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Wonder women, eye candy herald TV`s New Year

State-run broadcaster KBS is greeting the New Year with not one but two dramas: a remake of the iconic classic "Boys over Flowers" and the epic "Iron Empress."
Historical romance "Iron Empress" hatches its 80-episode-long tale tomorrow night, spicing up the Goryeo Dynasty with the bloody escapades of a warrior woman played by veteran actress Chae Si-ra.
Chae, the feline beauty who enchanted and frightened audiences in KBS` "Sea God (2004)," reprises her role as a ruthless Amazon in the upcoming drama.
"Men have been playing the lead in historical romances," said Chae, 40, at a press conference held on Dec. 19. "Now, I think it is time for women to do so. This drama will show people that there was an awesome and brave female leader during the Goryeo Dynasty."
Fearsome would be a more accurate description of the heroine, who is aptly called the Iron Empress. The fourth wife of Goryeo Dynasty founder Taejo Wanggeon, the empress ruled as the regent for her son Mokjong, the dynasty`s seventh ruler.

Determined to realize her ambitious goals for the kingdom of Goryeo, she dons armor, battles against foreign invaders, and tramples her lover, her son and brother in her rise to power. The audience is invited to watch her transform into a cold-hearted warrior.
"Every year we do a big scale drama," said Senior Producer/Director of KBS Drama Team 2 Choi Jee-yeong, 39. "It represents KBS. Last year we did `King Sejong.` Usually we cover the Joseon Dynasty, but this one looks into the Goryeo Dynasty."
Highlighting the gory reign of an empress, endowing her with a warrior`s skills and the brain of a brilliant politician, KBS` big scale drama sets the tone for 2009.
The conniving queen no longer serves as the villainess of the period piece, but takes center stage. Hamlet is relegated to the corner and Gertrude gets the limelight.
The maneuver compels female audiences to tune into a hitherto male-dominated genre.
And as if in response to some divine plan, KBS is also giving women some serious eye candy with its new Monday and Tuesday night drama "Boys over Flowers."
Based on the hit comic series of the same name, many would agree that "Boys" derives its popularity from F4; or four good-looking and wealthy male characters.
The first TV drama version, produced in Taiwan, catapulted the four leading actors to fame. It was followed by the Japanese TV version, which also garnered success. And now, KBS looks set to hit yet another homerun with the perennial favorite.
"Boys" director Jun Ki-sang has a track record for popular, if hackneyed, dramas like KBS` "Delightful Girl Choon-hyang (2005)" and SBS` "My Girl (2006)," making him a perfect fit for the lighthearted comic book fantasy.
"The production company and the original comic book publisher requested that we make this drama as close to the original as possible," said director Jun in a press conference on Dec. 22.
"At first I rejected the offer to direct because it has already been produced in other countries. But when the offer came again and they said that the expectations of Koreans were different. I felt that there were challenges to be met."
A sort of "Pride and Prejudice" for Asian audiences, the surefire story of a poor girl, her rich suitor and her three knights need not rely on the potentially diverse expectations of a nation`s audience to ensure its success. In the words of production company Group Eight`s "Boys over Flowers" project manager Bae Jong-byung: "I think people will watch it because it is a well-written and fun story. It will do well as a remake."
The key, however, lies in the charm of its four leading actors and the pluck of its solitary heroine.
All four male leads bear an uncanny resemblance to their comic book counterparts, which could be partly due to the extensive auditioning process they underwent.
Leader of the boy band SS501 Kim Hyun-joong stands out as Hanazawa Rui, called Yoon Ji-hoo in the Korean version. His sweet and quirky antics in the hit MBC reality show "We Got Married (2008)" have already made him something of a celebrity, and his role as the introverted, aloof yet cavalier Rui promises to attract more female fans.
"When we did the kiss scene, I was very nervous," said Kim Hyun-joong, 22, referring to his scene with Koo Hye-sun, who plays the heroine. "Koo Hye-sun said, `Just do it.` We finished filming after 10 takes."
"10 kisses," he iterated with a grin.
Actress Koo Hye-sun, smiled when asked about the 10-kiss scene, before stating: "There were technical issues."
"My character could be a target for envy because she becomes a Cinderella in an instant. I think it would be best to live vicariously through her."
Koo, who gained popularity as the lead in the period drama "The King and I (2007)," is taking on the role of Makino Tsukushi - called Geum Jan-di in the Korean version. The heroine is first pestered and ostracized by four of the most popular boys at her school before winning them over with her pluck and strength.
Actor Lee Min-ho will be playing Koo`s love interest, Domyoji Tsukasa, called Goo Joon-pyo in the Korean version. Actor Kim Bum and rapper Kim Joon will be playing the remaining two male leads. "Boys" airs its first episode on Monday on KBS 2 TV at 9:55 p.m.
"Iron Empress" starts airing tomorrow night on KBS 2 TV at 10:15 p.m.
By Jean Oh