Among all foreign-produced shows that land on Philippine primetime TV, Korean dramas capture a special place in the hearts of Filipino viewers.
Well, not really just Filipinos, but practically all over the world, as it not only presents glossy, breathtaking visuals but likewise ingenious, compelling and actually addictive story arcs, twists, and subplots, it fully captivates and touches your heart.
And despite those larger than life characters and stupendous situations that would bring them together (and the obvious cultural differences and language barriers), Filipinos identify with those kilig scenes shrieking and giddy, while taking their difficult journeys so close to home. No, it’s not just because Lee Min-ho or Kim Jung-eun are in the marquee credits. It is how the story is told, how the scenes are directed, how the landscapes or seascapes or that awesome medieval Joseon temple is shot and brought to the screen stun our senses.
Whether it’s a historical piece detailing love against all odds, or a romance that goes beyond imagination, Korean dramas have become that primetime habit we can’t do without. Here are some of the best that truly swept us all off our feet and why we are so crazy about them
Lovers in Paris
Having two people find love in Paris is quite cliché, but when they achieve it despite the overwhelming odds that face them—you’ll realize it was a love so true and special. Filipinos just could not get enough of Vivian (Kim Jung-eun) and Carlo (Park Shin-yang) as they travail a complicated journey yet retain a cheerful “Aja!” each step of the way and end up together.
Considered the first Korean drama to air in the Philippines, the show attracted a huge following and dominated the ratings in 2005, a few years after the Meteor Garden craze. A subsequent Filipino teleserye adaptation of the same title also flourished in 2009, starring Piolo Pascual and KC Concepcion.
Boys Over Flowers
Speaking of Meteor Garden, the magic of the legendary manga Hana Yori Dango further dazzled the country in 2009 with its Korean adaptation, Boys Over Flowers, which is considered the highest-rating Korean drama in the Philippines. Its story of a simple yet headstrong girl standing up to a band of rich kid bullies, who would end up enamored by her never loses its touch. Such a scenario is any girl’s dream as Jan-di (Ku Hye-sun) faces the tough, malevolent yet adorable F4 gang of Jun-pyo (Lee Min-ho), Ji-hoo (Kim Hyun Joong), Yi-jung (Kim Bum), and Woo-bin (Kim Joon).
My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho
There’s something about a romance comedy and a fantasy tale rolled into one. Definitely a sure-fire, endearing hit to Filipino viewers in 2011. And who would not be intrigued if a fine looking chap Dae-woong (Lee Seung-gi) falls in love with Mi-ho (Shin Min-ah), who turns out to be a mythical nine-tailed fox! But there’s something else that’s awe-inspiring—that immeasurable sacrifice in the name of love; how one must give up life for the other, and how viewers in abated breath witness how it turns out in the end.
A story about an arranged relationship turned romance between an ordinary girl and Korea’s crown prince in an alternate reality where monarchy still ruled will always appeal to viewers obsessed with royalty. But the love journey of Janelle (Yoon Eun-hye) and Prince Gian (Ju Ji-hoon), from despising their forced marriage to eventually falling in love for one another is surely a delight to follow when it originally aired in 2007. In addition, what else can further bring in a captured audience than putting dirty royal politics in the picture?
To the Beautiful You
Korean dramas are riddled with stories about girls disguising as boys for various reasons—mainly for the girls to fulfill dreams that are “only for the boys” or in other cases, getting close to the man of their dreams. This Korean drama aired in 2013 took the path of the latter, when JC (Sulli, formerly of f/x) pretended to be a man, not only to meet her idol Paul John (Minho of SHINee) but also inspire him to regain lost glory as a high jumper. Such situations, while often repeated in drama plots everywhere, will never go out of style, especially in the eyes of Filipinos.
This delightful, rib-tickling rom-com mesmerized audiences in 2006 with the story of a gregarious, quick-witted girl Jasmine (Lee Da-hae), whose debt-shackled, gambler of a father forced her to fend for herself and try to pay off the debts. She then meets Julian (Lee Dong-wook), who is the sole heir to a hotel chain, but needs someone to act as a long-lost granddaughter to grant the wish of his dying grandfather. Julian sees Jasmine as perfect for the act but not without a monthly salary, plus a bonus! But in an unexpected turn of events, the grandfather recovers and both Julian and Jasmine are forced to live together as cousins. They would then become attracted to one another blossoming into a wonderful yet forbidden love. Indeed, such zany yet enjoyable story arc makes one ideal show Filipinos would follow from start to finish. This led to a local version that starred Kim Chiu in 2008.
Another surefire hit Korean drama formula is the time traveling Joseon prince visiting present-day urban Korea. And what else could become as entertaining and effectual to the Filipino audience than this show aired in 2013 wherein Prince Lee Gak (Park Yoochun) of the 17th Century Joseon dynasty time-travelled 300 years and landed on the rooftop house of Park-ha (Han Ji-min) to solve the murder of his wife, who bears a striking resemblance to Park-ha, insinuating reincarnation. The prince also was a deadringer of Tae-yong (Park Yoochun), a murdered scion of an industry-leading conglomerate, and the killer Tae-mu (Lee Tae-sung), a cousin of Tae-yong was shocked to see him in the flesh. How Lee Gak and Park-ha’s love blossomed and how parallel encounters from two periods of Korea’s history made the show impeccable to watch.
Another development often seen in Korean dramas is the unfortunate predicament of having selective or full amnesia. This became the crucial twist in this show that originally aired in 2009 wherein Victor (Kim Ho-Jin) figured in a car accident that wiped out memories of his current wife Janine (Son Tae-young). Victor believes he is still married to ex-wife Yvonne (Kim Ji-Young), whom he divorced so he could be with Janine, and everybody should play along, including his hurting new flame. Filipino audiences were fascinated with each turn and twist, leading to its ratings success in 2009. The show was since adapted to a similarly successful teleserye featuring Kaye Abad, Jason Abalos, and Erich Gonzales in 2014.
With FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano dominating Philippine TV with the highest ratings day after day, it is quite safe to conclude that the action genre is still one compelling option to plot your primetime offering. This was definitely the main reason why City Hunter aired in 2012, apart from having the charming lead flower boy Lee Min Ho as the main protagonist Johnny Lee. It’s presents the familiar elements in the action genre. His lust for revenge after his father was killed and how he dared to bring down the establishment to fulfill this. Indeed, quit familiar and enticing.
Yet another often revisited topic in Korean dramas is about the after-life and Filipinos, being predominantly Christian, always consider life after death as an important eventuality. This explains the interest in this show, originally titled in Korea as 49 Days. This presents a comatose car accident victim Diane (Nam Gyu-ri), wanting to secure a second chance in life by fulfilling the task of collecting real tears of pure love for her in 49 Days. In doing this, she then ends up possessing the body of a distressed and suicidal convenience store employee Ysabel (Lee Yo-won), whose boyfriend died. But it turns out those she expected to get tears of pure love have proven to express the opposite. It was so well-received that a local version featuring Alex Gonzaga and Yen Santos was produced in 2014.
These shows offer the depth and breadth of Korean drama’s universality and how it touches anyone. It lies on how the stories are conceived and told—reflecting and mirroring the reality and dreams of everyone in the best way possible. Thus, it isn’t hard to digest the story and relate to it, and even if you they speak a different tongue, the Korean drama is always understandable, entertaining and inspiring.