[Raine's Drama Insights] Why "Descendants of the Sun" is a Cultural Phenomenon


"Descendants of the Sun" is a K-drama that has touched every corner of the Korean drama scene. That scene can be found all over the globe. Its presence in Asia is unprecedented while Viki's internet streaming and quick subbing has brought the drama to English-speaking audiences. The power that drives the drama is multi-faceted ranging from the money behind it, to the promotion, to the star power, to intense fan viewership and participation.

The first episode of the drama debuted at a remarkable 14.3%, an astounding number for a public channel like KBS. First episodes usually clock in well below 10%. Ten episodes later, "Descendants of the Sun" broke the 30% barrier when it came in at 30.4%. The last time a drama broke 30% was 2012's "The Moon Embracing the Sun" that aired on MBC and starred Kim Soo-hyun, a top-rated Hallyu star.

To really understand the reach of Lee Eung-bok's, Kim Eun-sook's, and Kim Won-seok's master creation, we have to go back to when the drama first hit news outlets in February of 2015 when "The Heirs" writer Kim Eun-sook was brought aboard. As the months passed, casting news poured in and April 2015 saw the Song-Song acceptance of the main leads. Song Joong-ki accepted his role a month before his release from his mandatory military duty. This led to more anticipation for the drama because it would be the popular "A Werewolf Boy" and "Nice Guy" actor's first post-military work. National Beauty Song Hye-gyo also brought her fair share of media spotlighting to the growing hype.

Perhaps the largest factor in the show's popularity in these earlier stages was the Chinese investment that allowed for the 13 billion won drama to be completely pre-produced and filmed over the last six months of 2015. Pre-production allows for the drama to be simultaneously broadcast in Korea and China, where 1.1 billion viewers, roughly one-seventh of the world's population, are tuning in. Chinese fans have bumped Song Joong-ki up the Hallyu ladder to become the number one most popular Korean star in China over Lee Min-ho who ruled the roost in 2015. The Chinese market is where the money is coming from and and area that proponents and supporters of the Hallyu wave are very mindful of. Recently there have even been talks of a Chinese re-make, which is further proof of the power that the Chinese market has in the success and future of Hallyu.

It's not just the Chinese market that is tapping into the power of "Descendants of the Sun". It is internationally acclaimed as well. It's been exported to over thirty countries, including the flagging market in Japan, and the amount of money involved in these deals is incendiary. Viki provides streaming and fan-subs for quick access to over a billion English-speaking drama fans. In Korea, the drama's promo posters decorate Seoul and the filming sights have brought in so much tourist traffic that the President of Korea has praised the drama. The city of Taebaek has decided to reconstruct the film set in order to cater to the increased tourism.

As filming commenced and news reports of the drama's progress were published faster than K-drama fans could read them, the popularity of the stars began to incite even more hype. The filming in Greece, Orion's beautiful home country, gave the world romantic, stunning photos of landscapes, actors, and tastes of what was to come. Reports popped out more often as the six months of filming reach it's conclusion. By the time February 24, 2016 rolled around and the much-anticipated first episode aired, the Korean drama fandom was ready to watch, review, rave, and support the insane ratings. The Song Joong-ki effect became real. His popularity skyrocketed and made the weekly wait for the next epiode nearly a world epidemic, especially among women. In fact, in a rather amusing post, Orion talks about a warning given by the Chinese government. Women were ordered to be careful not to catch "lovesickness" over Song Joong-ki because it distressed men and could cause social problems. Personally, I'm more worried about Song Joong-ki whose immense popularity has hampered his ability to live his life freely.

Song Joong-ki isn't the only one who has experienced a burst of popularity. This has been the most public attention that Jin Goo has received since his drama "All In". Song Hye-kyo, Kim Ji-won, Song Joong-ki and Jin Goo have given a slew of interviews and battled dating rumors. Paradies of the drama have cropped up everywhere. Memes flood social media. Even the stars themselves share hilariously captioned screencaps. All of this points to a "Descendants of the Sun" subculture that has grown around the explosion of all things related to the drama and the actors.

To put it lightly, "Descendants of the Sun" has changed the course of the Korean drama. It has made pre-production a viable way of bringing drama to life. It has solidified certain paths of investment and revenue. It has given KBS a very, very good name. And, it's just plain ol' entertaining and lovely to watch. The loveliness of pre-produced drama may spoiler viewers against the live shoot system. In any case, this show is a phenomenon in the Korean drama world.

Hancinema readers, what has been the most surprising and mind-blowing aspect of the entire "Descendants of the Sun" process and success for you?

Written by: Raine from 'Raine's Dichotomy'