Why ‘Signal’ Beat ‘Descendants of the Sun’ For Best Drama

Signal Versus Descendants of the Sun

Did you see the best drama of the year?

You might easily assume that the Baeksang Award for Best Drama of the year went to “Descendants of the Sun,” which was the most widely viewed drama. And “Descendants of the Sun” did win the Grand Prize at the June 3 awards ceremony. But the Grand Prize factors in a drama’s popularity, as well as the storyline, and performances. It was the time travel police-procedural drama “Signal” that won the Baeksang award for Best Drama overall.

“Signal” did well, ratings wise, for a cable drama (it aired on tvN), peaking at 13.54 percent of viewers for its final episode and averaging 9.19 percent throughout its run. However, it was not as popular as the primetime, broadcast drama “Descendants of the Sun.”

Yet, the series, which starred Kim Hye Soo, Lee Je Hoon, and Cho Jin Woong, managed to receive three Baeksang awards. Besides winning Best Drama, screenwriter Kim Eun Hee won the Best Screenplay award and star Kim Hye Soo won a Best Actress award for her portrayal of veteran detective Cha Soo Hyun. Kim edged out popular actress Song Hye Kyo, who played a conflicted doctor in “Descendants of the Sun.”

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In “Descendants of the Sun,” Song Hye Kyo and Song Joong Ki delivered some riveting romance set amid the conflicts of war. The actors provided plenty of chemistry despite the fact that the drama occasionally skimped on both character and plot development. On the other hand, character and plot development were “Signal’s” strong points.

“Signal” is the story of a police profiler in the present who hears mysterious walkie-talkie signals from a police officer in the past. The officers work together to change the past and thereby change the present.

“Signal” used the politics of the police department to tell a very moral story about the nature of responsibility. The moral of the story is that while it is not always easy to do the right thing, it’s essential. Every person must play his or her part to keep the universe functioning as smoothly as possible.

As police officers, the drama’s main characters were responsible for seeking and implementing justice. The characters played by Kim, Cho, and Lee were each scarred by multiple tragedies, which only heightened their dedication to the pursuit of justice. It made them even more sympathetic to the plight of victims as they too had been victimized.

Kim Hye Soo played a police chief who not only felt responsible for protecting the public, but also protected the memory of the only man she ever loved. For 15 years she searched for him. He was not only the man she loved: he was her hero. Her career as a police officer was a testament to his principles.

Lee Je Hoon played a criminal profiler whose childhood was twice scarred by horrible crimes. As a child, he felt guilty for not preventing a kidnapping but he also lost someone close because of injustice. He became a police officer to see justice done, although it took him a while to recognize the part he might play. When he gets messages from the past, he inherits a mission.

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Finally, Cho Jin Woong played a police officer from the past whose tireless pursuit of justice became tiresome and inconvenient for officers more interested in protecting the privileged and their own privilege.

Cho’s character did not make compromises and was not prepared to look the other way when he noticed a crime. His desire to see justice done was so strong that it magically transcended time, allowing him to communicate with Lee Je Hoon’s character in the present. The lives of these characters connect in the present and the past, allowing them to transcend not only time but their own brokenness.

Each of the drama’s actors did a good job of portraying the tenuous way the characters functioned in the world despite the traumatic incidents that shaped their past. Life could have beaten them down and made them more cynical but they continued to fight for what they believed in. In the end, their connection helped to heal some scars and renew hope for a happier ending.

Unlike “Descendants of the Sun,” “Signal” does not focus on a romance, although there are moments of intense sexual chemistry between Kim Hye Soo and Lee Je Hoon as well as a sweet romance between Kim Hye Soo and Cho Jin Woong. Instead, the drama focuses on the persistence with which the characters fight for the truth.

“Signal” offers an exciting ride all the way to the end with plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting. The only way to know why it won Best Drama at the Baeksang Awards is to watch it.

