It’s official: Sandglass (모래시계) is the best Korean Drama since 1980. And maybe that qualifies it as the best Korean TV drama ever, but I’m sure there are knowledgeable people out there who will cite a gem from the 70s.
Not only was it voted best Drama by those in the know – “20 star producers and drama writers” – it’s also among the most popular ever.
Mark Russell’s excellent book Pop Goes Korea lists out the most popular TV dramas in terms of audience share, on page 108. The top soap ever was What on Earth is Love?, an MBC drama from way back in 1992, with a massive audience share of 59.6%. Sandglass, the SBS production from 1995 which deals with the Kwangju uprising, comes in at #5, with an audience share of 46.7%.
The Chosun lists Eyes of Dawn (MBC, 1992), Winter Sonata (KBS, 2002) and You and I (MBC, 1997) as completing the top five. Interestingly, out of this top five “best ever” list, the only one that failed to appear in the Korean audience top 20 rankings is the one that attracted all the Japanese ajummas: Winter Sonata is nowhere to be seen in the listing that appears in Russell’s book – which is sourced from AGB Neilsen.
I’m not going to list out all the top 20 most popular dramas – you’re just going to have to buy Mark’s book yourself.
Only the top two, Sandglass and Jewel in the Palace, are currently available with English subtitles at YesAsia. Winter Sonata you can probably pick up subtitled via some bootleg operation in Indonesia because it has in the past had a genuine release, while You and I is available for Japanese viewers in 19 separate disks at $41 a throw. It would take a serious devotee to invest.
Much more sensible would be to buy Mark Russell’s book, in which you can read a summary of all these soaps except Winter Sonata – but you all know what happens in that particular saga anyway.
If you’re buying Pop Goes Korea from Amazon, by the way, you’re much better off buying from the stores who use Amazon as their front end, rather than buying from Amazon themselves. Certainly Amazon UK is much more expensive than the individual stores and never seemed to think it important to get the book in stock. My own order from them had the delivery date constantly pushed back because they couldn’t be bothered to source the book (or maybe they couldn’t screw enough discount out of the hapless publisher). The resellers are cheaper and quicker. So buy from the resellers. I still get the commission.
- ‘The Sandglass’ Voted Best Korean Soap Since 1980, Chosun Ilbo, 11 February 2009