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Asian Drama Redux: Remaking Korean & Chinese Dramas

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In Part 1 of Asian Drama Redux, we discussed Asian dramas that are adapted from the same manga or remakes of Japanese dramas. Now in Part 2, we take a look at Korean, Chinese and Western dramas that have been remade across Asia.

Korean Manhwa Adaptations

While Japanese manga are more well-known, Korean comics, or manhwa, have also inspired TV dramas both in and outside Korea. The classic 2000s dramas Full House and Princess Hours were both based on popular manhwa of the time.

Adapted from Won Soo Yeon's original work, the 2004 romantic comedy Full House starring Rain and Song Hye Kyo was a big Korean Wave hit in Asia and got remade in many countries including Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. Mike Angelo and Sushar Manaying led the hit 2014 Thai remake of Full House, while China's Midsummer is Full of Love starring Yang Chaoyue and Timmy Xu recently aired in 2020. Based on the manhwa Goong, which is set in an alternative Korea with a monarchy, the 2006 romance Princess Hours made stars out of former idols Yoon Eun Hye and Kim Jeong Hoon and up-and-coming rookies Ju Ji Hoon and Song Ji Hyo. In 2017, Thailand released their version of the story starring Pattie Ungsumalynn Sirapatsakmetha and Tao Sattaphong Phiangphor.

With the rise of online comics in Korea in the past decade, webtoons with strong plots and fanbases, such as Misaeng: Incomplete Life, have become prime sources for adaptation. Hailed for its realistic plot reflecting Korean work culture and office politics, the award-winning Misaeng series starring Im Si Wan, Lee Sung Min, Kang So Ra, Kang Ha Neul and Byun Yo Han was a phenomenon when it aired in 2014, recording very high viewership ratings for a cable production. The workplace drama was then remade by Japan in 2016, with the cast of Nakajima Yuto, Endo Kenichi, Seto Koji, Kiriyama Akito and Yamamoto Mizuki. Meanwhile, China's take on Misaeng, Ordinary Glory with Bai Jingting, Mark Chao, Bridgette Qiao and Wei Daxun, just began airing in September 2020 to solid reviews.

You're Beautiful

In 2009, SBS delivered a youth romantic comedy that would rival the popularity and proliferation of Japanese shojo manga adaptations – You're Beautiful. Combining the appeal of Boys Over Flowers, Hana-Kimi and K-pop, this mania K-Drama cast Park Shin Hye as a nun-in-training who disguises as her brother to join a boy band, and then falls in love with the band's prickly lead singer played by Jang Keun Suk. With a cast that also included K-pop idols Jung Yong Hwa, Lee Hong Ki and UEE and a catchy soundtrack to boot, You're Beautiful was a big hit with international fans and propelled Jang Keun Suk to Korean Wave superstardom in Japan.

Japan quickly adapted You're Beautiful into the TBS series Ikemen Desune in 2011, with Takimoto Miori as the gender-bending heroine and three Johnny's idols as her bandmates – Kis-My-Ft2's Tamamori Yuta and Fujigaya Taisuke and Hey! Say! JUMP's Yaotome Hikaru. Taiwan followed suit in 2013 with Fabulous Boys starring Jiro Wang, Lyan Cheng, Jacob Hwang and Evan Tsai. Notably, both the Japan and Taiwan versions stayed fairly close to the original's story, even down to adapting the names of the main characters, keeping the name of the band as A.N.JELL, and remaking the Korean soundtrack's hit songs.

Lots of Love for Korean Romance

From melodramas to romantic comedies, Korean romantic dramas are staples of Asian television screens, so it's no surprise that these hits are often picked up for remake. Besides Full House, Princess Hours and You're Beautiful, many more Korean romances have been remade throughout the years.

A year after Yoon Eun Hye's success with Princess Hours, she starred opposite Gong Yoo in the gender-bending romcom Coffee Prince, which swept several awards. Thai and Filipino remakes of Coffee Prince were broadcasted in 2012, while a Malaysian adaptation was aired in late 2017. Lulu Xu and Eric Yang starred in the Chinese adaptation Prince Coffee Lab that aired in 2018.

