A mega-hit South Korean TV drama that’s taking Asia by storm has become political fodder in China and Thailand — but for different reasons.
China’s Ministry of Public Security is warning Chinese viewers against watching too much of the series called “Descendants of the Sun,” while Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is beating the drum to get his citizens to watch it. Beijing worries that obsessive viewing of the series will stir up social ills, while the Thai PM loves the show’s stress on patriotism and sacrifice for one’s country.
“Descendants of the Sun” is about a young army captain in special forces named Yoo Si-jin (played by Song Joong-ki) and a young female doctor, Kang Mo-yeon (played by Song Hye-kyo). Yoo is deployed on a peacekeeping mission to a far away and fictional country. Dr. Kang is the leader of a medical team on a humanitarian mission. The story evolves around the two as they cope with their mission and fall in love with each other.
The 16-episode drama premiered in South Korea and China in February, dominating ratings and overwhelming Chinese social media. So far, eight episodes have aired.
“Watching Korean dramas could be dangerous, and may even lead to legal troubles,” the Chinese security ministry warned in a Weibo post last weekend. It also warned that watching too many Korean dramas of this sort can lead to domestic violence, divorce and plastic surgery, all of which were said to be common themes in South Korean TV shows.
CNBC says in a report that many Weibo users are taking the ministry’s warnings with a grain of salt.
“This isn’t the fault of Korean drama but has to do with IQ,” one Weibo user commented. Another added, “Although I don’t like Korean dramas but these are all individual cases. [Those involved] lack IQ.”
Chinese government concerns aren’t totally misplaced. A heroine’s appetite for fried chicken and beer in another hit South Korea series, 2014’s “My Love from the Star,” ignited such a craze for Korean fried chicken in China that a local woman reportedly came close to a miscarriage after gorging herself on wings and brew. A 20-year-old Chinese woman also was reportedly diagnosed with acute glaucoma after an 18-hour Korean drama binge-watching session, according to CNBC.
But Thailand’s Prayut, who seized power in 2014 coup, has an entirely different view of Descendants. The Yonhap News Agency says he’s telling all Thais to tune in.
“What I have seen is that they have included a sense of patriotism, sacrifice, obeying orders and being a dutiful citizen,” Yonhap quoted Prayut as telling a group of delegates at a government function on Thursday.
“So please watch it and if anyone wants to make such a drama I will financially sponsor it to make people love uncorrupt government officials and make the Thai people love each other.”
Prayut may favor the show because it fits with his political image. The ex-army chief-turned-prime minister has honed an image of himself as a military man duty-bound to save Thailand from years of political instability.
He also has a touch for show business himself: he’s written two songs and commissioned a series of films to spread his patriotic message. One of his songs is titled,”Because You Are Thailand.”
“Descendants of the Sun” is the latest manifestation of South Korean pop culture’s soaring popularity across Asia. The trend, referred to as “Hallyu” or Korean Wave, includes the K-pop music juggernaut as well as Korean movies and TV shows. The phenomenon first erupted in 2002 after the Korean TV drama, “Winter Sonata,” became an unprecedented trans-cultural hit with millions of Japanese, Chinese and Southeast Asian audiences.