"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-

Sunday, September 29, 2013

[Flash Back] WLS - a legend is born [part 2/2]

Original in Chinese: Close2yj / 俊心咏恒 loveyongjoon
Translated into English: Happiebb / bb's blog

Winter Sonata – A Legend is Born [Part 2]

Winter Sonata is about a beautiful love story that spans over ten years. Ten years ago in Chun Cheon High School, a boy named Jun Sahng and a girl named Yujin met and their love was just like the first snow. But as fate would have it, love at its most beautiful and pure, just before Jun Sahng wanted to tell Yujin how he felt about her, fate made him disappear on the road, the night before the dawn of a brand new year. Then after the passage of ten long years, on yet another cold wintry night of first snow, Yujin who was hurrying to her own engagement party saw the same familiar face that had haunted her days and her nights, the face that had appeared ever so often in her dreams. She saw his face amidst the falling snow. So, the unseen hands of fate bridged the gap of those ten years and suddenly the earlier years of her first love converged in the present days of adulthood. And once more, the love song that spoke of so much love and sadness was awakened.

Seemingly a somewhat old-fashioned story of clichés huh? There’re simply too many coincidences and unexplained happenings. But yet, through this story, we can still see and experience and feel so many different emotions, so real and so deep, like first love and memories, like life and death, like the generosity of love, like tolerance and loneliness… All of these contained so much inner pain and surreal beauty. The youthful days of playing in the snow, the bright smiles in winter, the footprints of love in the snow, the jigsaw puzzle of life, and of course, polaris that’s forever… and many more. When put together, what did these bring to us? What did they represent? It’s faded dreams, something that we all had, but had long abandoned in the memories of that pure first love.

Topics about pure love, about eternity, forever and ever… people take to them so easily, and they can touch our hearts so easily. Maybe all our lives, we’ve been saying goodbye and yet remembering those faded memories of first love. In each of us, our inner hearts all possess a lonely soul from the Kingdom of Shadows. And we all need that special someone to break down the outer shell that’s hardened by the everyday storms. We all need someone to touch that soft spot in all of us with his or her tender and perfect love. If you still have that soft, sensitive spot in you, then yes, surely you will be moved by Winter Sonata.

Can’t help but admire PD Yun Seok Ho for his artistic talent. The way he had captured those moving scenes, the way he had created those countless perfect backdrop was just poetry in motion. Whether it’s the golden lane, the quiet lake, or the foggy evening light, the blue skies with flying seagulls… Under PD Yun’s talented eyes and hands, they were all presented before our eyes with such breathtaking beauty. Not to mention the snowy scenes, sometimes tranquil, sometimes serious and bleak, and at other times, even bright and full of life… All the scenes and backdrop became one with the story, they too told of the pain and joy of the characters, the love and hatred of the roles. The whiteness of winter was not at all boring and nondescript, in fact it brought a certain purity and clarity to us, and also set a perfect backdrop for all the other colours to showcase their brightness and beauty.

PD Yun also has some strong background in music, and music too was a critical contributing factor to Winter Sonata. My Memory, First Time, From the Beginning to the End… Who can forget these tunes? They resound in our heads together with the images from the drama, as if angels singing to us from the heavens. And whenever we think of these tunes, we would recall those wistfully beautiful memories…
In all fairness, Winter Sonata did not exactly have a creative storyline, but there were lines in the drama that were so delicately sensitive and so, so moving. They touched all our hearts, didn’t they?

“To people in love, the best home is in each other’s hearts.”

“You’ve never really loved someone, have you? When someone who’s just beside you, who’s just in your life suddenly disappears… That sort of feeling… When everything else around you has not changed, but there’s just a certain someone missing beside you… Can you understand that feeling? And is it so unforgivable to feel sad and pained about it?”

“No matter how long, we will never ever forget someone who’s already etched in our hearts.”

“Misunderstandings need not be forgiven.”

“The best gift to someone dead is to forget him.”

“The scenery here’s so beautiful, but what do you see? You see only sad memories. To shut your heart so tightly like this, can you really love someone? You’re the person who’s living in the Kingdom of Shadows, aren’t you?”

“When all the other stars have shifted positions, the Polaris will still remain in its place. When others misunderstand you, or can’t forgive, you, or leave you even, so long as I’m still here, not moving from my position, you will not lose your way. Can you trust me?”

“I love a woman so deeply, I love her so much. I hope to be by her side until we both grow old. I want to have children with that woman’s eyes. For that woman whom I love and for our children, I want to be their gentle hands and strong legs.”

Lines like these and many more can be found in the drama. Forgive me I can’t list them all. These lines that are devoid of flowery literature, so simple and unadorned… but every single word shone with such brightness that we’re all touched and they’re all so unforgettable. (bb: one more, one more! one that camille would know very well, haha! love needs no reason!)

