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The K-Drama World of Female Screenwriters

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It's probably no surprise that women make up the core audience of Korean TV dramas. But did you know that women are also the main writers of Korean dramas? Name any K-Drama off the top of your head, and chances are high that it was written by a woman. Close to 90% of TV screenwriters in Korea are female, a staggering figure considering the entertainment world tends to be dominated by men behind the scenes. What's more, screenwriters occupy an especially important role for Korean dramas, often having greater name recognition and sway than directors.

In honor of Women's History Month, we've spotlighted 12 female screenwriters, among many more, who are the movers, shakers and creative minds behind the Korean dramas we love.

Hong Sisters (Hong Jung Eun, Hong Mi Ran)

When it comes to romantic comedy, you can't go wrong with the Hong Sisters! From their debut hit Sassy Girl Chun-Hyang to their recent success with Hotel Del Luna, there isn't a single drama by the renowned writing duo that hasn't become a hit with local and international K-Drama fans. Hong Jung Eun and Hong Mi Ran set the bar high with their playful dialogue, unique characters and fascinating stories, especially the ones with fantasy elements like Master's Sun and Hotel Del Luna. They're known for reinventing folk tales and mythologies, such as Chunhyangjeon for Sassy Girl Chun-Hyang, The Story of Hong Gildong for Hong Gil Dong, gumiho for My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox, and Journey to the West for A Korean Odyssey. Simply looking for a fun series to watch? The Hong Sisters are at the ready with romcom essentials like My Girl, You're Beautiful, The Greatest Love and Warm and Cozy. It's also worth noting that the Hong Sisters' female protagonists are no clichéd shy girls, but rather charismatic and strong characters that are among the most lovable K-Drama heroines of all time.

Kim Eun Sook

If there is any powerhouse writer in Korean television, it'd have to be Kim Eun Sook. Most would be lucky to have even one representative work or mega hit in their career. She has a laundry list of them – the Lovers series, Secret Garden, The Heirs, Descendants of the Sun, Goblin, Mr. Sunshine... Kim Eun Sook made her screenwriting debut in 2003 with South of the Sun. The following year, she hit gold with just her second drama, Lovers in Paris, which reached over 50% viewership rating. Since then, she has yet to falter when it comes to creating romantic hits. Remember the fervor around Secret Garden, Descendants of the Sun and Goblin? Leading TV ratings and trends for over a decade, Kim Eun Sook commands the biggest budgets and the biggest stars, and in recent years, she has become increasingly ambitious in scope, bringing in new worlds and backdrops for her heart-swooning stories. Her next fantasy drama, The King: Eternal Monarch with Lee Min Ho, starts airing soon, and odds are, it's going to be another hit.

Noh Hee Kyung

One of Korea's most famous drama writers, Noh Hee Kyung is known for her thoughtful, realistic and emotional relationship dramas and human stories. She made her debut in 1995 with Sallie and Suzie, which won Best Screenplay at the MBC Best Theater Competition, and broke out in 1996 with The Most Beautiful Goodbye in the World. The heartwrenching story about a family coming together for their terminally ill mother won the Grand Prize at the Baeksang Arts Awards. Noh would continue to explore the theme of family love and loss, including in 2004's More Beautiful than a Flower, 2016's Dear My Friends and the 2017 remake of The Most Beautiful Goodbye in the World. In a medium dominated by romances and melodramas, her mature and melancholic works in the genre stand out for being especially in tune to the love and loneliness of urbanites, from the 90s mania dramas Lie and Did We Really Love? to 2008's The World that They Live In about drama creators to the 2014 phenomenon It's Okay, That's Love, which tackled the topic of mental illness. K-Drama trends change constantly, but Noh Hee Kyung's warm eye on humanity never goes out of style.