Which drama did you think deserved to win? Share your thoughts and advice in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

K-Drama Rating Underdogs: ‘Come Back Ahjussi’ & ‘Memory’


K-drama blockbuster KBS’s “Descendants of The Sun” ended its highly successful run after sixteen episodes with a nationwide viewership rating of 38.8%, a feat that has not been accomplished ever since 2013’s “The Moon That Embraces The Sun.” With its stylish cinematography, gorgeous cast and riveting storyline, it is no wonder that the drama attracted so many viewers, both in Korea and all over the world. For an industry that has not seen dramas with greater than 20% in a long time, “Descendants” has brought about a revival and perhaps even started a trend for pre-produced K-dramas. For all its success, however, there were dramas which suffered because of Descendants, such as SBS’s “Come Back Ahjussi,” which shared the same time slot, and other dramas who are severely underrated such as tVN’s “Memory”.

”Come Back, Ahjussi”

Although the drama featured familiar names like Rain and Oh Yeon Seo, “Ahjussi” suffered from dismal ratings which further deteriorated as “Descendants” became increasingly popular. While the drama cannot be seen as a commercial success, it certainly delivered in terms of its production quality and hilarious storyline. At times ridiculous and side-splitting, at times emotional and heartwarming, “Ahjussi” achieved a perfect balance and was a thoroughly enjoyable show, despite its slightly illogical plot.

While the show was largely advertised to be one about reincarnation and gender-switching, it was actually one big family drama. The main ahjusshis in the show came back to Earth from Heaven because they were not ready to leave their “families” behind. Their main motivation was love, and through the comedic hijinks and craziness this motivation always showed. Along the way, new relationships were formed both with these reincarnated characters but more importantly between their loved ones who were left behind. The characters learnt to move on with their lives and the growth in each character through the show was lovely to watch.

The main standout of the series would be lead actress Oh Yeon Seo. She’s always been recognised for her good acting but it was not until this drama that she displayed her full comic potential. Without regard to her image or dignity, she perfectly portrayed her role of Han Gi Tak, a middle-aged man who got reincarnated into a woman’s body, all the way from the gruff mannerisms to the awkward balancing on high heels. Oh Yeon Seo imitated original actor Kim Soo Ro successfully and created a beautiful character that stole the show. She was fearless, innovative and steadfastly loyal but yet remained so human that it was easy to sympathize with her. She also enjoyed a surprising winning chemistry in her part love part BFF relationship with Honey Lee, who managed to show off her humorous chops as well. Oh Yeon Seo really put on a stellar performance in this series and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.

via @banghae on tumblr

Her co-actor Rain did splendidly as well and it was great to see him embrace his comedic side once again in a drama (the previous comedy he did was “Full House” in 2004). From admiring his ass in a lift to spazzing about his own chocolate abs, his portrayal of Kim Young Kwon was flawless and totally believable. Young Kwon might have been narrow-minded and slightly frustrating but Rain’s portrayal helped to make the character more lovable, if not relatable. His relationship with Oh Yeon Seo defied all the K-drama rules of romance and was really refreshing to watch. This drama is a rare gem which got the gender switching right and used it to its full potential.

via @dalpengi on tumblr

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While “Ahjussi” did not pull in high ratings in Korea it did garner an international fanbase but there is another currently airing K-drama that has been floating under the radar ever since it started its run. This is none other than the drama, “Memory” which stars Lee Sung Min (known most recently for his role in “Misaeng” ) as a lawyer with Alzheimer’s. At first glance, this plot seems extremely similar to the recent drama Remember: War Of The Son,” which featured Yoo Seung Ho in the similar role of a lawyer who also suffered Alzheimer’s. At a deeper level, however, the dramas are inherently different, in terms of realism, themes, and even the focus of the drama. For one thing, “Memory” definitely gives a more accurate portrayal of Alzheimer’s Disease. With the disease striking a middle-aged character like Lee Sung Min’s Park Tae Seok, the symptoms and problems that he goes through as a result of his diagnosis definitely feel more real and recognisable in our current society.

Despite its title, “Memory” isn’t all about Alzheimer’s; it is a drama which has many important messages to convey whether it is highlighting social inequality or bullying situations in schools. The conflicts and tragedies in this drama are fleshed out and realistic and could occasionally make for a depressing watch but at the same time is trulycaptivating. There is also an undercurrent of hope that ties the drama together, a sense of optimism which is present in each character, even if it’s not explicitly shown. It’s the same optimism which drives Park Tae Seok to keep fighting his disease, the same spirit that keeps his colleague Jung Jin (Lee Junho) motivated to stand up for justice, the same courage that allows Seo Young Joo (Kim Ji Soo playing Lee Sung Min’s character’s wife) to keep smiling even as her family falls apart.

