North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has apparently pulled a historical TV drama produced at his orders off the air before it finished its run. North Korean officials wanted to put on a drama that could compete with South Korean soaps but failed to lure viewers in the North.
North Korean Central TV recently broadcast the drama, called "Kye Wol-hyang," which was epically produced with a cast of the top actors.
Kye Wol-hyang was famous gisaeng or female entertainer in Pyongyang in the 16th century. During the Japanese invasion, Kye seduced and deceived the Japanese general Konishi Yukinaga to kill him. Kye then committed suicide. The series started amid high expectations but quickly tanked due to poor ratings.
Senior officials in Pyongyang lambasted the series and Kim Jong-il himself is said to have become angry when he watched an episode and ordered it off the air, according to a North Korean source.
A North Korean official from Sinuiju in North Pyongyan Province said, "In the past it would have been considered a well-made historical TV drama, but North Korean viewers' tastes have become much more refined, and they didn't even bother to watch it."
When former President Roh Moo-hyun visited North Korea in 2007, he presented Kim with a gift of DVDs of South Korean TV dramas including "Jewel in the Palace." Kim watched them and said he was impressed, and that prompted other North Korean officials to copy and watch them too. When they were caught with the DVDs, they apparently told security agents they had done nothing wrong since even their leader commended their quality.
But the regime still bans South Korean TV programs, and the state security agency has threatened to charge anyone found watching them with treason. Still, South Korean series remain so popular that they are said to have led to many domestic conflicts if the men wanted to watch costume dramas and their wives soap operas. One senior North Korean official said, "Most North Korean men are hooked on [South Korean costume dramas such as] 'The King Dae Jo-young,' 'Jewel in the Palace,' 'Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin,' 'The Iron Empress,' 'The Great King Sejong,' and 'The King of Legend.'"
Even security agents, whose job is to crack down on them are getting hooked themselves. Pirated DVDs of "King Gwanggaeto the Great," which just started airing on South Korea's KBS network, are already being sold along the Chinese-North Korean border.
Kim, who is a movie buff, once had South Korean movie director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, the actress Choi Eun-hee, kidnapped and forced them to set up a movie production company called Shin Film. But when Shin Film closed down, North Korea's film industry became dilapidated and has been unable to produce anything capable of appealing to viewers in the North.