[HanCinema's News] South Korean Dramas Find Fans in China Even Undistributed

"Reborn Rich" was one of the biggest Korean drama hits worldwide last year. This was also true in China- despite the reincarnation-themed corporate inheritance drama not having a proper distributor. Despite this handicap, the Chinese movie website Douban has 122,046 ratings as of this writing. And not all of them were positive. The average of these ratings is only 7.1.

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"Reborn Rich" is a major example due to its huge popularity, but to this day other unlicensed South Korean dramas are also finding an audience in China. "Strong Girl Nam-soon" has 1,893 ratings averaging to 6.3, while "Doona!" has 9,825 ratings averaging to 6.6. The issue has become one of recent criticism in South Korea, with a university professor making a viral post via social media calling attention to the exposure of these dramas and demanding government intervention for them.

Longtime international South Korean drama fans may find the controversy a perplexing one. For many, many years, illegal sourcing was the only way for fans to obtain subtitles to most of their favorite dramas. Fansubs became a common foundational element of international K-drama fan groups, with properly sourced official subtitles only being a rarity many months after the fact for the few official international distributors of South Korean dramas.

Netflix fueled a major South Korean drama boon less by producing dramas and more by distributing them, finally providing an official means by which fans could support these shows. This is also the case in China itself, which sees many official distributors for South Korean dramas. The three dramas discussed here are not among them, as the worldwide rights in question are owned by Disney Plus for "Reborn Rich" and Netflix for the other two, with neither service operating in China.

Are K-drama fans in China operating under moral hazard when they illegally stream these dramas? Perhaps so, although blaming China for the impasse is a dubious response. A better question might be why South Korean drama production companies allow their work to be sold to companies who cannot or will not distribute their work in a large lucrative region like China, with the Chinese fan crime being that they love K-dramas too much to care about questionable corporate dealmaking.

Written by William Schwartz

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"Reborn Rich" is directed by Jeong Dae-yoon, Kim Sang-ho-III, written by Jang Eun-jae, Kim Tae-heui, and features Song Joong-ki, Lee Sung-min, Shin Hyun-been, Kim Hyun-I, Yoon Je-moon, Kim Jung-nan. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2022/11/18~2022/12/25, Fri, Sat, Sun 22:30 on JTBC.

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"Strong Girl Nam-soon" is directed by Kim Jung-sik-I, Lee Kyung-sik, written by Baek Mi-kyeong, and features Lee Yoo-mi, Kim Jung-eun, Kim Hae-sook, Ong Seong-wu, Byeon Woo-seok, Lee Seung-joon. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2023/10/07~Now airing, Sat, Sun 22:30 on JTBC.

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"Doona!" is directed by Lee Jeong-hyo, written by Jang Yoo-ha, and features Bae Suzy, Yang Se-jong, Park Se-wan, Ha Young, Baek Ji-hye, Kim Do-wan. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2023/10/20, Fri on Netflix.

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