The representative breakout work of Lee Da Hae and Lee Dong Wook, the romantic comedy My Girl was one of the highest-rated series of 2005. Besides adaptations from Indonesia and Philippines, the most recognizable remake is Taiwan's Rainbow Sweetheart featuring Jimmy Lin and Cherrie Ying. Going back even further in time, the classic Korean Wave melodrama Autumn in My Heart has been adapted in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and China, while I'm Sorry, I Love You has inspired Thai, Turkish and Japanese remakes. More recently, Descendants of the Sun, the smash-hit military romance starring Song Hye Kyo and Song Joong Ki, spawned adaptations in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Korean dramas often add fun and memorable fantasy elements that refresh the romance formula, making them particularly attractive for remake. Garnering a number of prizes for both Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won, 2016's Secret Garden shook up the chaebol-meets-sassy-girl plotline with body-swap comedy. It was remade as Secret Garden Thailand starring Ananda Everingham and Baifern Luevisadpaibul in 2016. Jun Ji Hyun and Kim Soo Hyun's My Love from the Star about the destined romance between a celebrity and an alien was a huge commercial success in Asia in 2014, and it has since been adapted in the Philippines and Thailand. Oh My Ghost wasn't as popular internationally as the aforementioned series, but the supernatural romance also got remade in Thailand in 2018, with Pae Arak Amornsupasiri in Jo Jung Suk's role and Noona Nuengthida Sophon in Park Bo Young's role.

Korean Crime and Makjang

Korean dramas are strongly associated with romance, but there's another genre that has drawn increasing notice in recent years: crime. Signal, Voice and Tunnel are some of the most well-made Korean crime thrillers of the past decade, and the wave of remakes show that they're not only appealing to local audiences.

Starring Lee Je Hoon, Kim Hye Su and Jo Jin Woong, the 2016 series Signal unraveled unsolved mysteries based on real-life cases in Korea, delivering a rich, immersive storyline with a time-travel twist. Two years after the original, Japan aired an adaptation led by Sakaguchi Kentaro, Kichise Michiko and Kitamura Kazuki, while China released the remake Unknown Number in 2019 with Du Chun, Li Xiaoran and Wang Tianchen. The latter is among the few examples of China remakes to garner mostly positive reviews from Chinese viewers. Another serial-murder mystery with time-travel elements, 2017's Tunnel starring Choi Jin Hyuk was adapted in Thailand in 2019.

OCN's 2017 series Voice, starring Jang Hyuk and Lee Ha Na as detectives in the emergency call center team, hit high ratings in Korea, inspiring a second season and several remakes. Both aired in 2019, Japan's Voice: 110 Emergency Control Room starred Karasawa Toshiaki and Maki Yoko while Thailand's remake of the suspense thriller starred Andrew Gregson and Pancake Jamikorn. Japan has also remade the 2013 action thriller Two Weeks with Miura Haruma in the fugitive role originally portrayed by Lee Jun Ki, and the 2007 thriller Devil with Ohno Satoshi in the anti-hero role played by Ju Ji Hoon.

Makjang dramas are one of the most famous (and stereotypical) representations of K-Dramas in Asia. The term "makjang" is used to describe absurd soap opera plots that are overly dramatic, unrealistic and filled with complicated relationships. A definitive example is the 2008-2009 daily drama Temptation of Wife starring Daesang-winning actress Jang Seo Hee, Byun Woo Min and Kim Seo Hyung. The melodrama about a wife taking revenge on her cheating husband was a hit in Korea, and both China and the Philippines created their own renditions of it. China's adaptation Home Temptation, in particular, is easily the all-time most successful Chinese remake of a Korean drama. Starring Choo Ja Hyun, Ling Xiaosu and Rain Li, the series was not only the biggest ratings draw of 2011, it also held the post-2000s ratings record for Chinese dramas until 2017.

Before Temptation of Wife, Jang Seo Hee headlined the sensational 2002 family revenge drama Miss Mermaid. China remade the series into Sister Bride (a.k.a. New Miss Mermaid) in 2010, following the success of Temptation of Wife. Many other Korean daily and weekend dramas, makjang or otherwise, have been remade in China over the years, such as Ji Chang Wook's Smile Again into Refueling Mother, Kim Nam Joo's My Husband Got a Family into The Love of Happiness, and Lee Seung Gi and Han Hyo Ju's Brilliant Legacy into My Splendid Life.

