Legendary K-drama’s second ‘sonata’ is coming

Hakim Hayat

Before the dominance of K-pop music and K-dramas that took the world by storm, we only learnt about the existence of Korean celebrities through a few legendary K-dramas on TV back in the early 2000s.

One of those dramas is none other than Winter Sonata.

Thanks to its enormous popularity, Winter Sonata’s main actor Bae Yong-joon rose to heartthrob status in East Asia, while its filming location, Nami Island in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, has welcomed more than one million visitors in the last decade.

Pan Entertainment, the company behind the production of Winter Sonata, is now looking at producing the sequel to the popular soap opera.

The company’s Management Strategy Headquarters department head Han Ik Hee shared that they were in the midst of planning a second story of Winter Sonata to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

A promotional poster for the 2002 hit drama series Winter Sonata. Pan Entertainment, the company behind the production of Winter Sonata, is now looking at producing the sequel to the popular soap opera. PHOTO: KBS
Snow during winter time at Nami Island where some scenes of the popular drama was shot
The 2002 series ‘Winter Sonata’ is considered the drama that launched the Korean wave worldwide with its success. PHOTO: KBS

“We are looking at releasing the sequel in time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original release of Winter Sonata,” he told Asian journalists who took part in a month-long press fellowship program organised by Kwanhun and the Korea Press Foundation at Pan Entertainment’s headquarters in Seoul.

The company was established in 1996 but started by producing songs first. Earnings from the music business were used to lay the foundation for its drama production.

Pan Entertainment struck gold through its first drama, Winter Sonata, which aired in South Korea in 2002 and starred Choi Ji-woo and Bae Yong-joon.

At the time, it didn’t rate well in South Korea as it ranked third among three competing dramas, according to Han. However, things started to change when Japan’s NHK cable TV came to the company and bought the rights to air Winter Sonata in Japan. It later became a very big hit and helped in the spread of the Korean wave in that country, making Winter Sonata the first Korean drama to be exported.

“It was totally unexpected. For us, I think, we didn’t get a number one ranking when it was on air. So we were like, ‘It’s one of the dramas just playing’. We didn’t expect it to go to Japan and become a hit. In Japan, we still have the rights. We’re still making money out of it,” he said.

The company made the drama with a USD2 million budget and it earned a hefty USD20 million from it alone. Hee said that Pan Entertainment produces about five dramas annually, and has since released 57 titles to date.

Asked if both Bae and Choi would be part of the cast in the sequel, he said that they might be featured at some point in the sequel, but he is currently looking at having a new cast. “Maybe they could feature in for like revisiting the memory of the first story. Nothing is decided yet but we will have new hallyu stars,” he said.

While the Korean wave is especially big in Southeast Asia, Han said that they were looking at targetting the United States (US) and Australia next.

He also mentioned that the emergence of Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms like Netflix that has changed the way the company distributes its products. “Before the emergence of new viewing platforms like smartphones and video on demand, Korean dramas achieved high ratings.”

“When we provide to the main broadcasting companies [KBS, SBS and MBC], we have a rating of 30 to 40 per cent, but because there’s a lot of diversified media these days, it’s not easy to get a rating of 30 to 40 per cent like the old days. So it’s not easy to get even 20 percent. We produce dramas that get 15 to 25 per cent.”

Netflix has about 1.84 million subscribers in Korea, Yonhap News reported, and Pan Entertainment is looking forward to provide it with dramas.

“You know Netflix is used around the world, also in Korea, too. Apple TV and Disney are going to launch their OTT platforms in Korea soon. So we have Netflix, Apple and Disney, three OTT platforms. We are trying really hard to provide dramas to those platforms,” he said.

He added that “so far, K-drama is more popular in the Southeast Asian market. But with the spread of global OTT platforms, they are also looking at targetting the American and Australian markets.”

The rise of OTT platforms has increased competition in the K-drama industry but Pan Entertainment is not worried about their impact. “There is already a Netflix original Korean drama called Kingdom. Regarding concerns, there is an expansion of popular Korean dramas. We are optimistic and positive, and high hopes for that.”

“Pan Entertainment is one of the most famous and representative drama production companies in Korea. So we produce really good quality dramas so we don’t really worry about it at all. We are looking forward to the expansion of the K-drama market,” he added.