this formula still shows a lot of appealing advantages to producers: first is the possibility to recover from accidents, unlike what happened with 'Wolf', which sent the station in a two week long chaos. Second is that relaxed aura of people doing their best to follow their vision, not to wrap up the show before deadline. This might be one of the reasons why I like 'Special' so much. All the little details are much more polished than the average Miniseries, and character development flows smoothly (although MBC had to cut out several important parts, which makes the possibility of a DVD release a real treat). It might be a risky way to do things in Korea, as you can't take full advantage of advertising and the budget can suffer greatly from that, but even just trying a pilot (instead of the often mortally boring 'Best Theater' or 'Dramacity' specials) and then going full force with a longer Drama could work.

You can add a point to last week's 'Cast' rating for 불량가족 (Bad Family) now. The show was supposed to star Kim Myung-Min and Han Chae-Young, but Han dropped out at the last minute as her company thought the role didn't fit her image, to be replaced by Nam Sang-Mi, star of last year's 달콤한 스파이 (Sweet Spy). It's certainly a shame for Han, who still has problems showing any range but has definitely shown an improvement since her 가을동화 (Autumn Fairy Tale) days (I know, not much of a compliment). But Nam is one of the most exciting new talents in the industry, one of the few who can really look cute without making people go into 'Hello Francesca' mode and bring out the hatchet. And she seems perfect for Kim Myung-Min: if I had to compare Nam to anyone, that'd be a younger Park Sun-Young (although I hope she'll have a luckier career, as Park is one of the most misused and underappreciated actresses in the business).

Park and Kim had great chemistry together in the underrated 2000 Drama 뜨거운 것이 좋아 (Some Like It Hot), and he seems to work well with actresses carrying a 'girl-next-door' image. Now the real problem is the rest of the cast: Hyun Young will be the third angle of the show's 삼각관계 (love triangle), and although she can be funny when she wants, using her for anything other than comic relief will bring disaster. Also, Kim Hee-Cheol of the uber-creepy teenybopper band Super Junior -- which also includes Choi Shi-Won, recently cast in Yoon Seok-Ho's 봄의 왈츠 (Spring Waltz) -- joined the cast, adding another singer-turned-actor to the list. I'm so excited I could, like, lose sleep for the next week or so. Seriously.

Good news regarding the casting of the upcoming MBC Drama 닥터 깽 (Doctor Kang). The show already cast talented Yang Dong-Geun and Han Ga-In in the leading roles, but the final member of this 'axis of ev.. love' will be Lee Jong-Hyuk, who's currently playing Park Dong-Jae in the KBS Drama 안녕하세요 하느님 (Hello, God!). After his performance in Yoo Ha's 말죽거리 잔혹사 (Once Upon a Time in High School), Lee has been sort of typecast, in similar 'bad guy with charisma' roles -- with the possible exception of 미스터 소크라테스 (Mr. Socrates). But he's quite good at that, and he probably enjoys it too, so it's a relief. The young star, who debuted as one of the 'singing thugs' in Kim Sang-Jin's glorious 1999 comedy 주유소 습격사건 (Attack The Gas Station) after a few years of theater, will play prosecutor Seok Hee-Jung, the usual 'by the book' elite who will fight with Yang for the attention of doctor Han. The 16 Episodes Drama will start airing after the end of 궁 (Princess Hours). And that's an important date, as the show was currently slated to end after 20 Episodes on March 16, but from 2 to 4 Episodes will be added, thanks to the popularity of the show. And there's a reason for that, beyond good ratings...