“Memory” is a beautifully produced drama, with poignant and relevant scenes at every bend. The character arcs of the various main characters are nicely drawn out, the best of which would be Park Tae Seok. He started out looking like a heartless and vicious lawyer but as his disease started to change him, both physically and mentally, his perspective on life shifted. Rather than dismissing him as a normal cliche character who turns over a new leaf because of a terminal illness, I would argue that Park Tae Seok was just reverting back to his original self – the self that would fight for justice even if he would not benefit from it, who valued his family and friends over money, the self that would not give up. Watching him evolve as a character and the transformations in his relationships with his family or the people around him is a gratifying experience, one which I can only credit to the tight writing of the drama.

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Lee Sung Min, of course, is killing it in his role. His ability to internalize and inhibit his character is astounding and is a big reason why Park Tae Seok has become so real in the drama. His every word and action is sincere and he really carries the show emotionally. He also has great chemistry with the other members of the cast like Jung Jin whom he has created an adorable bromance with. Their banters are natural and light-hearted which bring about some much needed humor in an otherwise melancholic story.

Speaking of Jung Jin, Lee Junho ( of the K-pop boy band 2PM) is doing a great job in his debut drama role. Granted, he has quite a lot of acting experience from the few movies that he’s starred in, but the natural way he presents the character helps to make the character more relatable and likeable. He’s holding his own well in front of veteran actors like Lee Sungmin too and I hope he’ll get more opportunities to act in the future.

The two underdog dramas I’ve mentioned above are underrated for different reasons, but here’s to hoping that they’ll get their due recognition soon.

Have you watched any of the dramas listed above? What is your opinion on K-drama viewership ratings? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Reading The Political Signs of ‘Descendants of the Sun’


Every year or so, there is an extremely trendy Korean drama that garners attention from fans and international media alike. KBS2’s currently airing blockbuster series, ”Descendants of the Sun” has been highlighted by everyone from the BBC to CNBC as audiences from around the world go crazy over the difficulties faced by Song Joong Ki’s soldier and Song Hye Kyo’s doctor. With propagandistic overtones amidst rising tensions between the Koreas, “Descendants of the Sun” hits on numerous socio-political issues affecting South Korea today.

Minor spoilers included. 

Vehicle For Patriotism

Like Captain America and Superman, Captain Yoo Shi Jin is exactly what a country needs.

Anything that the “Descendants of the Sun” touches has seen a rise in popularity both in and outside of Korea, particularly South Korea’s military force. Star Song Joong Ki swooped in as the handsome, baby-faced Captain Yoo Shin Jin who has morals and can do no wrong. Song, who completed his military service in 2015, is the real life super soldier offered to South Korean viewing audiences at a time when the country has been doing some soul searching regarding its draft even as North Korea makes headlines every other day for proclaiming the end of South Korea and the United States.

The threat of North Korea hangs over South Korean society in numerous ways, but none so impactful as the mandatory conscription of all able-bodied men during the prime of their life. Over the past few years, awareness has grown over social and psychological issues afflicting many South Korean men following their service with putting their life on hold for two years. In the early 2010s there was a public discussion in South Korea to diminish the service period from around 21 months to 18 months, but safety concerns led Korean politicians to make no changes to the draft requirement: All South Korean men (barring exemption due to health issues ranging from being HIV positive to tattoos) must serve in either active duty or as civic officers. According to an interview done by CBS, South Korea’s idea of masculinity is closely linked with military service and any man who hasn’t served in active duty is considered less than manly.

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Of course, that doesn’t mean that all South Korean men serve. Sons of the elite South Korean political and business worlds reportedly serve less than their poorer counterparts, getting exemptions for a variety of reasons including revoking their Korean citizenship. A celebrity service unit was disbanded in 2013 following multiple instances of favoritism, raising cries from Korea’s vocal citizens of disparity towards the average Korean male. Multiple instances of psychological issues afflicting soldiers, including a rampage by one soldier in 2007 that led to the death of several other young conscripted soldiers, has led country’s younger generation to grow up in an environment of relative peace (until the last few years) where mandatory enlistment is perceived as less of a necessary duty for protection and more of a burden.