Kim Eun Hee

If you're one of the people eagerly anticipating new episodes of Netflix's zombie period thriller Kingdom, you can thank Kim Eun Hee for that. Since 2010's Harvest Villa, Kim Eun Hee has specialized in thrills and suspense, with new twists in every work. Sign was a forensic investigative drama, Ghost revolved around a cybercrime police unit, and Three Days unfurled a twisty conspiracy surrounding an assassination attempt on the president. Her most representative work, the sublime time-slip crime mystery Signal, won her writing prizes at the Baeksang Arts Awards and APAN Star Awards. With Netflix jumping into the K-Drama game, it's Kim Eun Hee who's writing the streaming giant's first and most high-profile original Korean series, Kingdom. Following a successful first season in 2019, the Joseon-era zombie apocalypse continues this year with a second season!

Lee Soo Yun

Lee Soo Yun is a relatively new name in the industry, but she made quite the splash in 2017 with her universally praised first work, Stranger. At the 54th Baeksang Arts Awards, the tvN crime suspense thriller starring Cho Seung Woo and Bae Doo Na won the Daesang Grand Prize, as well as Best Screenplay for Lee Soo Yun. A year later, she wrote the complex hospital drama Life, again headlined by Cho Seung Woo, which won the Best Screenwriter prize at the APAN Star Awards. Both of these series made our year-end top ten lists, so she's two for two! The future of Korean dramas is bright with rising talents like Lee Soo Yun around. The second season of Stranger is coming this year!

Park Hye Ryun

Even if you haven't heard of the name Park Hye Ryun before, you've probably watched or heard of her hits. After debuting with the 2002 sitcom Nonstop 3, Park Hye Ryun gradually gained recognition with her first romantic comedy Get Karl! Oh Soo Jung (co-written with Park Ji Eun) and the popular coming-of-age drama Dream High. But what has made her a top-tier screenwriter in the industry is definitely her three representative collaborations with Lee Jong Suk: I Can Hear Your Voice, Pinocchio and While You Were Sleeping. The three romantic suspense dramas all feature protagonists with special abilities – mind reading in I Can Hear Your Voice, "Pinocchio Syndrome" in Pinocchio, and precognitive dreams in While You Were Sleeping. While these supernatural abilities are unlikely to exist in real life, in Park Hye Ryun's fantasy world, they lead us to see the dark and bitter reality behind courtrooms and news outlets.

Lee Woo Jung

You know it'll be a national hit if it's got Lee Woo Jung's name on it. Originally a variety show writer, she took part in many high-rating programs including 2 Days & 1 Night, Grandpa Over Flowers and New Journey to the West. In 2012, Lee Woo Jung brought her boundless creativity into the TV drama field, partnering up with director Shin Won Ho for her first drama Reply 1997. The nostalgic teen drama turned into a cultural phenomenon, launching a legendary series of hits. Funny, touching and realistic, the Reply series shows the mundane and relatable moments of ordinary life: high school days and fangirling in Reply 1997, university friendship and sports mania in Reply 1994, and family and neighborhood bonds in Reply 1988. The slice-of-life dramas recall national events, figures and trends of the specific year that make audiences reminisce the past – not to mention the fun of guessing who the female protagonist's husband is in every season! This year, Lee Woo Jung returns with her promising new work Hospital Playlist, again with director Shin. Can't wait to see what interesting stories in the hospital she'll bring this time!

Park Ji Eun

Still not over Crash Landing on You? It's time to know more about screenwriter Park Ji Eun and her long list of hits! Park Ji Eun has written for sitcoms, radio and even entertainment shows, but she is best known for putting fairytale romances into "real life." After 2007's Get Karl! Oh Soo Jung, she wrote a trio of dramas starring Kim Nam Joo, most notably the 2012 ratings juggernaut My Husband Got a Family. Having already attained nationwide appeal, the screenwriter found international success in 2013 with one of the most talked about K-Dramas of the decade, the fantasy romance You Who Came From The Stars with Jun Ji Hyun and Kim Soo Hyun. She worked with both stars again in her following works – Kim Soo Hyun in The Producers and Jun Ji Hyun in the mermaid romance The Legend of the Blue Sea. Her latest massive success is this year's Crash Landing on You starring Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin. The wistful romance between a North Korean soldier and a South Korean heiress has won the hearts of many local and international viewers. Park Ji Eun's imagination may seem too good to be true, but her escapist, starry-eyed tales will surely have you believing that love can defy all odds!