'If it's not broken, don't fix it' seems to be the motto these days at MBC, as after considering a sequel for last year 달콤한 스파이 (Sweet Spy) [whose film adaptation has been confirmed], they decided to give us another season of 궁 (Princess Hours). This is important for two reasons: first, it's a sign MBC is slowly rediscovering the popularity it lost last year, amidst little scandals, bad production choices and a lot of bad luck. Second, this decision might change the way producers approach TV Dramas. In the past, a successful Drama would just get additional episodes, but almost never a second 'season', just like most Western series. But the producers of 'Princess Hours' are going the extra mile with this concept: a second season of the Drama has been announced, along with a film adaptation, and even a musical. The show is currently enjoying ratings in the high 20s, the first big hit for the station in months, and potentially a long term challenger for the top 2 rated shows in the country, KBS' Daily Drama 별난여자 별난남자 (The Bizarre Bunch) and SBS' Weekend Drama 하늘이시여 (Dear Heaven).

The second season of 'Princess Hours' will broadcast in early 2007 during the Winter holidays, and will bring back all the major characters of Season 1, including Yoon Eun-Hye and 'Prince' Joo Ji-Hoon. Now the real problem is the script, as MBC won't have the 'luxury' of the original manhwa (a big hit with teenagers), which was the foundation for Season 1. But since they already signed contracts to adapt the film and Drama, it's just a matter of time. The musical will be directed by PD Hwang In-Roi, who had experience in this field in the past. The MBC Sitcom 안녕, 프란체스카 (Hello Francesca) was one of the first to take advantage of this format, and recently concluded its third and final season. The station is currently considering sequels to last year's 신입사원 (Super Rookie), 변호사들 (Lawyers) and even 내 이름은 김삼순 (My Lovely Sam-Soon), so we might be able to witness a big change in Korean TV Dramas soon. The biggest problem in this case is casting, as bringing back the original cast with their busy schedule involves a lot of preparation, something which has to be done in pre-production, but also the content of the show itself can become a problem. Just repeating the same old stories just because the characters are familiar is the major reason why Sitcoms rarely do well in Korea (the other being that most of them stink like two months old fish).

A little survey: raise your hand if you're excited about Yoon Seok-Ho's upcoming 봄의 왈츠 (Spring Waltz). Come on... don't be shy. Well, a total of seven Asian countries weren't shy at all, when they signed distribution deals for the finale of Yoon's acclaimed (yeah... sure) 'Four Seasons' saga. Producers Yoon's Color announced on February 20 that they signed pre-sale contracts with Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and The Philippines. The total would be around 4-5 Billion Won, which should cover a good portion of the production budget. But that's not all, as the company, in collaboration with KBS (which funded a big chunk of the budget, and of course will broadcast the show) are also negotiating with companies in the US, Austria (part of the show was shot there), China, Vietnam and Cambodia. The show stars Han Hyo-Joo, model-turned-actor Seo Do-Young and Daniel Henney from last year's smash hit 내 이름은 김삼순 (My Lovely Sam-Soon). Slated to begin airing in early Spring on KBS, this is the final 'Season' Drama after 2000's 가을동화 (Autumn Fairy Tale), 2002's 겨울연가 (Winter Sonata) and 2003's 여름향기 (Summer Scent). PD Yoon announced after this Drama he'll retire in a monastery in Tibet to dedicate the rest of his life to meditation. OK, he really didn't... but one can always hope, right?

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2006 TV DRAMA PREVIEWS
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This is Part 2 of our Spring TV Drama Preview, after last week's Part 1. Due to Eugene's injury, I'll hold judgment on 진짜 진짜 좋아해 (I Really Really Like You) until a decision about the casting is made. Next week we'll focus on all the Historical Dramas announced for 2006 and early 2007, and after that we'll have a big preview with all the major films debuting in late 2006, using the same rating system.

