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Interview with senior actors about Korean dramas

Posted September. 30, 2013 07:31,   


The Korean wave is said to have begun in 1997 when the Korean drama “What is Love” was aired in China, which was starred by senior actor Lee Sun-jae. Since then, many things have been changed in terms of both positive and negative aspects.

Lee Sun-jae, the oldest actor active in the field, said, “The other day, the reality show “Grandpas over Flowers” crew went to Switzerland to shoot. And there, we met tourists from China and Taiwan who recognized us. Nowadays, Japanese fans come to production press conferences to support young Korean actors. In the past, we couldn’t see these things. Compared to this change in the Korean drama’s status in the world, the quality of Korean dramas doesn’t seem to have developed. We see so many “absurd dramas” or reproductions of Japanese dramas. The trend seems to have been reversed.”

Ryu Jin-ryong said, “Recently, I met a Chinese counterpart of the chairman of the Korea Communications Commission and he said that, to stay afloat in the Chinese market, Korean dramas should deal with some common values. He added that people will turn their backs on Korean dramas if producers keep focusing on producing dramas with shocking and absurd stories.

Question: What do you think is the reason that more and more Korean dramas deal with shocking and absurd stories?

Lee Sun-jae: “Korean actors receive scripts just before shooting each episode. This is the reality for most of Korean drama productions. Shooting of each drama episode is finished just before being aired, which invites broadcasting accidents. Because scripts are delivered to the shooting site just before broadcasting time, the drama crew has no choice but to keep shooting no matter how absurd the script is. As a result, nobody tries to direct at Korean drama shooting sites because there’s no time to do that. Unlike Korean drama shooting sites, all Japanese dramas are premade. Japanese drama writers are asked to modify their scripts at least more than three times.”

Choi Bul-am: “I think the fundamental problem is that broadcasting companies put viewer ratings first. In the past, each broadcaster had different values it pursued. But nowadays, all broadcasters including the public broadcasting company focus on making money out of dramas.”

Question: Isn`t it natural for writers and broadcasters to pursue higher viewer ratings?

Choi: “Playwriter Kim Hui-chang has said that TV screen is a blackboard in classroom while actors are teachers, meaning that dramas need to present good people to the public. Popularity should not be the only thing to be considered.”

Lee: “Good dramas touch the heart of the viewers. In other words, good dramas go with high ratings. Drama producers should see beyond domestic popularity because Korean dramas are exported as cultural products. Thinking that more and more people around the world watch Korean dramas now, I can’t help feeling ashamed of low-quality dramas.”

Question: As problems such as “real-time scripts” or delayed payment have been at issue so long, the government announced a standard contract policy to address the matter.

Ryu: “The law was put in place in August this year. It was no easy at all to persuade broadcasting companies to agree to the standard contract policy. However, for the contract policy to be firmly established, spontaneous participation by people in the drama industry is essential. Unfair practices need to be reported, but people still refrain from reporting them.”

Question: Until the early 2000s, production costs of a mini-series drama were less than 100 million won (93,000 U.S. dollars). However the production cost has jumped three-to-five folds in a decade. Critics say that high guarantee of top stars has contributed to the increase.

Lee: “I think high guarantee for some celebrities is sort of a mutant. It skyrocketed all of a sudden. I’ve heard some actors ask for more than 100 million won (93,000 U.S. dollars) per episode, which is ridiculous given poor drama-production conditions. This problem, however, is not only about such actors. Popular celebrities avoid starring in TV dramas because of poor production conditions. They pursue TV commercials or movies. Because top stars don’t want to star in TV dramas, drama producers have to give the amount set by such actors. Against this backdrop, broadcasters can solve this problem. Broadcasting companies should be able to plan dramas more strategically and put efforts to hire new actors rather than celebrities."

Question: Do you see any problems in young actors nowadays?

Choi: “In the past, each broadcasters had its own pool of actors, which gave the actors many opportunities to learn how to act from their senior actors. However, young actors nowadays seem to focus only on money without sense of responsibilities as workers in the industry.”

Lee: “I’ve seen many talented young actors fail to build their careers due to lack of work training. Such actors play well if they get roles of a gang member, but cannot play a role of an intelligent person. I give an advice to young actors to learn acting at private institutes when they have time. Another problem is that management companies securing celebrities to play heroes force drama producers to hire supporting actors from it. Broadcasting companies should seriously consider this practice newly emerged with the development of management system."