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'Yonsama' to try his luck in China

2005/11/01 | 455 views | Permalink | Source

With the slightest smile or a subtle wave of the hand, "Yonsama" Bae Yong-joon may have hundreds of Japanese women fainting with lust. But China is an unpredictable land even for the "Korean Wave Prince", as he sets off next week to meet his fans there for the release of "April Snow".

With a trademark smile that accentuates his sculpted features, the 33-year-old actor stole the hearts of many Japanese women through "Winter Sonata", a hit TV drama that started off the boom for Korean pop culture in the neighboring country.

Utilizing Bae's charm to the maximum by adopting the same melodrama formula of "Winter Sonata", the movie "April Snow" managed to sweep up over two million audiences in Japan, becoming the most popular Korean movie released in the country.

But despite the success in Japan, China's reaction toward the movie remains a mystery.

Ironically, while the formula had been more than enough to please Japanese fans, Korean moviegoers who were not infected by the "Yonsama Craze" had not been so enthusiastic about the movie.

"In the movie, Bae managed to reincarnate Joon-sang in Winter Sonata", said critic Gwak Young-jin in a local movie magazine. "A reincarnation of Joon-sang had been enough to lure Japanese fans, but had evidently been a turn-off for Korean moviegoers".

Yoon Seok-ho, the director of "Winter Sonata", once said that Yonsama was a "fantasy" created by both actor Bae and Joon-sang, the main character of the drama.

Playing as Joon-sang, a man with an everlasting devotion for his first love, Bae excited nostalgia of the 1960s and 70s among the middle-aged housewives of Japan.

A heart-aching romance unfolding over the sparkling white snow, "Winter Sonata" was an Asian version of the movie "Love Story" that these women remembered in the days of their youth. Although many more Korean TV dramas were broadcast in Japan following the major hit drama, not one managed to exceed its popularity which ended with a viewer rating of 22 percent for its final episode.

But despite the hope that Bae will manage to make another mega wave in China, some critics carefully predict that China will be a different story from Japan.

It is married women in their 40s and 50s that lead the Korean Wave in Japan. Many "Yonsama fanatics" are known to be highly educated women who have reached a mid-life with some extra time and money to spare.

For these women, Yonsama in "Winter Sonata" is a perfect tool to revive memories of their youth. Watching the pure and somewhat old-fashioned love story wrapped in a modernized package, the housewives feel a familiar tingle of nostalgia that Japan's trendy dramas failed to excite.

But unlike these Japanese housewives, most Chinese women work in double harness with their husbands, and thus, do not have the time to daydream about a romance far from their reality.

Exhausted from work and family duties which often collide, Chinese women tend to fancy a down-to-earth story that they can actually sympathize with. "Family" is an important concept for these women who struggle to keep up with both duties without fail.

For example, Korea's renowned author Kim Su-hyun's 1992 TV drama "What is Love", which was released in China in 1997, received warm greeting from viewers. "What is Love" is a family-based drama which portrays problems and everyday lives of a large family comprised of three generations. The drama's success showed that family dramas were more compelling than romances for Chinese viewers.

Moreover, the so-called "Yonsama effect" was possible due to Japan's tendency to jump on trends.

When a movie or a drama becomes a hit, companies immediately open up a market luring fans to books, DVDs, records, photographs and anything related. Because of the public's strong attachment to celebrities, the success of a movie or a TV series in Japan is often largely dependent on the popularity of the leading actor or actress.

Thus, to a certain extent, it was Yonsama's popularity that played the crucial role in the success of "April Snow", not the movie itself, critics say.

But the case is different for China, as it is often not the leading actor or actress, but prominent directors and critics' reviews that lure Chinese audiences to the cinema.

"While Japan is known for the characteristic to immediately idolize and worship a celebrity en masse, China appears to be much cooler and more rational when it comes to actors and actresses", said professor Masao Omura of Nihon University.

Thus, making a wave in China is probably a nerve-racking test for Yonsama, in which he has to try his luck to break through with a much slimmer chance. But despite the difficulties, Korea has its finger crossed with Bae, hoping that the Yonsama fantasy will succeed in reaching China's heart.

By Shin Hae-in

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