Why Bae Yong-joon Didn't Wow the Japanese This Time

      September 05, 2008 09:16

      "Taewangsasingi (The Four Guardian Gods of the King)" featuring Korean wave Bae Yong-joon as King Kwanggaeto the Great of the Koguryo Kingdom, was a hit in Korea last year with ratings up to 37.5 percent.

      The work of Kim Jong-hak and Song Ji-na, producer and script writer of a perennial hit "Sandglass," "Taewangsasingi" was expected to draw as much popularity in Japan as it did in Korea, but on a terrestrial channel NHK at 11 p.m. on Saturday, its rating remains at around 7 percent.

      The last episode is to be aired on Sep. 27. Given such enormous popularity of Bae in Japan, where he is known as "Yonsama," and more than 20 percent ratings for "Winter Sonata," which made him a superstar there, the figure shows the predicament Korean soap operas are in at the moment.

      Japanese viewers say that "Taewangsasingi" is too confusing. Unlike in Korea, historical soaps are not popular and find it hard to get ratings of more than 10 percent. Despite flashy computer graphic works and colorful personalities, the story was unfamiliar to Japanese as it dealt with ancient Korean history dating more than 1,000 years. The plot, with its frequent flashbacks, constantly mixes past and present, myth and history: there is plenty to confuse Japanese viewers.

      Ryuko Abe, a Japanese freelance writer, said, "Unlike 'Winter Sonata,' which was easy to get immersed in even if you started watching in the middle, 'Taewangsasingi' is difficult to follow even if you watched it from the first episode."

      Daisuke Nomura of HoriPro, a Japanese entertainment company, said it is strange to see Bae as a hero riding horses and fighting against enemies without his trademark glasses. "Many Japanese housewives are still expecting an innocent, loving image from Bae," Nomura said.

      But "Taewangsasingi" has not undermined Bae's fan base in Japan. A promotional event for "Taewangsasingi" in the Kyosera Dome in Osaka in June drew over 35,000 fans. But the soap opera needs to reach beyond Bae's fans to succeed.

      "Winter Sonata" reached over 20 percent ratings because it was able to capture not only housewives between 30s and 50s, but also men and teenagers. The Internet also hurt the ratings for "Taewangsasingi."

      Masayuki Furusa said, "Thanks to improved Internet connection, many Japanese are watching the drama on the web when the Koreans are watching it on TV." He adds there are many viewers who are complaining about the fact that Bae's voice is dubbed by a Japanese voice actor.

      Some say early sales of a DVD set of "Taewangsasingi" also did not help the ratings. In most cases, Korean soap operas are first aired on satellite and then on terrestrial channels, but "Taewangsasingi" took the opposite route because it had a firm faith in Bae's power to draw viewers.

      Kim Eui-joon, CEO of Seafaring Safe Dreamers, the distributor of "Taewangsasingi," said NHK's satellite channel will start airing the show from October, and many related contents will be showcased via other Japanese channels.

      Kim Yung-duk, a researcher at the Korea Broadcasting Institute, said "Too many fantastic elements might have distracted middle-aged male audiences. But it is still promising that it managed to pull off 7 percent ratings late at night."

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