Kim Young Hyun

Kim Young Hyun's list of works is quite short for someone who's been in the industry for over two decades, but quality trumps quantity for the writer of Korea's biggest fusion historical dramas. Kim Young Hyun helped lift Korean television to new heights in 2003 with a little drama called Dae Jang Geum. Besides reaching over 50% viewership rating domestically, the period saga about the first female royal physician of Joseon was exported to many other countries and became a big hit around Asia as one of the OG dramas of the Korean Wave. While the legendary success of Dae Jang Geum is impossible to replicate, Kim Young Hyun's mastery of the period fusion genre would be proven again and again with Seo Dong Yo in 2005 and her collaborations with Park Sang Yeon – Queen Seon Duk in 2009, Tree with Deep Roots in 2011, and Six Flying Dragons in 2015. Last year, she finally wrote something that not everyone loved – Arthdal Chronicles. But love it or hate it, you can't deny that the fantasy historical epic was a grand undertaking for Korean television.

Song Jae Jung

Be it Nine: 9 Times Time Travel, W or Memories of the Alhambra, Song Jae Jung has been responsible for some of the most interesting and inventive fantasy stories of recent years, but she actually first made her name in sitcoms. From 1998 to 2002, she worked on SBS's daily sitcoms Soonpoong Clinic, The Unstoppables and Do the Right Thing. In 2006, she helped refresh the formula with High Kick, which turned the family sitcom into a trendy hit for the first time in years. Song Jae Jung then switched gears to fantasy in 2012 with the time-travel romance Queen In Hyun's Man, followed by Nine in 2013. Both co-written with Kim Yoon Joo, these two rank easily among Korea's best time-travel dramas of all time. Her last two works, W: Two Worlds Apart and Memories of the Alhambra, have taken even greater leaps of imagination by merging comic book and video game worlds into the real world.

Lee Kyung Hee

Korean television has a reputation for heartwrenching melodramas, and Lee Kyung Hee is among the most representative of the genre. She began her writing career in the 90s through MBC's Best Theater corner and gained foothold at KBS in the early 2000s with Tough Guy's Love and Pure Heart. In 2003, she wrote Sang Doo, Let's Go To School, which established Rain as an actor and Gong Hyo Jin as a romantic heroine. Then in 2004 came Sorry, I Love You. A huge hit both in Korea and overseas, this full-on emotional roller coaster of a drama holds a special place in the hearts of many K-Drama fans. Lee Kyung Hee has kept on drawing tears and angst from audiences with stories like the gentle tearjerker Thank You, the underrated Will It Snow for Christmas, the Song Joong Ki revenge drama The Innocent Man and, more recently, the romances Uncontrollably Fond and Chocolate.

Song Ji Na

Though not very active in recent years, Song Ji Na is a pivotal name as she is responsible for two of the most seminal dramas in Korean television history. Song started out as a writer for MBC's radio station in the 80s before moving to TV and famously teaming with director Kim Jong Hak on eight works, most notably the 90s masterpieces Eyes of Dawn and Sandglass. These two critically acclaimed blockbusters took on Korea's turbulent modern history, with the former set in the colonial and wartime eras and the latter depicting the political tumult and repression of the 70s and 80s. In the 2000s, her collaboration with Kim Jong Hak yielded the historical drama Daemang and the period fantasy fusions The Legend and Faith. Newer fans of K-Dramas would probably be more familiar with her hit 2014 action thriller Healer and her most recent period romance The King in Love.

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Published March 12, 2020

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