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Publication Date : 23-02-2014
Chinese girls and their grandmothers are gushing over TV dramas from Korea
When Lin Bing showed up late to her grandmother's 88th birthday banquet, the old woman's first words to her were: "Tell me Lee Min-ho didn't get plastic surgery. He must be naturally handsome."
Lee Min-ho is a 27-year-old South Korean actor who stars in the hit Korean TV drama The Heirs. The show that appeared on South Korean television in October, and is also available on Chinese video websites, attracted sudden attention from different age groups in China.
Entertainment research company EntGroup confirms the craze. It has discovered Chinese viewers' average age has been increasing.
South Korean TV series account for about a third of many leading Chinese video websites' broadcasting volume of foreign TV series. The rest is dominated by US and UK productions.
EntGroup has found Chinese viewers are conspicuously shifting from Western shows toward those produced on the nearby peninsula. But the research also discovered those watching Western productions are better educated than those watching South Korean ones.
Liu Yun is among many Chinese followers of US TV series, such as Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory. The 30-year-old rarely watched South Korean television series before last month, when a close friend recommended she watch the Korean TV drama My Love From the Star.
She became addicted.
Liu downloads new episodes with Chinese subtitles once they go online and watches them while commuting to work. She spends the rest of the week discussing the latest developments on online forums.
Liu believes compelling storytelling, A-list actors and the proper mix of comedy and thrills set the programme apart from other Korean series.
The plot focuses on an alien who landed on Earth 400 years ago and falls in love with a Korean film star. He uses his superpowers to protect her from villains trying to murder her.
"The story seems crazy but is refreshing," Liu believes.
"Some might argue there are loopholes in its logic. But you believe it when you watch it. It tells a love story that makes you laugh and cry."
The show's popularity has produced a "star phenomenon" online. Even China's top actors and actresses leave admiring social media posts.
Gao Yuanyuan, a leading actress from the hit TV drama Let's Get Married, posted on her Sina Weibo micro blog: "First snow in the winter, let's have fried chicken and beer."
"Fried chicken and beer" is a new term coined to refer to the favourite meal of the heroine from My Love From the Star.
Fried chicken restaurants in China have enjoyed a business boost with a frenzy of female viewers asking their boyfriends to bring them fried chicken and beer at night to emulate the show.
A woman from Liaoning province's Tieling city was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis because she ate too much fried chicken and drank cold beer in the winter, Huashang Morning Post reports.
Typing "fried chicken and beer" in Chinese in the popular smartphone instant messenger application WeChat causes animated snowflakes to fall across the screen.
Avid fans bought a full-page ad in a Beijing newspaper to celebrate Kim Soo-hyun's birthday on February 16.
My Love From the Star has so far been viewed 500 million times on Iqiyi.com but has broadcast only half its total episodes, breaking the record for foreign TV series views. The search volume for the show on the country's biggest search engine has surpassed 2 million, Iqiyi.com reports.
Last year, Iqiyi purchased the online screening rights for the show in China.
The price was lower than many domestic productions, the website's business development department senior executive Zhang Yuxin says.
"It was a great deal," she says.
"We knew the show would be good. But we didn't know it would be such a big hit."
Zhang explains it's natural for South Korea to create one or two hit dramas a year given the sheer volume it produces and the vast investment per series.
Novelty generates much of their appeal for Chinese. Time travellers or aliens living on Earth for centuries are mind-blowing concepts for Chinese viewers, EntGroup's analysis points out.
South Korean TV dramas often blend genres to broaden their appeal.
The brand names that appear in the dramas also appeal to Chinese. Product placement slots sell out quickly.
But while the idealised fantasies presented by Korean TV captivate many Chinese, they turn others off.
Wang Lin believes single women will never meet Mr Right if they watch such "illusionary" love stories.
"The hero is perfect. The heroine does nothing but get rescued," the 28-year-old says.
"You won't find such things in real life."