South Korean media production typically gives big name stars large fees, with some regularly exceeding $100,000 dollars per episode. Yet the performance of recent dramas with high-priced talent has not met with expectations. “Snowdrop” never exceeded 4% ratings despite the presence of Jung Hae-in. “Bad and Crazy” with Lee Dong-wook had drifted down to 2.8% ratings in its final episode. “Bulgasal: Immortal Souls” with Lee Jin-wook had a similarly disappointing 5% ratings finish.
“Our Beloved Summer” even had the benefit of two big stars instead of just one, with Choi Wooshik and Kim Da-mi in the leading roles. Yet that drama ended with just 5.3% ratings. “Our Beloved Summer” did have a noteworthy advantage compared to the other three in that it performed exceptionally well in the international market on Netflix. Yet even that example poses a noteworthy counterargument. “All of Us Are Dead” has no major stars to speak of yet is the world’s most popular Netflix show.
If viewers aren’t drawn to serial dramas with big stars, then what are they drawn to? The answer is that they respond to strong performances. “Uncle” hasn’t had much of an international profile. But it’s had excellent ratings, with a high of 9.3%. The sentimental TV Chosun drama about an unemployed middle-aged man doesn’t sound exciting. The biggest credit lead actor Oh Jung-se had before then was in “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” as the older autistic brother of Kim Soo-hyun‘s character.
Yet that performance was a powerful one, and Oh Jung-se has earned further plaudits for his role in “Uncle” Cementing his reputation not just as supporting talent, but as talent capable of carrying a narrative as the lead. Ultimately the story that has emerged from recent big projects is that a big star alone can’t guarantee success. A good drama needs a solid appeal, and whether an actor is right for the role matters more than how famous they are.
Written by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema’s travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea’s public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
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