"Who are the best in their fields that the heart must come before ability, honor and money... "
"The attitude should be wholehearted and truthful."
-Bae Yong Joon-

Friday, October 26, 2012

[Flash Back] First Love - Part 1 (Dispelling the Myth: YJ’s Fame Came After Winter Sonata)

"I started watching the  drama 'Fisrt Love' a few weeks ago. Although I have not finished watching the entire episode yet. But so far, I really love the BYJ's role as 'Chan Woo'. Therefore, it was very interesting for me to read the opinion of the fans of this drama. And this one was an old post written by sister BB on her blog. Happy reading everyone!!" ^__^
source: bb's blog

First Love – Part 1
Dispelling the Myth:
YJ’s Fame Came After Winter Sonata

Most fans would talk about WLS, Hotelier and even HWRL, but I think amongst the newer fans, quite a number have not watched First Love. Save for Sunny Place of the Young and Six Steps to Separation, I’ve watched all of Yong Joon’s works. To me, First Love was the drama he truly understood what acting’s all about. Before First Love, he was acting out the characters, i.e. simulating the outer appearance of what the character should be saying, acting, gesturing. But none of the inner feelings and intricate emotions were present.

I feel he grasped the very essence of acting and really lived and breathed the character Chan Woo in First Love. It’s also one of my favourite Yong Joon dramas. I know some people think it’s an old-fashioned story and watching it today, the clothes, the hair and everything looked terribly outdated. But for whatever reason, I was drawn to the drama. I like Yong Joon’s portrayal of Chan Woo so much that I was willing to close one eye to the not-so-exciting character of Chan Woo’s brother, Chan Hyuk and also willing to overlook Hyo Kyung’s selfish love. As a fan, First Love will always have a special place in my heart because to me, it’s one of the milestones in Yong Joon’s acting career. It’s a turning point so to speak. He transformed from an idol to an actor in First Love.
Even now, after being a fan for three years [and still counting], I still bring out the discs and rewatch the drama from time to time. Never mind that Yong Joon wasn’t the male lead in the drama.

The rating of First Love in Korea when it was aired in the second half of 1996 proved that the audience agreed with me. Even today, First Love remains as the TV drama with the highest TV viewership of all time.

If Yong Joon was already established as a super idol then, his sterling performance in First Love won him much praise and accolades from the acting point of view. Before First Love, it’s probably his good looks rather than his acting skills that the audience had loved.

First Love had a first class cast, other than our Yong Joon, the cast included Choi Soo Jong, Park Sang Won, Lee Seung Yeon and others. They were all the reigning kings [and queen] of TV drama then. I remember Fumi mentioning in his earlier series that Choi Soo Jong was indeed the superstar of the mid 90s. I suppose that’s why he’s supposedly the No. 1 male lead and Yong Joon the No. 2 in First Love. Another point worth mentioning is that model-turned-actress Choi Ji Woo was a relative newcomer at that time, and First Love was instrumental in making her recognizable and popular.

First Love enjoyed unprecedented and unmatched success. It first aired on 7th Sep 1996 and for the eight months until it ended its run in April 1997, the drama was practically a winner throughout. With a high viewership of 37.1% for the very first episode, it held the throne as the most-watched drama amongst all dramas from all three TV stations for a continuous five months. The drama was all of 66 episodes, and out of these, 50 episodes achieved viewership of over 50%. During its final episode on 20th Apr 1997, it broke all records and achieved an astonishing 65.8%. A record that’s still unbroken today.

If you can recall, Yong Joon’s roles before First Love were mostly the scholarly gentleman type. Very intellectual and all. In First Love, he’s transformed himself into a tough guy. It was a beautiful transformation and he was even dubbed the James Dean of Korea for his convincing act. From a rebellious and errant problem kid, to a fiercely determined and disciplined university student and then to a cool and matured player in the commercial world… Yong Joon was wildly successful, incredibly convincing. He was so good that his performance overshadowed the No. 1 male lead. The audience was no longer concerned about whether the No. 1 male lead won his lady in the end, whether their pathetic love came to a good end. The audience was only concerned about whether Chan Woo would have his revenge and whether he would eventually end up with Choi Jiwoo’s character, Suk Hee.


Now you all know that in Korea, TV dramas are being shot as they are aired, right? And that scripts would be changed according to reaction and response from the audience. When First Love was aired, there’re some talks about how the script had originally planned for Chan Woo to join the secret society. This led the audience to call up KBS, the TV station to protest. The calmer fans would try and reason things out with KBS, they would say, “If even Bae Yong Joon, someone who’s so handsome, so smart and diligent and so filial, ends up joining the triads, then how do we teach our kids? How else can we take as examples to educate our children?” The more aggressive fans would threaten to turn up at the TV station to protest and a few even threatened to blow up KBS. So, the TV station had not much choice but to succumb to the ‘gentle persuasion’. They changed the script, made Chan Woo quit the triads and go back to school. Only then the audience was appeased.
First Love brought the highest point of Yong Joon’s career since he entered the show business and also propelled him to superstar status. He went from an idol who topped all the popularity ranking to a ‘national star’ in the minds of the Korean audience, young and old, male and female.

Thanks to First Love, Yong Joon won many awards that year. You know how every TV station would hold its annual awards at the end of every year? This is still being practiced even now. In the 1996 KBS Awards, he was crowned the Most Popular Male Actor with an overwhelming 58.8% votes [342,763 votes!]. That same year, he also won the Best Actor award, an award decided by the veterans in the business. Then in Mar 1997, he won the Most Popular TV Actor in Baeksang Awards. That’s not all. TV Journalist carried out a survey on 180 TV producers, directors and media and Yong Joon was voted the Best Actor in 1996.

Surely it’s not an exaggeration to say that in the Korean entertainment scene, 1996 was a BYJ Year. It was only two years after his debut. These days, when some media are reporting on the BYJ fever, they would say he’s a late bloomer, or that stardom came for him after Winter Sonata. This is pure media ignorance at work. It can’t be further from the truth.

Fact is, back in 1996, even before anyone of us had heard of the phrase Korean Current or Hanryu, this young man had already created a fever in his home country just two years in the business. And that’s a fever, a frenzy many of us could not even begin to imagine.

P.S. I would like to thank Chinese fan, Close2yj. Most of the facts and figures shared in the above posting are from her posting, From the Beginning to the End, a posting documenting Yong Joon’s acting career right from the beginning. Her posting, in Chinese, can be found in the Essays section on
http://www.loveyongjoon.com. But the comments and thoughts are all my own. 

No comments:

Post a Comment