The Evolution of Taiwan Idol Dramas

While the first wave of Taiwan idol dramas to make their way across Asia were mainly manga adaptations like Meteor Garden and It Started with a Kiss, original if formulaic romantic hits soon followed, and many of these have been remade.

One of the most iconic Taiwan idol dramas of all time, the 2005 megahit The Prince Who Turns into a Frog starred Ming Dao as a rich CEO who loses his memory and falls for Joe Chen's gold-digging but kind-hearted poor girl. Story-wise, Prince Who Turns into a Frog can be seen as an unofficial remake of the 2004 Korean melodrama Save the Last Dance for Me, but the Taiwan take became a bigger phenomenon, with its character archetypes and melodramatic plotline referenced to this day as the cheesy idol-drama formula done right. Over a decade since its broadcast, The Prince Who Turns into a Frog was recently remade twice into the Thai drama The Frog Prince and the mainland Chinese drama Forget You, Remember Me. The latter was so widely panned in China that it inspired renewed appreciation for the original series as well as the 2011 unofficial remake Waking Love Up starring Tiffany Tang and Roy Chiu.

The drama that broke The Prince Who Turns into a Frog's ratings record in Taiwan was 2008's Fated to Love You. Confirming her status as the queen of idol dramas, Joe Chen played the pushover office girl who bumbles into pregnancy and a contract marriage with Ethan Juan's rich corporate heir. Fated to Love You has been adapted at least three times, the most well-known remake being the 2014 Korean drama You Are My Destiny reuniting Jang Na Ra and Jang Hyuk. In 2017, Fated to Love You was remade by GMM in Thailand with Bie Sukrit Wisetkaew and Esther Supreeleela in the lead roles. A China remake starring Xing Zhaolin and Liang Jie also recently aired in summer 2020.

Sweeping the top awards at the 47th Golden Bell Awards, In Time With You starring Ariel Lin and Chen Bo Lin was hailed as a new benchmark for Taiwan romance dramas when it aired in 2011. The subtle, universal story about longtime soulmates who are always one step away from love has been continuously retold since, often with top stars. It was adapted into the Korean drama The Time We Were Not In Love starring Ha Ji Won and Lee Jin Wook in 2015. The mainland Chinese version The Evolution of Our Love starring Zhang Ruoyun and Crystal Zhang aired in 2018, Japan's Boku wa Mada Kimi wo Aisanai Koto ga Dekiru starring Adachi Rika and Shirasu Jin aired in 2019, and Thailand's In Time with You starring Pae Arak Amornsupasiri and Mo Monchanok Saengchaipiangpen aired in 2020. Other hit Taiwan idol dramas that have been retold include 2008's "older woman-younger guy" romance My Queen, which was remade into the Korean drama Witch's Romance, and the 2010 marital drama The Fierce Wife, which was remade into the Thai series Mia and its sequel Aruna.

Despite the generally lukewarm reception for new mainland Chinese versions of classic idol dramas, many more have been name-dropped for remake by production companies, so it's only a matter of time before new versions of Green Forest My Home, Lavender, My Lucky Star and the like show up. At the same time, China's own romantic idol dramas have become increasingly popular in recent years. The 2014 hit Boss & Me starring Meteor Shower's Zhang Han and Zhao Liying is being remade in Thailand with Aom Sucharat Manaying and Push Puttichai Kasetsin in the lead roles. A Korean remake of the hit coming-of-age romance A Love So Beautiful starring Hu Yitian and Meteor Garden's Shen Yue is also in the works. The Korean web drama version stars young rising names Kim Yo Han and So Joo Yeon.

Period Dramas that (Time) Travel

In comparison to modern dramas, period dramas are a lot harder to transplant to another country since the historical and cultural contexts of period stories tend to be unique to each region. However, it's certainly possible with some inventive rewriting.