And of course, how can we talk about Winter Sonata and not mention the cast. Bae Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo are very compatible in terms of physical appearance. Just by standing together, they already make a nice picture. I guess we could say they’ve great on-screen chemistry. Their sensitive and sincere portrayal was so convincing. The cute pureness of their youth, the sensuality and grace of their adulthood… They brought to us two loves that were so different in essence, but both equally enchanting and moving.

Especially Yong Joon. We can see the beginning of his acting style of ‘still water runs deep’, kind of to allow himself to mould to the shape and character of the roles. He became the very character in the drama. In Winter Sonata, Junsahng, the Min Hyung before he regained his memory, and the Min Hyung after he regained his memory…

It was as if he had played three different characters.

No matter if he’s playing out the loneliness and sensitivity of the young Jun Sahng, or acting out the confusion and interest in Yujin when they met again, or when he’s showing restraint of his love for Yujin, or afterwards when he regained his memory, the sense of loss, the struggle, the pain, and various conflicting and confusing emotions, he played them all with such depth. Everything he emoted tugged at our hearts and moved us. Again and again.

All of these, contributed to and created the perfect beauty of Winter Sonata. The drama brought us so much, in terms of visual, audio and even in terms of depth of emotions. Everything left a deep and lasting impression. It surpassed and overcame the common flaws of modern day TV dramas: weak storyline and unrealistic development. It brought artistic life to a simple love story, a fairy tale even. And this is the everlasting magic of Winter Sonata.


That was a winter that allowed us to bring back the dream. It made many people forget, at least temporarily, the hustle bustle of life, or the mundane bits of everyday life, as we allowed ourselves to fall into this beautiful illusion. We were so, so willing to be comforted by this lovely dream. Even long after we had turned off the TV, many of us were unable to step out of this whole Winter Sonata aura of sadness, of love. Winter Sonata was first aired in Korea on KBS on 14th January 2002, ending its run on 19th March 2004. The drama accompanied many during the long and cold winter months, and during that time, it created such a wave in Korea.

When it was aired in early 2002, the Korean TV stations were mostly airing period dramas. In fact, for the preceding two to three years, the period dramas were the ones winning the viewership game. In particular, the long epic Women of the Palace (Yeoin Cheonha) was still being aired and enjoying an average of 40% viewership. (bb: that’s actually very high, just in case you didn’t know. Btw Women of the Palace was all of 150 episodes! And when it was aired, there was so controversy about how ‘revealing’ the women were… they were being accused of that to up viewership, hehe!)

But when Winter Sonata started airing, a viewership war erupted on the TV stations every Monday and Tuesday nights. That was quite a battle. Its first episode recorded 16.3% and its second episode 16.6%, and brought the ever-high Ladies of the Palace down by some 7-8%. It also affected the much-anticipated MBC drama Sangdo (bb: its literal translation is actually Business Ethics. hee, kindda funny title for a period drama.)

As the story unfolded, when coming to the point where the main leads met again after ten years, the viewership had already reached 27.2%, claiming the top spot. Because of the wild popularity of Winter Sonata, the production team even considered extending the drama by more episodes. But because both Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo had already lined up work in their schedules after the drama, the extension could not materalise.
And it was also because of the strong protests by the audience that Winter Sonata did not see the sad ending a la Autumn in My Heart.

Instead, it gave everyone a ‘happy ending with a hint of regret’.

The success of Winter Sonata brought new light and a ray of hope for modern day dramas, which were then overshadowed and overpowered by period dramas. Egged on by its success, production teams once again started to work on modern day TV dramas. Winter Sonata could be said to have changed the scene and direction of Korea’s TV dramas in early 2002.

Another thing, when this drama was being aired, the trends, music, places and things mentioned or highlighted in the drama also created much hype. In fact, some of the trends created had such an astounding effects on the public.

“Winter Sonata” became the top in terms of search phrases on the Internet, and its official site saw an average of 10 million hits (bb: or it could be page views, it’s not clear), causing the server to be down quite frequently. The songs in its OST also made it to the top few spots when it came to music download. When the drama was being aired, its OST has being ordered at a rate of some 20,000 to 30,000 per day, and it easily broke the 250,000-mark in a matter of days.

The hairstyles and dressing of Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo also became benchmarks for trends. Young people were emulating Min Hyung’s hairstyle, his eyeglasses and his scarves.

And here, we’ve to mention Miss Hong, the stylist who has been working with Yong Joon for many years. It was she who had persuaded Yong Joon to take the bold challenge of wearing brighter colours and adopting a trendier look, including the dyed hair. Yong Joon had always favoured simpler styles with quieter colours and he did not even like to wear much accessories. Miss Hong had bought that famous blue striped scarf at a cheap price of just 2,000 won (US$2!) from a stall at the bus terminal and she also introduced the Paul Smith glasses and the golden ‘windswept’ hairdo. All these helped create the stylish and sophisticated Lee Min Hyung, who became the icon of style.

bb: this is D scarf!

bb: yea, people started tying two scarves instead of just one... but hehe, you need to be tall and pretty slim to carry off the thick bulky scarves man... otherwise, you end up looking like a frog, yea, neck-less! and, just look at some of the many, many scarves wuri yong joon wore in the drama! hehe, there was even a joke going around on the internet that yonsama knows 80 different ways to wear a scarf!

