Korean soap-opera fans
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Sitting side by side, facing the television mounted high in a far corner of the room, Hanawahine and Pak have resolved not to budge until the King has left the building.
King Eui-Jong, of course.
It's lunchtime at the small Kapi'olani restaurant, and thanks to Taiyo owner Sun Lee, a Korean soap-opera lover regulars like Hanawahine and Pak are chasing their boiling bowls of dashi with a meaty helping of Korean historical drama.
If it's Friday, it must be time for "The Age of Warriors," one of several Korean serial dramas carried by local independent TV station KBFD that have captured the attention of a large cross-section of Hawai'i viewers.
The shows, which range from tear-jerking family dramas to sweeping historical epics, have enjoyed growing popularity with local viewers over the last five or six years, said KBFD general manager Jeff Chung.
KBFD's prime-time programming, a collection of top shows from South Korea's major networks, draws a decent nightly Nielsen rating of 2. Chung said that rating likely reflects less than the entire audience because Korean-speaking viewers are reluctant to fill out long survey forms in English. "We estimate our Korean population here at about 50,000, and that's our core audience," Chung said.
The anecdotal evidence seems to support Chung's claims. Taiyo is one of several Korean-owned businesses that make Korean programming available for a mixed clientele.
The KBFD chat board is active with thousands of posts from high school and college students, professionals, homemakers and seniors who trade scoops about new programs and play out long strings of messages about favorite stars and series. Chung says the station also sells hundreds of DVD sets each week at $100 per series or more.
Subtitled Korean soap operas also have gained a foothold on the Mainland, where non-Korean-speaking viewers have found themselves hooked by the shows' attractive actors, high production values and engaging plots.
The station maintains a staff of six translators to work on the subtitles. Chung says it takes about nine hours to translate one hour of programming.
The crossover appeal of KBFD's Korean programming is evident in the types of ads the station is now getting. Its sponsors include Homeworld, all the major banks and some hospitals.
"Before, advertisers used to come to us to reach the Korean community," Chung said. "Now they come to reach the entire community, because that's exactly who's watching."
"This one is good," the 22-year-old Hanawahine says, squinting to read the English subtitles. "This ain't like no regular daytime soap."
Pak likes the show, too, but much prefers the admittedly soapier charms of "Hearts in Bali" or "One Million Roses."
"I'm full-on hooked," says Pak, 19. "I almost want to take Korean just so I can follow along better."
That's just what Chung and his father, KBFD president and CEO Kea Sung Chung, like to hear.
"I love all the shows," says Beatrice Muraki, 82, of 'Aiea. "That's all I do at nighttime. I watch all the shows.
"I used to watch 'General Hospital' for five, six years, but I quit. It was disgusting."
Muraki says she enjoys the family dramas the most.
"They're good and sad," she says, laughing. "You cry, but it's worth it."
After years of watching the shows, Muraki says she can follow along with some of the Korean language, but still needs the subtitles to fully understand.
And that means no talking when her shows are on.
"I don't like anybody around me when I'm watching," she says. "I tell them 'No talk, no talk. I gotta read!' "
Muraki and other fans say they appreciate the homespun messages of love and respect at the heart of many of the programs.
"They're like the Japanese dramas you saw 10 or 15 years ago," Chung says. "You rarely see sex or drugs or violence. You rarely see them kissing."
Which isn't to say that the shows are boring. Many are fueled by family conflicts, romantic triangles, love between the classes and other interpersonal intrigues.
Chung says it helps that each series runs for a designated number of episodes, then ends.
"So it doesn't just drag on," he says. "They're short and finite. They on for 16 or 20 episodes, and then they're over."
Carolyn Frame, a partner in the marketing, advertising and design company Joots, discovered Korean soaps when she moved to Wahiawa a few months ago and had to wait for her cable service to be installed.
KBFD "was the only station I could get," she says. "I wasn't expecting much, but I enjoyed it.
"No. 1, the actors are really good-looking and the plot lines are very dramatic," Frame said. "They get your attention and keep it."
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2461.
|"Conditions of Love" examines South Korean family life through the contentious love lives of two sisters.
- Sundays 7:10 p.m. Repeats Mondays, 2 p.m.
- Stars Chae Si-ra, Lee Jong-won, Han Ga-in
- An examination of the state of the modern South Korean family, emphasizing the importance of marriage through its portrayal of the contentious love lives of two sisters. Superstar Chae Si-ra plays Geum-pah, the long-suffering wife of a philandering attorney. But when she meets a younger man online and goes astray herself, she faces the prospect of divorce.
"One Million Roses"
- Mondays through Fridays, 10:25 p.m. Repeats same days, 12:25 p.m.
- Stars Lee Chang-hun, Son Tae-young, Yun Hae-young
- South Korea's changing views on marriage, divorce and remarriage are examined, with special focus on the current controversy regarding hoju, the Korean system of maintaining citizen records by family rather than by individual.
|"Hearts in Bali": What happened on Bali? That's the question at the heart of this story of love and jealousy.|
- Mondays and Tuesdays, 7:50 p.m. Repeats Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 3 p.m.
- Stars Ha Ji-won, Cho In-sung, So Ji-sub
- When Ha, Cho and So meet in a very unlikely circumstance on Bali, running into each other was the last thing they expected. As they live their separate lives back in South Korea, what happened on Bali keeps their lives in a whirlwind of love and jealousy, a labyrinth they can't seem to escape.
- Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:50 p.m. Repeats Thursdays and Fridays, 3 p.m.
- Stars Lee Suh-jin, Lee Eun-joo
- Sae-hoon and Ji-eun had to part because their situations didn't match. But now, 10 years later, the spoiled rich girl is a blue-collar worker barely making a living and the poor orphan boy has become a successful businessman. Can it work?
"The Age of Warriors"
- Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9:25 p.m. Repeats Thursdays and Fridays, 1 p.m.
- Stars Suh In-suk, Lee Duk-hwa, Kim Sung-ryuang
- Part 3 of the KBS history dramatization of the Koryo dynasty. Following "Wang Guhn" and "Dawn of the Empire," "The Era of the Warriors" illustrates the struggle for political power among warriors during the reign of the Koryo dynasty's 18th ruler, King Eui-jong. The 150-part drama is already drawing the attention of Korean viewers through its large production scale.
"The Marrying Type"
- Fridays and Saturdays, 7:50 p.m. Repeats Saturdays and Sundays, 12 p.m.
- Stars Myung Se-bin, Lee Tae-ran, Byun Jung-soo
- Can you find true love and happiness after 30? Three single women older than 30 tackle love, careers and the search for happiness.