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내겐 너무 완벽한 그녀 (My Perfect Girl)
SBS - April, Weekend Drama , follows 하늘이시여 (Dear Heaven)
PD: 8/10
장태유 (Jang Tae-Yoo)
Jang was assistant producer in last year's excellent SBS Drama 불량주부 (Woman of The House), so that should be a good enough sign. 'Woman' had a breezy atmosphere, while at the same time talking about serious issues like the plight (!) of 'househusbands', much more interestingly rendered than in the similarly themed film 미스터주부 퀴즈왕 (Mr. Housewife). Although I haven't seen 선택 (Choice), a 2004 Daily Drama with Shim Hye-Jin and Kim Sang-Joong Jang produced, I only have good things to say about 2003's 때려 (Punch), where Jang acted as assistant producer. The show starred Shin Min-Ah and Joo Jin-Mo and mixed sports drama tropes with the 'melo code', yet it all felt really fresh and invigorating. I think we're pretty safe here.

WRITER: 8/10
윤영미 (Yoon Young-Mi)
Far from being a famous or even prolific writer, I'll trust Yoon Young-Mi based only on one project: last year's two episode special 내 사랑 토람이 (My Lovely Toram). The little show was about a blind woman (Ha Hee-Ra, returning to the small screen after a while, still as beautiful and talented as ever) and her friend Toram, the dog who helps her through her trials and tribulations. Back then I was thinking I would have rather gone through a marathon of Choi Ji-Woo Dramas than watch another animal-based show. I mean, weren't 3 Trillions Disney Channel 'specials' and a million films with the same old story (I have a dog. He's cute and like... nice. Joy to the world! I want a 'killer dog' flick...) enough? But 'My Lovely Toram' dropped all the cliches and featured what was possibly the Song Kang-Ho of Korean dogs. I don't know if it was because of the PD's exhausting work (for all I know they could have changed dog twenty times during the shoot) or it was just a very good acting dog, but the show was touching in ways other 'animal dramas' could never be. And of course casting people like Kim Young-Ho and Ha Hee-Ra helped. So while we're talking about an inexperienced writer, I think the PD/Writer duo could do well, especially in a breezy Drama like this. Plus there's no dogs, although I can't guarantee about cats and other animals...
CAST: 8 /10
이문식 (Lee Moon-Shik), 박선영 (Park Sun-Young), 홍수아 (Hong Soo-Ah), 김준성 (Kim Joon-Seong)
A couple of veterans away from looking like a top notch cast. Starting from the bottom, I still remember Kim Joon-Seong from his days as MC on Arirang TV shows, and I sort of liked his goofy role in Jung Ji-Woo's wonderful 사랑니 (Blossom Again). He still has a long way to become a good actor, but has the right physicality and even a little charisma. As for Hong Soo-Ah, well, what can you say. She's pretty. And... and... she starred in a few films and that 'timeless masterpiece', the last season of the 'youth sitcom' 논스톱 (Nonstop), which after 5 years managed to stink up one of the few decent sitcoms on TV. I doubt they'll give her anything special to work with, and if she keeps the image shown on various Variety shows, it's quite possible I might have to borrow your TV, as I don't think it will work with a brick inside. Still, the last two names earn that 8: other than being one of the sweetest celebrities on Korean TV, Park Sun-Young is also a major talent. It's a shame she'll only be familiar to movie fans as the heroine of 쇼쇼쇼 (Show Show Show) -- the love child of a Korean Cocktail and a melodrama from the 70s (complete with evil rich daddy having thugs beat up the poor lover of daddy's little girl) -- and a few other films. She's been active in TV Dramas for quite a few years, constantly stealing the show from more 'prestigious' leading stars like Chae Rim in last year's 오!필승 붕순영 (Oh! Feel Young), or the recently concluded Weekend Drama 슬픔이여 안녕 (Goodbye To Sadness). She can do super-cute, go into sassy mode and act more serious roles in her sleep. And when her leading partner is Lee Moon-Shik, longtime veteran of many glorious comedies, ever since debuting in Jang Jin films of the late 90s after an illustrious career in the 'Korean Broadway' Daehaek-Ro, things become much more interesting. This is his first leading role on TV, and I'm sure he'll do great. Great comic timing and ad-lib prowess, but all those years of theater make him an excellent dramatic actor, too. Although casting hasn't been completed yet, putting someone like Kim Soo-Mi or Yeo Woon-Gye as his mother in the show could set this thing on fire, at least in terms of comedy.

