Since it began airing in South Korea, China and Southeast Asia in late February, the blockbuster TV drama, “Descendants of the Sun,” has irritated Chinese censors, charmed Thailand’s prime Minister and enthralled Chinese audiences. Episodes for the 16-part series, so far, have been viewed over 1 billion times in China.

Now, what’s going down as one of the most insanely popular Korean dramas ever, is also proving to be big business. Website KpopStarz says the rights to broadcast just one episode of the show in China costs over 260 million Korean won or about $222,000.

Descendants of the Sun poster
Descendants of the Sun poster

Bigger bonanzas are waiting in the wings. Publication rights for broadcasting the show have been sold in 32 countries. They include Japan, Australia, Thailand, and parts of Europe.

The drama’s enormous popularity across Asia has already allowed producers to recoup the 13 billion won or roughly $11.1 million dollars spent to produce the show which was shot on location in Greece.

“Descendants of the Sun” tells the story of a handsome, young army captain in special forces named Yoo Si-jin (played by Song Joong-ki) and a young woman doctor, Kang Mo-yeon (played by Song Hye-kyo). Yoo is dispatched on a peacekeeping mission to a distant and fictional war-torn country called Uruk. Dr. Kang is the leader of a medical team on a humanitarian mission. The tale focuses on the pair as they cope with the pressures of their mission and fall in love with each other.

Scene from series
Scene from series

In Japan, Descendants of the Sun has revived what was a sagging market for Korean Hallyu or “Korean Wave” dramas. The series rights are reportedly being sold to Japan for an estimated $100,000 per episode. This slaps a total price tag of about $1.7 million for the 16 episodes. While this may sound relatively small, the sum doesn’t include other business and marketing deals tied to the show.

Japan was formerly the hottest overseas market for Hallyu dramas. The phenomenon was sparked in 2002 by the airing of the massively popular Korean romantic drama, “Winter Sonata,” to Japanese TV audiences. But interest gradually waned.

Bilateral tensions between Japan and South Korea over WWII’s “Comfort Women” issue and a territorial dispute regarding an island claimed by both Tokyo and Seoul were blamed for the drop in Japanese viewer interest. The per-episode price for such Korean dramas in Japan sank well below $100,000 as a result. But the price has now surged thanks to the anticipated popularity of Descendants of the Sun.

The series will premier on Japanese TV in June.

China’s Ministry of Public Security has responded to the enormous popularity of Descendants of the Sun by warning Chinese viewers that watching too much of the series can lead to marital strife and criminal behavior. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, on the other hand, has publicly praised the drama for stressing patriotism and sacrifice for one’s country.

Related stories: Hit S. Korean series irks China, pleases Thailand; China altered scenes in Korean TV drama ‘Descendants of the Sun’; Korea’s special forces spotlighted in China amid ‘Descendants of the Sun’ drama fever

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