KBS and PD Yun’s production company created an unprecedented economic effect with Winter Sonata. According to a Chosun Ilbo report on 6th March 2002: The production of Winter Sonata cost 4 billion won (US$4m) but even before the drama ended its run on TV, they had already recouped more than twice the production cost. The commercials drew some 5 billion won (US$5m) and the OST another 2 billion won (US$2m). They further raked in another 6 billion won (US$6m) from selling the drama rights to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries. All these, and plus the related income from the website, the merchandise sold at the shooting sites amounted to more than 8 billion won (US$8m).

Chosun Ilbo had then predicted that the drama could make three times what it had cost to produce. But the truth is the estimate was far, far, far too conservative. I guess no one could have foreseen that one single drama, Winter Sonata could be singing from 2002 all the way to 2005! From Asia to Africa, to the Middle East, from Korea, to Taiwan, to Japan, to Egypt, even to Iraq. The lonesome Jun Sahng and the perfect lover Min Hyung had stolen so many hearts, so much so that people were all flocking to Korea to look for him.

In 2002, Winter Sonata was first aired in Chinese areas such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, and it had started a new K-drama craze. Taiwanese fans who had already had a taste of the BYJ magic through Frank Shin were further fuelled and the base just grew stronger. And it was also about that time that China saw the start of some fiercely loyal BYJ fans who are active even up to now. And the fever also swept Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and others, places where they don’t even know what winter is really like. And even now, Winter Sonata is still the K-drama that most people know or at least have heard of.

In April 2003, just when this drama was slowly forgotten as newer dramas took its place in Korea, Winter Sonata was aired in NHK’s satellite TV channel in Japan. And it did something that no other K-drama had ever done, yes, it was a runaway success. The Japanese too began to be mesmerized by the magic of Winter Sonata, and it created so many conversation topics and broke so many records in Japan, the response was just too hot for words. And that also brought the influence of Winter Sonata to its peak.
Winter Sonata was first aired on NHK’s satellite station from April to September 2003. NHK started to receive a high volume of telephone calls and emails and letters from viewers, all expressing their love and appreciation for this K-drama.

NHk repeated broadcast of this drama from mid December 2003, but it still could not satisfy the heated response of the viewers, it finally decided to air the drama on its usual ground channel from April 2004. Although it was already its third airing in Japan, and despite the late slot of 11pm every Saturday night, Winter Sonata still broke the viewership records of foreign dramas in Japan, and it even did better than a local serial that was being aired at the golden timeslot. Its final episode was aired on 21st August 2004 and that’s also the day it reached its highest rating, 22.5%. It was amazing that it still managed to maintain this high viewership despite the Olympics craze.

The Winter Sonata TV novel published by NHK saw reprints, and the drama also became course materials for teaching the Korean language in Japan. The DVDs and related products were hot sellers from 2003 through to 2005, even the high price of 21,000 yen (US$180) did not affect sales. Just from selling DVDs and VCDs alone, NHK recorded sales of some 4.5 billion yen (US$38.6m) in 2004 alone, and in the first half of 2005, sales reached a new high of 3.157 billion yen (US$27m). Winter Sonata helped NHK end its perpetual loss of 14 years running; it helped NHK turn from a loss-making outfit to actually churn out a profit of 11.5 billion yen (US$98.8m).
And the copyright holders of the drama, KBS and PD Yun’s production company, revealed on 10th Aug 2004 that from Winter Sonata alone, KBS had raked in 6.5 billion won (US$6.5m) from 2002 to the first half of 2004, whilst the production company achieved sales of some 16 billion won (US$16m), other related merchandise recorded sales of 50 billion won (US$53m). With the passage of time, these numbers would only be growing bigger.

The Winter Sonata effects did not stop there. According to a report released by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, when NHK aired the drama on its ground network and when it aired it for the fourth time on its satellite channel, more than 38% of the Japanese population watched it. And amongst these, about 26%, equivalent to some 10% of the entire population changed their negative opinions about Korea.--omitted--

The Japanese started to look upon Korea, its so-near-yet-so-far neighbour, with more serious and with more favourable eyes. They wanted to learn more about the Korean culture, and learning the Korean language actually became a trend.

Korea also became a hotspot for Japanese travelers, with many flocking to places such as Nami Island, Chun Cheon, Yong Pyeong Ski Resort and others. Winter Sonata opened the doors and paved the way for Korean dramas and for Korean stars in the Japanese market. Japan is no longer outside of the sensational Korean wave that has erupted in so many places. They no longer just looked on with cool and clinical eyes; instead with never before passion, they embraced the coming of the Korean wave.


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