OUTLINE: 7/10
A remake of the 1991 Fuji TV Drama 101回目のプロポーズ (The 101st Proposal), 'My Perfect Girl' stars Lee Moon-Shik as Dal-Jae, one of those old bachelors who can't seem to get a wife no matter how many 맞선 (marriage meetings) they attend. I mean, he's got it all: he's good loo... OK, not really. But, hey, he's rich... at least inside. And despite his heavy Jeolla Province dialect, he certainly has many charms, it's just that he's too damn picky (or is it the other way around?)! But all of a sudden he finds his perfect girl, a 29 year old announcer (Park Sun-Young) who will rock his world. Man, I bet her parents will love her new conquest. Story has been done to death, but this being a Weekend Drama (more time to develop characters, less incentive to use educational 'shocking revelations' to make viewers practice new swear words) and having such a good cast, we might be dealing with the closest thing to MBC's glorious mid-to-late 90s Weekend Dramas like 아파트 (Apartment) or 장미와 콩나물 (Roses & Beansprouts) in a while. Shows which took a predictable formula and just let the cast act it out for an enjoyable 50 to 60 Episodes.

RATINGS POTENTIAL: 8/10
This show will follow the extremely popular Weekend Drama 하늘이시여 (Dear Heaven), which has been recording ratings between high 20s and early 30s for the last three months, so it could have a very strong start. The curiosity of seeing Lee Moon-Shik in a leading role, and the overall breezy aura the Drama carries around might actually be an important factor in the Drama's success. Potentially very popular, even 25 to 30%, as Weekend Dramas always have a big following.
OVERALL: 7.80

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샌프란시스코 (San Francisco)
MBC - May 17
PD: 6/10
신현창 (Shin Hyun-Chang)
Was involved in the making of last year's 떨리는 가슴 (Six Love Stories), so can't be that bad.

WRITER: 4/10
손은혜 (Son Eun-Hye)
Now, while I haven't watched the various one episode Dramas she's been involved with, and I hate to judge a writer based on a single show, watching 러브스토리 인 하버드 (Love Story in Harvard) (she was in the writing team) was like breakdancing naked on the snow, in the middle of the night (not that I ever tried that). Based on the outline and the locations, this looks like another 'Korean Wave product' taking a whole 5 Minutes to put together. If anything, San Francisco is actually a more realistic location for a Korean to be in than, say, Austria [봄의 왈츠 (Spring Waltz)] or Bizarro World [천국의 계단 (Stairway To Heaven)], so that's a plus.
CAST: 4/10
성유리 (Sung Yoo-Ri), 공유 (Gong Yoo), 이연희 (Lee Yeon-Hee)
Ahhh... the 90s. When singers were only stinking up their business, and not trying to do the same in movies or TV Dramas. The days when I actually thought groups like S.E.S. and FinKL were cute (alcohol was much cheaper), and could tolerate someone like Sung Yoo-Ri. What happened to FinKL? Lee Hyo-Ri has become a drool machine for teenagers, Ok Ju-Hyeon lost about 3400 Kilos and a few grands to the plastic surgeon, Lee Jin pops up every time Popes change, and finally Sung Yoo-Ri has become an 'actress'. If 천년지애 (Everlasting Love) and 황태자의 첫사랑 (The Prince's First Love) weren't enough to show Miss Sung should stick to her (past) day job, here comes this new series, showing all you need to get a leading role is mug at the camera a few times and act cute. And then we have Gong Yoo, whose popularity is as understandable as trying to guess who will win tomorrow's lottery draw. For someone without an ounce of talent, getting leading roles next to figures like Kim Seon-Ah in 잠복근무 (She's on Duty) is pretty impressive. At least they cast Lee Yeon-Hee, from 해신 (Emperor of the Sea) and 부활 (Rebirth), who has shown a lot of promise despite the small roles, but so far we're pretty much bottom of the barrel. Either they fill this with great veterans who make the Drama watchable, or this might end up becoming brutal.

