Realism essential for local teen dramas
By Han Sang-hee
KBS is seeking to bring about a change in the sluggish teenage program scene with its new series “Jungle Fish 2” this week. Hopes are running high, but with numerous shows captivating the younger crowd these days, it will take more than pretty school uniforms and fresh faces to keep the viewers watching.
A bumpy road
When it comes to television programs for teens in Korea, there’s not much to show other than entertainment or music shows starring idol stars. Perhaps because it’s hard to come up with something more exciting than texting with their friends or following around their favorite celebrities, teenage programming overall has seen a slump.
“It’s sad, indeed. There are really not many teenage dramas, let alone programs, for teens to enjoy,” producer Kim Jeong-hwan told The Korea Times in a separate interview at the press conference for the new soap on Sept. 16 at the KBS Media Center in Sangam-dong.
As a public broadcaster, KBS recognizes the need to offer various programs fit for basically everyone, but according to Kim, it’s difficult to “find a balance.”
“There are so many different programs, both on major broadcasters and on cable, and when we air teenage programs, kids don’t watch them. If they don’t watch them, it becomes harder for the network to squeeze them into possible time slots,” he said.
Teenage dramas in the past were quite popular and also worked as an effective stage for nourishing not only aspiring actors, but also writers and producers, but this has failed to follow through, mostly because of other entertainment channels such as the Internet.
Actors Kim Rae-won, Ha Ji-won, Kim Min-hee and even Bae Doo-na all appeared in teenage dramas before their big breaks, while younger stars Ara, Yoo A-in and Kim Su-hyun polished their acting skills in previous soaps including “Sharp” and “Jungle Fish 1.”
“(Teen dramas) may be a minority among other programs, but I feel great responsibility. You have to have affection for young unknown stars, writers and also the overall teenage drama industry,” the producer said.
Delving into teenage life
The drama “Jungle Fish 1” may not ring any bells, as the first season aired as a pilot show in 2008. Starring now movie star Park Bo-young and 2PM member Hwang Chan-sung, the series received critical acclaim and won numerous awards, including the Peabody Awards.
Instead of depicting the everyday lives of youngsters in a casual way, “Jungle Fish 2” will meet viewers in a mystery format, starting with the death of a friend.
The soap will be led by six main characters — the pretty and smart Seo Yul (played by girl group T-ara member Ji-yeon), the outcast Lee Ra-i (Shin So-yul), the handsome and cool Min Ho-su (Hong Jong-hyun), the bubbly and weird Yun Gong-ji (Kim Bo-ra), the princess with secrets Baek Hyo-an (Han Ji-woo) and the tough bully Ahn Ba-wu (Lee Jun) — and feature their journey in exposing the truth surrounding their friend’s death.
“I basically wanted to work with what high school students were dealing with today but in a more interesting and fun format. I chose the mystery genre to prove that teen dramas can be fun too,” the producer said.
KBS explained that the actors were chosen from some 1,000 applicants to discover some fresh faces, but the network managed to squeeze in some familiar faces as well, including Lee from MBLAQ and Ji-yeon from T-ara. The two have had experience on both the big and small screen, which will hopefully help them lead the others.
Some of the most important factors of a teenage drama are sympathy, realism and entertainment.
How well the storyline and the characters touch the hearts of fellow teenage viewers is crucial, as such dramas need to be connectable.
In the case of “Jungle Fish 2,” most of the issues dealt with during the eight episodes are indeed serious and often found in the news, such as violence, pregnancy, stress regarding studies and also heated competition.
This may be a different approach compared to the more bubbly and musical-based shows in the United States such as “Glee” and “High School Musical,” but Kim stressed that by bringing such issues to the surface in a drama format, viewers will get to learn more about the real life of Korean teenagers.
“Bringing flashy and glittery scenes, including dances and songs may be fun, but this is what Korean students are going through today — daily competition in their studies, lack of communication, stress, violence and bullying. Hopefully, the drama will be able to bridge the gap, represent teenagers and also entertain viewers, all at the same time,” Kim said.
The show has opened a social network service (SNS) at http://me2day.net/junglefish.
Chat rooms and information on the series will be listed daily on the site. The final airing date of the first episode will be revealed online, Monday.