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March 7, 2018
Here's why Mr Sunshine could be Korea's first global TV hit
BY TED STOKES DigitalSpy
Over the past few years, Korean television has been going from strength to strength. While the stars and shows may not be household names in Britain, with a growing US following and fans across the globe, this summer any Korean drama fan's watercooler topic of discussion has already been decided: it's called Mr Sunshine. (Not to be confused with the short-lived 2011 Matthew Perry sitcom, by the way...)
Korean dramas or "Kdrama" is more popular than you might think. Behind Hollywood and Bollywood, Seoul has become in the last few years a major player in the field of entertainment. Thanks to PSY, Kpop is an international phenomenon and South Korea is now exporting television globally, too.
A brief catch-up for those new to Kdrama: director Lee Eung-bok and screenwriter Kim Eun-sook released Descendants of the Sun in 2016. It was a romantic series set in a modern-day conflict zone, made with a large $10.8 million budget and an international setting.
The show became a huge sensation and made instant stars of leads Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo. Such was the demand for the cast after the show aired that daily news stories appeared even in the foreign press about the pair's real-life relationship.
The difference between Korean and American drama is once the drama is done, it's done – the story is wrapped up, characters finish their arcs and the world moves on, no matter how much of a ratings winner it becomes.
Without further seasons to obsess over, the hot topic of discussion is the writer's next work – especially as Korean television is written by a single person, with no group efforts or creators taking a backseat after the pilot.
After Descendants came Goblin. Set in the modern day, it was a sci-fi story about a supernatural being falling in love with an ordinary woman. With a shockingly high level of pre-release hype, Goblin too became a success and made leading man Gong Yoo (known to British audiences for the instant zombie classic Train to Busan – watch it free on Amazon Prime today) television's go-to star.
So that's where we are today: the writer-director team of Kim Eun-sook and Lee Eung-bok have got two huge hits under their belt, and now they've created Mr Sunshine, a series with the Hollywood-friendly Lee Byung-hun (GI Joe) as its star and – crucially for that breakout appeal – a strongly American theme.
The production has been kept under wraps, but we know it involves another love story, this time set during the 1871 Shinmiyango (US expedition to Korea). It's the story of a boy who travels to the United States during the Shinmiyango and returns to his homeland later as an American soldier. (It's a politically charged issue, as an armed conflict broke out between the two countries resulting in the death of hundreds.)
Anticipation for the series is high enough among international audiences that the teaser trailer has already been viewed more than 1 million times on social media with little to no promotion upon its release.
For Korean television shows, the soundtrack is much more important than for western releases and with Mr Sunshine, the current hot topic is who will appear in the OST. With an average of five to eight separate single releases before the full soundtrack, there is a lot of money in Korean soundtracks and a high possibility that Kim Tae-yeon of Girls' Generation will be sought after to sing at least one featured song.
For those new to Kpop, this now-solo singer is one of the most successful Korean singers of all time. With 69 solo award nominations, 23 wins including for Best Song for a Drama and Outstanding Korean Drama OST plus 121 wins and 224 nominations as part of Girls' Generation, everyone loves Tae-yeon both at home and overseas, with her solo albums reaching number one in multiple countries.
Descendants of the Sun and Goblin are strangely unavailable on UK Netflix, but are available to stream free (with English subtitles) via VIKI.com and via the VIKI app (you can watch DOTS here and Goblin here). International distribution for Mr Sunshine is yet to be announced, but Netflix, we're looking at you...
13/3: Posted on IG, a drink with MR.SUNSHINE sticker but we're not sure who prepared it..
Photo: Food stylist Lee Seung Eun @l_table