OUTLINE: 2/10
Alert: fire accidents are invading Korean TV Dramas like the plague. That, or (lazy) writers are running out of ideas. After 불량가족 (Bad Family), here we go with another fire ruining a family. This time it's Ha-Neul (infant Sung), who loses mommy in a fire (set up by a Monty Python-like 'Grim Reaper' presence, I bet), and is forced by the lousy script to go live with a rich family. So she grows up like a princess, whoo hooo! And while forgetting her bad past, she finds out she has a brother (infant Gong Yoo), and since this is a Trendy Drama and they're not blood related, they get the impulse of suddenly jumping on each other. But it's not over, as they lose their parents AGAIN (Grim Reaper wasn't done with them), and are forced to break up. Of course they'll find each other again after 15 years by coincidence, picking the right country, the right state, and even the right city to meet each other. And fall in love again. But since they're technically brother and sister... they shouldn't. But hey, if 35 Millions other Korean TV Dramas did it before, why shouldn't they? Vive l'amour!

RATINGS POTENTIAL: 6/10
I sincerely hope people will not even bother with this, as it will show the stations repeating the same old story changing the cast doesn't work. It all depends on competition, but I don't think the two top stars are popular enough to get this out of the 10 to 15% 'purgatory'.
OVERALL: 4.40

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연애시대 (Alone in Love)
SBS - March, Mon/Tue Drama, follows 서동요 (The Ballad of Seo Dong)
Official Website
PD: 7/10
한지승 (Han Ji-Seung)
This is Han's first ever TV Drama, after a couple of films, including the 2001 melodrama 하루 (A Day), and the corny late 90s romcom 찜 (Tie a Yellow Ribbon). Now, while I can't say I enjoyed Han's older works, including his 1996 film 고스트 맘마 (Ghost Mamma), I actually liked 'A Day', despite being a little preachy and showing Go So-Young's usual limitations. And generally film directors who crossover to TV Dramas tend to do pretty well, shame the opposite rarely happens -- I know I'm not the only one who'd love to see a film by PD Lee Jae-Gyu.

WRITER: 8/10
박연선 (Park Yeon-Seon)
Does 동갑내기 과외하기 (My Tutor Friend) ring a bell? Park, who was in the writing team for the hilarious 2003 comedy, has worked before on TV -- 2004's underwhelming 파란만장 미스김 10억 만들기 (Miss Kim's Million Dollar Project) -- but if this show can be even half as funny as 'My Tutor Friend', with a touch of maturity given by the leads, then we're in good hands.
CAST: 8/10
손예진 (Son Ye-Jin), 감우성 (Gam Woo-Sung), 오윤아 (Oh Yoon-Ah), 공형진 (Gong Hyung-Jin), 이하나 (Lee Ha-Na)
What's been announced so far looks quite good. Always been a big fan of Gam Woo-Sung, who before the huge success of 왕의 남자 (The King and The Clown) was one of the most underrated actors in the country. He seems to work even better in low-key romantic comedies with a touch of melodrama, which seems to be this show's tone, judging from previews. Son Ye-Jin has become a huge star, especially in Japan, and her guarantee shows (50 Million Won per episode = 800 Million Won total, the highest in Korean TV History). Even though she still has time to improve her range, she's slowly starting to choose projects which will allow her to mature a little as an actress. Rest of the cast seems very solid, with Oh Yoon-Ah from the Friday Drama 그 여자 (That Woman) and 올드 미스 다이어리 (Old Miss Diary), along with master of ad-lib Gong Hyung-Jin, who returns to TV after a two year long absence.

