TV Soap Revives Korean Craze in China

Korean soap "My Love from the Star," about a woman's romance with an alien, has taken China by storm, sparking fads for anything from food to books.

The Bibigo chain of Korean restaurants launched a new dish in outlets in Beijing on Wednesday consisting of fried chicken, pickled radishes and two bottles of beer, which is a popular combination among Koreans.

Jeon Ji-hyun eats a fried chicken leg in an episode of Jeon Ji-hyun eats a fried chicken leg in an episode of "My Love from the Star."

"We decided to add the new item to our menus due to the explosive popularity of 'chi-maek'" -- the Korean abbreviation for the combo.

The heroine of the show, played by Jeon Ji-hyun, at one point says, "There's nothing like chi-maek on a snowy day!" That's all it took for sales to take off in China.

Korean restaurants in Shanghai's Korea Town are also seeing a surge in customers, with long lines in front of Korean fried-chicken shops there. The same thing is happening at restaurants selling samgyeopsal (Korean-style bacon) and tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake in spicy chili paste).

Hong Kong's Mingpao daily reports that poultry sales in China, which were hit by the avian influenza outbreak, recovered partly thanks to the show.

Other Korean food companies are benefiting too. Bakery chain Tous les Jours saw sales surge because Kim Soo-hyun, the male star of the soap, features in its advertising. Chinese customers like to have their pictures taken next to a life-sized cutout of the actor placed out front.

A Tous les Jours spokesman said sales at outlets in Beijing rose 30 percent and in Shanghai more than 40 percent.

Chinese women pose with a life-sized cutout of Kim Soo-hyun in front of a Tous les Jours bakery in Beijing. /Courtesy of CJ Foodville Chinese women pose with a life-sized cutout of Kim Soo-hyun in front of a Tous les Jours bakery in Beijing. /Courtesy of CJ Foodville

Korean fried chicken franchise BBQ also saw sales in its 150 stores in China rise more than 30 percent on average.

TV home shopping channels in China are using images from "My Love from the Star" when they sell home appliances like TVs and laptops. A staffer with home shopping channel Dongfeng CJ said, "The drama is so popular that even a brief exposure draws a lot of viewer attention."

Chinese media report on other effects of the show. One cosmetics maker in Fujian Province ended up halting production lines on Feb. 27, when the final episode of the show aired, because so many of its staff wanted to take the day off to watch it.

Also, Chinese versions of the Chosun dynasty novel "Kuunmong" (Nine Cloud Dream), which is quoted by the hero, have sold out.

Even top Chinese officials have commented on the phenomenon. Wang Qishan, the sixth highest-ranking member of the Chinese government and a member of the Politburo, said at a recent meeting of the National People's Congress that the popularity of Korean TV dramas in China stems from highlighting "traditional culture."

Experts in China say the Korean Wave or craze for Korean pop culture, which took off in China thanks to the hit TV drama "Jewel in the Palace" in 2003, is experiencing a revival thanks to "My Love from the Star." 

Kim Sung-chul, head of the Korean Residents Association in Shanghai, said the monthly rent for a 200 sq.m barbecued beef restaurant recently rose from around W10.4 million to W24.8 million (US$1=W1,065). "We need to look for ways to channel the resurgence to help Korean residents in China and businesses operating there." 

englishnews@chosun.com / Mar. 07, 2014 12:19 KST