North Korea’s recurring threats instill fear in South Korea’s populace, but Song Joong Ki and co-star Jin Goo’s portrayal of a dashing special force officers acts as a vehicle to promote desirability for soldiers. Both characters, and most of the Korean soldiers, are portrayed as loyal, warmhearted men serving others for a greater good. They are in demand both in the show and off; both men portray soldiers involved in romances with unsuitable women (but whom they will surely end up with by the end of the series) while the actors have seen a surge in popularity throughout the world.

According to the BBC, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party China’s People’s Daily described the show as “an excellent advertisement for conscription” that does the most to showcase South Korea’s “national spirit” and “communitarian culture.” China is reportedly in talks to recreate “Descendants of the Sun” following the show’s cosmic success and the drama’s ability to seamlessly integrate propagandistic scenes, including the heartwarming raising of the Korean flag and instances of militaristic folk songs and army chants.

Even the civilian characters, such as Song Hye Kyo’s doctor and her team, are called to the greater duties of serving others in time and are also inspired by South Korean patriotism. The show also debates consistently debates the place of soldiers in the world and places doctors, who are meant to save lives, in a place where they must understand the rules of war and killing. Above all, at the end of the day, the army is there to save its country. “As a soldier, there is nothing more important than saving the life of a Korean citizen,” says Song Joong Ki’s character in the seventh episode.

The positive image portrayed of South Korean special forces and soldiers isn’t new for K-dramas, but the “Descendants” popularity crosses borders and helps spread the idea in a way never before seen from a Korean television show.

International Relations

With China acting as the go-between between North and South Korea, the show’s popularity in China and overall positive image comes at a time when tensions are tight. Chinese audiences are falling in love with South Korean soldiers even as their army is allied with North Korean ones. “Descendants of the Sun” isn’t the first K-drama popular in China, but it may signify warming public opinion towards South Korea as North Korea is using increasingly belligerent rhetoric. The Korea Content Creative Agency (KOCCA) estimates that the show will be seen 5 billion times in China by the end of its run. Even Numerous Chinese celebrities, including ex-EXO member Luhan, have parodied moments from the show.

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While the popularity of the show in China may reflect pan-Asian political trends, the drama itself displays South Korea’s turn of the head towards the Middle East and Islamic culture as a way to move the popularity of Korean pop culture into an emerging market. South Korea has long been working with Middle Eastern countries to improve international ties, and one of the major streets in Gangnam is Tehran-ro, named after Iran’s capital. South Korea’s oil imports from the Middle East are the highest they’ve been since 1980, reports Bloomberg. K-pop and Korean dramas have been popular for several years in the Middle East and other Islamic countries, and “Descendants of the Sun” follows KCON Abu Dhabi as the second push in 2016 by Korea’s entertainment industry to focus on the Arabic speaking world.

According to the United States State Department, Arabic is spoken by nearly 300 million people. Following the success of K-dramas to fill a niche in the Chinese language market (with over 935 million speakers of Mandarin around the world,) Korean entertainment is looking to make further headway amongst Arabic-speaking audiences during a time when there is warming relations between South Korea and many Middle Eastern states.

“The Descendants of the Sun” takes place partially in the fictionalized country Urk, which is actually a Greek town but appears to be a Middle Eastern country. A branch of the Korean army is the stationed there as UN peacekeepers, highlighting South Korea’s role in worldwide affairs and mostly keeping the military action poised as internationally important work, while the medical team is there on a health mission.

The first few episodes of show features major conflict revolving around Song Hye Kyo’s character saving the life of the man reported to bring peace to the Middle East, a hint of South Korea’s importance in world events. Arabic itself is also important, as Song Joong Ki says the phrase “inshallah,” the Arabic phrase for “if God wills it,” during a pivotal scene.

While “Descendants of the Sun” comes off at first glance as just a typical K-drama, albeit one with a blockbuster cast, budget, and production value, the series is also one of the most politically aware shows coming out of Korea in some time. A deeper look at South Korea’s current climate reveals that the “Descendants of the Sun” influence is far deeper than just the surface story of lovers trying to find a happy ending amidst a warzone.

What do you think of “Descendants of the Sun” and the socio-political trends it bring to light? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.