OUTLINE: 8/10
The show is adapted from a novel by Nozawa Hisashi, a famous J-Dorama writer who committed suicide in 2004. This particular work hasn't been made into a TV Drama yet, and continues the trend of Korean Dramas adapting Japanese works -- after 요조숙녀 (My Fair Lady) and 봄날 (Spring Days). Gam and Son star as a couple who keep dating despite their divorce, in the show which will complete a good 80% of its episodes before airing. It will be a mix of romcom tropes with a little melodrama thrown in, but looks like a very intelligent, fun show. Some people in the media called it a 결혼은 미친짓이다 (Marriage is a Crazy Thing) without sex, which is a big compliment in my book.
RATINGS POTENTIAL: 9/10
If there's anything likely to hit the 40% rating in this early 2006, this is it. Son Ye-Jin returns to TV after 3 years -- last work being Yoon Seok-Ho's 여름향기 (Summer Scent), whose 'scent' convinced Son to stop shooting Dramas for 3 years -- and Gam returns after 4 years -- 2002's lovely 현정아 사랑해 (I Love You, Hyun-Jung) -- so that's already a big attraction. But we must count in the success of 왕의 남자 (The King and The Clown) and the country's favourite clown Jang-Saeng. Maybe it's a little early to make this kind of prediction, and we'll have to see what kind of competition the show has to deal with, but I'd say 40 to 45%. If not more.

OVERALL: 8.00

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소문난 칠공주 (Seven Princesses)
KBS2 - April 1, Weekend Drama, follows 인생이여 고마워요 (Thank You Life)
PD: 6/10
배경수 (Bae Kyung-Soo)
His Daily Drama 장미 울타리 (Rose Fence) in 2003 wasn't anything to write home about, but he was the executive producer of last year's wonderful 장밋빛 인생 (Life in Pink), so a pretty good chance he won't stink this up.

WRITER: 8/10
문영남 (Moon Young-Nam)
And here's the 'killer ap' of the show. Taking the most tired and predictable 신파 (shinpa, tearjerker) cliches and making something as powerful as 'Life in Pink' takes a lot of talent. But Moon did that twice, as 애정의 조건 (Terms of Endearment) also came from the same pen. Moon is a longtime veteran on the scene, having debuted in the early 90s, and although she didn't hit all the right notes until the last few years, she's shown a great ability for taking cliche-ridden plots and giving them a fresh new spin. A sort of Kim Soo-Hyun in the making?

CAST: 7/10
이태란 (Lee Tae-Ran), 김혜선 (Kim Hye-Seon), 최정원 (Choi Jung-Won), 고주원 (Go Ju-Won), 이승기 (Lee Seung-Gi), 나문희 (Na Moon-Hee), 이대연 (Lee Dae-Yeon)
Lee Tae-Ran and Lee Dae-Yeon can do roles like these in their sleep, and of course Na Moon-Hee is one of the best veterans in the country. But the rest of the cast leaves a lot to be desired. Choi Jung-Won was quite good as the sexy enchantress in 올인 (All In), but hasn't impressed in everything else she's done. And the rest is quite problematic, including singer-turned-actor Lee Seung-Gi, Go Ju-Won and Kim Hye-Seon. Depends on where the focus will go, but it could be a lot better.
OUTLINE: 8/10
So why Seven Princesses? The 칠 (chil, seven) doesn't mean we'll have to deal with seven women, but it's just a tradition in the characters' family to name daughters with a 'Chil' (it's actually very common in Korea, just the 'Chil' character is almost never used). We have Na Mi-Chil (Choi Jung-Won), Na Seol-Chil, Na Jong-Chil and Na Deok-Chil (Lee Tae-Ran). Deok-Chil married into a rich family without sons, so that's her new mission; Mi-Chil is addicted to shopping and her greatest enemy is that evil thing called 'credit card statement' (we share something in common, then!); Jong-Chil got knocked up by a Mama's Boy (Lee Seung-Gi) and is suffering the consequences of early pregnancy, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Essentially we're dealing with the old 'MBC Weekend Drama' format, which is good news. Veterans carry shows like these really well, so this might be good, but we'll have to see how the youngsters adjust to the format. Another chance to shine for Lee Tae-Ran, truly one of the most underrated actresses in Korea.

