Page One

Asia soaps up daytime TV using its own suds

By Tini TranThe Associated Press
Friday May 03, 2002

MANILA, Philippines — Glittery Hong Kong dramas dominate prime time in Malaysia and Singapore. Latin America’s steamy telenovellas heat up the screen in the Philippines. In Vietnam, viewers follow the tangled twists of a half-dozen Chinese dramas. 

Across Asia, fans are eating up a steady diet of imported soap operas. 

Once separated by language barriers and historical enmity, countries are now vying for prime-time space in each other’s television markets. 

“Nationalism has been erased through the medium of television,” said literary and media critic Bienvenido Lumbera of the University of the Philippines. “It’s a kind of youth culture that makes the transfer from one culture to the next quite easy.” 

Chong Eu Pui, a 28-year-old television production assistant from Kuala Lumpur, said she has friends who used to travel to Singapore when Hong Kong soap stars were visiting. 

“The Hong Kong stars are much more popular than our Malaysian actors,” Chong said. “They’re much more glamorous and they are better actors.” 

Soap operas, whether from Australia or Asia, appeal to viewers through a classic formula of common emotions and fantasy settings, said Christina Slade of the University of Canberra, who organized a recent conference on soaps in Australia. 

For many in poverty-stricken developing countries, the appeal of escapism — beautiful homes, beautiful people — is self-evident. 

“The themes are about love, sex, fidelity, domestic arrangements and money,” she said. “There are very few societies outside that range of issues.” 

Many of the popular soaps are not Hollywood exports; they’re made and principally marketed within the region. 

Since the late 1990s, South Korea has become a soap opera powerhouse, producing and exporting programs to China, Taiwan and Singapore. 

Park Jae-bok, general manager of MBC Production, which exports TV dramas, attributes the success to fans’ desire to see Asian faces. 

“Asians are growing sick and tired of Hollywood products. They are sick of seeing white people and black people on their screens,” Park said. 

In Vietnam, posters of South Korean stars like Jae Young-joon adorn many teenagers’ walls, and their photos are exchanged like baseball cards. 

“South Korean soap operas are attractive to young Vietnamese viewers because it’s close to their daily life, plus the shows have beautiful artists with fashionable clothes and makeup,” said Nguyen Kim Trach of state-run Vietnam Television. 

Trendy youths in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City wear the darker makeup and body-hugging fashions of Seoul’s soap stars. One Korean soap, “Yumi My Love,” about a fashion designer, sparked the opening of Yumi fashion shops in Hanoi a few years ago. 

SOAPS/From Page 23 


Die-hard Taiwanese fans of the tear-jerker series, “Autumn Story,” went on a tour last year to Sok Cho, a city about 100 miles northeast of Seoul, where the show’s lead characters grew up and reunited. 

China’s costume-heavy period pieces are also a good draw in Vietnam. 

The lead actress of one, Zhao Wei, is so popular that publishing houses printed her photo on the cover of school notebooks. Children bought copies of her royal headgear for the annual full-moon festival. 

Ngoc Thach, who translates Chinese soap operas for Hanoi TV, believes the appeal lies in the common background. 

“Vietnam and China share many similarities in their history and culture, so Vietnamese viewers feel like they are part of it when they watch Chinese movies,” he said. 

Chinese and South Korean soaps bring in advertising dollars. Local television stations sometimes show nearly 30 minutes of commercials before the start of a soap opera. 

In the Philippines, Latin American soap stars are mobbed during promotional appearances. 

The reaction of some countries’ governments sometimes isn’t so enthusiastic. 

Last month, China banned a popular Taiwanese soap, “Meteor Garden,” which depicted the high school romance between a poor girl and a member of a gang of spoiled rich kids. Complaining that it was a threat to young minds, China pulled the plug after the show ran for less than a month. 

And in Vietnam, a state-run newspaper put the dominance of Chinese and South Korean TV programs on its list of the ”10 most embarrassing cultural events of 2001.”