The massively popular Korean TV drama “Descendants of the Sun” continues to make waves across Asia where the series’ episodes have already been viewed over 1 billion times in China.
But the show, which details the romance between a South Korean special forces officer and a woman doctor on a peacekeeping mission in a fictitious country, is stirring angry memories about the behavior of Seoul’s troops during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, President Park Geun-hye says the global popularity of the drama could help reach out to foreigners and boost tourism to South Korea.
“Descendants of the Sun” is set to air on HTV2 in Vietnam this spring after the 16-episode drama ends in South Korea. The hellokpop culture website reports that anticipation has been building to such a degree that many Vietnamese fans have already set up Facebook pages and are discussing the show over the Internet. Pirated copies are also widespread.
Though the show is yet to formally air in Vietnam, it’s already sparking a debate on whether it’s appropriate for Vietnamese to watch it given the alleged atrocities committed against civilians during the Vietnam War.
“The theme of the drama might not bear well with some older Vietnamese, who are still living with their traumatic memories of the Korean troops during the Vietnam War,” hellokpop said.
South Korea sent crack infantry units such as the Blue Dragon and White Horse divisions to fight alongside US soldiers during the conflict. They were reputedly some of the fiercest fighters of any side in the war. (The Korean troops were deployed to South Vietnam by President Park Chung-hee, Geun-hye’s father.)
The result has been that a heated debate erupted recently in one of the series’ most-liked Vietnamese fan pages which has been viewed by 350,000 users this week.
The trigger was a controversial comment posted last Sunday by Tran Quang Thi, a reporter of the local media outlet Tuoi Tre on his personal Facebook page.
Tran said, “During the Vietnam War, Korean troops spread terror in a number of regions in the country, not among the army, but among innocent civilians.”
“Some villages were completely wiped out by Korean troops. I believe if the victims’ souls were still around and watched the Korean drama it would break their hearts.”
He added, “No one even thinks about Korean or Chinese TV airing a film that praises Japanese soldiers out of respect for them as victims of World War II.” Tran’s post was shared more than 87,000 times.
Netizens from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City reportedly expressed mixed feelings about the post. Some felt that younger Vietnamese should “resonate” with Tran’s perspective, while others said that watching the Korean TV drama was a matter of personal choice.
South Korean President Park had a different take. Officials who attended a regular meeting at the presidential office on Monday quoted Park as praising Descendants of the Sun for polishing South Korea’s image in foreign countries and luring tourist bucks.
“Good cultural content can not only produce economic and cultural values, but also contribute to the revitalization of tourism,” Park was quoted as saying, also noting that the drama promoted patriotism among South Korean youth.
Another fan of the show — Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha — also publicly praised its stress on sacrifice and love of country to local media earlier this month.
Descendants of the Sun is the first Korean drama to be broadcast simultaneously in South Korea and China. It’s also airing in Thailand and other countries. Viewership of the show exceeded 30% in Seoul and other South Korean cities during last month’s debut and its episodes have been viewed more than 1 billion times on China’s video platform iQiyi.
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.
Chinese authorities have some basis for concern. In one incident in March, a young Chinese husband was said to be so jealous of his wife’s obsession with Song Joong-ki, Descendants’ male star, that he drunkenly burst into a local photography studio and demanded that the owner take photos of him to “make him look like Song.” The shop owner called police.
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