RATINGS POTENTIAL: 8/10
Likely competing with 'My Perfect Girl', I think the writer has become famous enough people will want to check her new work, after 'Terms of Endearment' and 'Life in Pink'. Whether it can maintain good ratings simply comes down to quality. KBS has been suffering a little in the Weekend ratings war, as even MBC added to the mix for the first time in months, but it sounds like the kind of show which could do well. I'd say 20 to 25%, with a possible 30% later if it's really good or at least fresh.
OVERALL: 7.40

==================
TV DRAMA RATINGS
==================
02/20~02/26

01. 36.5% 별난여자 별난남자 (The Bizarre Bunch)
Daily Drama - KBS1 [Cast: Jung Joon, Kim Ah-Joong, Go Ju-Won] [9th Consecutive Week on Top]

02. 32.4% 하늘이시여 (Dear Heaven)
Weekend Drama - SBS [Cast: Yoon Jung-Hee, Lee Tae-Gon, Jo Yeon-Woo]

03. 26.7% 궁 (Princess Hours)
Wed/Thu Drama - MBC [Cast: Yoon Eun-Hye, Song Ji-Hyo, Joo Ji-Hoon]

04. 23.6% 서동요 (The Ballad of Seo Dong)
Historical Drama - SBS [Cast: Lee Bo-Young, Jo Hyun-Jae, Ryu Jin]

05. 19.7% 고향역 (A Place Called Home)
Daily Drama - KBS1 [Cast: Song Ok-Sook, Park Hyung-Jae, Kim Cheol-Gi]

06. 18.9% 결혼합시다 (Let's Get Married)
Weekend Drama - MBC [Cast: Yoon Da-Hoon, Kang Sung-Yeon, Ju Hyeon]

06. 18.9% 인생이여 고마워요 (Thank You Life)
Weekend Drama - KBS2 [Cast: Yoo Ho-Jung, Park Ye-Jin, Oh Ji-Ho]

08. 18.4% 들꽃 (Wild Flower)
Daily Morning Drama - SBS [Cast: Lee Ah-Hyun, Seonwoo Jae-Deok, Kim Jung-Hak]

09. 17.1% 황금 사과 (Golden Apple)
Wed/Thu Drama - KBS2 [Cast: Park Sol-Mi, Park Ji-Bin, Jung Chan] END

10. 15.2% 서울 1945 (Seoul 1945)
Historical Drama - KBS1 [Cast: Han Eun-Jung, So Yoo-Jin, Ryu Soo-Young]

===============================
THE TOP RATED DRAMAS OF 2006
===============================
01/01~02/26

01. 37.5% 별난여자 별난남자 (The Bizarre Bunch) - KBS
02. 32.4% 하늘이시여 (Dear Heaven) - SBS
03. 31.9% 슬픔이여 안녕 (Goodbye To Sadness) - KBS
04. 26.7% 궁 (Princess Hours) - MBC
05. 25.4% 서동요 (The Ballad of Seo Dong) - SBS
06. 24.9% 마이걸 (My Girl) - SBS
07. 23.7% 그여자 (That Woman) - SBS
08. 23.0% 황금사과 (Golden Apple) - KBS
09. 22.3% 인생이여 고마워요 (Thank You Life) - KBS
10. 21.1% 들꽃 (Wild Flower) - SBS

Sources

Star News: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Yahoo Korea: 1, 2
Hanguk Ilbo: 1, 2
Yonhap News: 1
nKino: 1
My Daily News: 1
Goodday Entertainment: 1

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