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Box office hits like ‘My Sassy Girl’ coming to the small screen

If there was a notable TV drama trend this year, it would be the remake.

The start of 2013 has already seen three adaptations of original works hit the small screen, including SBS’ comic book-based “Queen of Ambition.”

That is just the beginning. A slew of remakes are in the pipeline, ranging from revivals of old television series to comic book-based dramas to sequels and spin-offs of previous shows.

Joining this year’s mix are a few flick-turned-TV deals, something that, until now, has been more of a small screen rarity. 
“Level 7 Civil Servant” (working title), the drama remake of the film “7th Grade Civil Servant,” nabbed top viewer ratings when its second episode aired. The series, starring Choi Gang-hee (left) and Joo Won, has been riding high since. (Apple Tree Pictures)
“Level 7 Civil Servant” (working title), the drama remake of the film “7th Grade Civil Servant,” nabbed top viewer ratings when its second episode aired. The series, starring Choi Gang-hee (left) and Joo Won, has been riding high since. (Apple Tree Pictures)
“7th Grade Civil Servant,” starring Kim Ha-neul (left) and Kang Ji-hwan, drew over 4 million viewers when released in 2009.(Harimao Pictures)
“7th Grade Civil Servant,” starring Kim Ha-neul (left) and Kang Ji-hwan, drew over 4 million viewers when released in 2009.(Harimao Pictures)

While viewers have had their fill of comic book-based dramas, and, when the Internet became another conduit for the genre with webtoon-inspired series, audiences have not been given the chance to surfeit themselves on the movie-to-drama genre.

This year marks a change in that trend, with two drama remakes of movies in the lineup.

Add to that another unintentionally like-minded remake, a work based on a Japanese TV series previously remade into a Korean movie, for a total of three.

Of even more interest is the fact that these are not just any movies. Two of them were huge hits.

What films are we talking about?

The movies in question are the spy caper “7th Grade Civil Servant,” Jun Ji-hyun’s iconic “My Sassy Girl” and Moon Geun-young’s sobfest “Love Me Not.”

“7th Grade Civil Servant” drew in over 4 million viewers when it was released in 2009. The comedic take on the classic secret agent genre and the chemistry between the leads Kim Ha-neul and Kang Ji-hwan proved a winning silver screen combination.

“My Sassy Girl” was a massive success in 2001, so much so that American and Chinese film versions of the flick were subsequently released.

On the other hand, “Love Me Not” failed to make a major splash in the box office, which may have viewers wondering whether a drama version will fare better.

Nevertheless, all three films boast a certain degree (some more than others) of recognition among local audiences.

Why, then, would a production company take the risk of drawing from high-profile material? Well, it turns out that kind of popularity can rub off in a good way.

Take “7th Grade Civil Servant,” for instance. Apple Tree Pictures, the company co-producing the movie’s drama version, felt adapting a box office hit into a TV series was well worth the risk.

Apple Tree Pictures CEO Yoon Shin-ae broke down the reasoning behind revisiting a successful original.

“The reason why people do remakes is probably because the works are tried-and-tested and because one can get a sneak peek at how the tone of a remake will play out,” Yoon said over the phone.

“There are pros and cons to remakes, but because the original works are so well known, that is a major plus for us. If we just take that familiar code and twist it a little, twist it well, then there are always good results,” Yoon added.

Yoon said one of the reasons why Apple Tree Pictures was willing to take a leap of faith with “7th Grade Civil Servant” was because the original film’s scriptwriter Chun Seung-il would be on board.

“We thought that not just anyone could write characters like that,” Yoon explained.

In Yoon’s opinion, a good remake begins with the original.

Yoon explained that “7th Grade Civil Servant” was not just your standard spy fodder. It was unique in that it took a lighthearted and comedic approach to an age-old genre.

Once a work with a strong foundation that sets it apart from the crowd was selected, the second challenge was to avoid regurgitating the original and boring viewers. A well-thought out twist was needed.

With “7th Grade Civil Servant,” the drama version would focus on how the two leads became secret agents, a subject that was not addressed in the movie.

The approach worked. When the drama, “Level 7 Civil Servant” (working title), aired its second episode on Jan. 24, the series, which features actress Choi Gang-hee and actor Joo Won, nabbed top viewer ratings. “Level 7 Civil Servant” has been riding high ever since.

Naturally, this is the scenario that any producer would hope for.

For production company RaemongRaein, which is planning the drama version of the movie “My Sassy Girl,” matching the success of the original might prove a tall order.

When Jun Ji-hyun charmed audiences with her quirky antics in the rom-com over a decade ago, the movie attracted 4.87 million viewers and was even remade for the U.S. and Chinese markets.

RaemongRaein planning team head Yun Hee-kyoung agrees that there “is pressure because the film was so popular. However, because it was so well received, we decided that the content of the original possessed enough viewer appeal,” Yun wrote via email.

A 16-episode drama version of “My Sassy Girl” is slated to air in the second half of 2013.

According to Yun, the plot of movie has proven difficult to translate into a miniseries format.

“We are going to try to maintain the charms of the original characters while taking the story in a new and different direction,” Yun said.

On why 2013 seems to be the year for remakes, Yun said, “When you tune into a work that is based on an original, it feels familiar and friendly, but it also gives rise to expectations as to how it will be new and different. Watching a proven hit revamped in a new style is, I believe, very attractive to viewers.”

What happens when you take an original that did not perform well when it was remade into a movie for Korean audiences?

That is the enigma of one of the most anticipated dramas of the year.

Technically, SBS’ “Baramibunda” is based on the Japanese TV series “Forget Love” that aired on TBS in 2002.

Nevertheless, the upcoming series will likely be compared to the Korean film version, which failed to become a box office success when released in 2006.

Despite the less-than-desirable track record of its film predecessor, the buzz surrounding the series has been at fever pitch, partly because it is actor Zo In-sung’s first drama since he completed military service and also because his co-star is “Full House” actress Song Hye-kyo.

The fact that high-profile scriptwriter Noh Hee-kyung is penning the upcoming series is also heightening the anticipation for the drama which is slated to start Feb. 13.

Noh is famed for putting out compelling works like KBS’ “Worlds Within.” Yet, despite her widely acknowledged scriptwriting prowess, viewer ratings of the last two feature-length dramas she scripted were less than stellar.

As the airdate for “Baramibunda” approaches, it will be interesting to note if the star power and talent of Song, Zo and Noh will be enough to overshadow the previous, less successful Korean remake of the Japanese original.

By Jean Oh (
Korea Herald Youtube