Based on the novel Bu Bu Jing Xin by Tong Hua, the 2011 blockbuster Scarlet Heart follows a present-day woman who wakes up in the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, and becomes emotionally entangled with the princes as they battle for the throne. One of the biggest Chinese dramas of the past decade, the stirring series affirmed Cecilia Liu's rise to top actress, revitalized the careers of Nicky Wu and Kevin Cheng, and launched newcomer Lin Gengxin to stardom.

Besides being an acclaimed hit in China, Scarlet Heart also found many fans in Korea, enough so that it was remade in 2018 as Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, with the time period changed to the Goryeo Dynasty. The big-name casting of IU and Lee Jun Ki, not to mention Kang Ha Neul, Nam Joo Hyuk, Hong Jong Hyun, EXO's Baek Hyun and Girls' Generation's Seo Hyun, made the remake prime for export back to China at record-setting prices. While Scarlet Heart Ryeo aired to mixed reviews in Korea, it did well internationally. Adopting more of the comedic and romantic elements associated with Korean dramas, the series offered a brighter, younger counterpart to the elegiac Chinese drama.

Two other time-traveling period tales that have traveled abroad are Jin and Queen In Hyun's Man. Murakami Motoka's manga Jin inspired two TV seasons in Japan with Osawa Takao as the eponymous neurosurgeon who time slips back to the Edo period and uses modern medical expertise to treat patients. Song Seung Heon became Dr. Jin in the 2012 MBC adaptation, which takes on medical challenges in Joseon Korea. The Korean time-travel romance Queen In Hyun's Man, which spends more of the time in the present day, starred Ji Hyun Woo and Yoo In Na as a Joseon scholar and actress who fall in love across time. Its Chinese version Love Weaves Through a Millennium, which starred Jing Boran and Zheng Shuang, moved the ancient setting to the Han Dynasty and the royal intrigue surrounding Empress Xu.

Asia Remakes Western Dramas… and Vice Versa

Though Asian remakes of other Asian dramas are far more common, sometimes Asian countries remake the same Western series. Korea and Japan have remade popular Western dramas touching on provocative issues that correspond with aspects of local culture and politics. Korea's take on American legal drama The Good Wife was highly successful due to the strong plot and top-tier cast of Jeon Do Yeon, Yoo Ji Tae and Yoon Kye Sang. Japan's remake in 2019 also featured well-known actors including Tokiwa Takako, Koizumi Kotaro, Mizuhara Kiko and Kitamura Takumi. Besides The Good Wife, another legal drama Suits was remade by both countries in 2018, pairing Jang Dong Gun with Park Hyung Sik and Oda Yuji with Nakajima Yuto as the veteran-rookie lawyer duos.

The British drama Mistresses, which depicts the mysterious and complicated relationships of four women, was also remade in Korea and Japan. Both feature a rare full cast of strong female lead roles: Han Ga In, Shin Hyun Bin, Choi Hee Seo and Goo Jae Yee for the Korean remake and Hasegawa Kyoko, Mizuno Miki, Hyunri and Ohmasa Aya for the Japanese one.

Exploring infidelity, betrayal and revenge, the 2020 Korean super hit The World of the Married, starring Kim Hee Ae, Park Hae Joon and Han So Hee, was adapted from British BBC One's Doctor Foster. India also released the Doctor Foster adaptation Out of Love in late 2019. Another British BBC One series, the supernatural police procedural Life On Mars, was remade by OCN in 2018 with Jung Kyung Ho and Park Sung Woong as the main characters. In addition, BBC One announced in 2019 that China's Phoenix Entertainment was producing a remake of Life on Mars set in Beijing in the nineties.

As Korean dramas gain popularity worldwide, some have also been remade in the West, most notably Good Doctor. The 2013 award-winning series starring Joo Won as a surgical resident with autism was well-received by local audiences and international K-Drama fans. The American adaptation starring Freddie Highmore has reached even more international viewers over three seasons and counting. Besides the U.S. remake, Japan adapted the medical series in 2018 with Yamazaki Kento in the lead role.

Lee Bo Young and Cho Seung Woo's time-travel mystery thriller God's Gift: 14 Days was also remade in 2016 into the U.S. series Somewhere Between. More Western remakes of K-Dramas are expected to come in the future, including NBC's pilot of TriBeCa based on the satirical hit SKY Castle about academic competition and corruption in high society.

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Published September 15, 2020

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