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As Disney Plus puts into motion plans to encroach into the realm of popular Korean dramas, currently dominated by the likes of Netflix’s K-drama originals like Squid Game, its initial foray has been marred by a blistering backlash from South Korean netizens.
The first of five K-dramas to be launched by Disney Plus, Snowdrop is a romance-espionage drama licensed to media giant JTBC. Set in 1987, the series follows a romance between a North Korean spy and a female college student. But, unfortunately, they inadvertently get embroiled in a dastardly political scheme for the South Korean Presidency.
Actor Jung Hae-in (Something In The Rain) plays Lim Soo Ho, a highly-skilled elite North Korean spy (think James Bond) whose latest mission brings him from Berlin to South Korea. He is then injured by the South Korean equivalent of CIA agents and finds himself trapped in Hosu University’s women’s dormitory, and is nursed to health by college student Eun Yeong-ro (Blackpink’s Jisoo), who mistakes him for a student protestor.
Here are three reasons to watch (or not watch) Snowdrop, which is currently streaming on Disney Plus.
1. Snowdrop is caught up in a swirling vortex of controversy, causing massive waves of outrage from netizens
Despite its promising premise and drop-dead gorgeous main cast, Snowdrop is taking intense heat for its portrayal of South Korea in a sensitive time of student protests during its fledgling years of democratisation.
It is a pity as South Korean directors have lately tended to glamorise and even romanticise their Northern counterparts in movies and dramas, perhaps in hopes that both North and South will reunite once more despite their wartorn past and currently tenuous, unspoken truce.
Therefore it is unfortunate that Snowdrop might be poised to set all these efforts back. Snowdrop writer Yoo Hyun-mi is currently at the forefront of this backlash, being accused of mischaracterising her characters.
During this period, many student protestors were falsely accused and tortured by the authoritarian South Korean government, particularly Chun Young-cho, a real-life protestor. Young-cho, who was renamed Eun Young-ro and played by Blackpink’s Jisoo in the series, was a historical figure during the Democratisation Movement in South Korea.
Her husband, who was also prosecuted during the movement, is ironically an actual North Korean spy in the drama, played by Jung Hae-in. Netizens have been accusing writer Yoo of using real-life characters who were tortured in vain as inspiration for fictional characters who were real spies masquerading as democratic party supporters.
The series has also since suffered a huge drop in ratings and viewership, with sponsors pulling out and even a petition to JTBC to remove it entirely. However, the company has since issued a statement pleading with netizens to give it a chance and continue watching to see how the plot will play out.
Five episodes have since been released, and so far, it has been a riveting watch that combines a potent cocktail of romance, action and violence. Only time will tell if the unfolding plotlines will assuage Korean netizens.
2. Actor Jung Hae-in shows a side of himself that hasn’t been seen before and has amazing chemistry with his co-star, Blackpink’s Ji-soo
For all his boyish good looks and freshness, actor Jung Hae-in plays an elite North Korean spy in this series, involving deception and violence.
This is a break from the norm for an actor who has been in roles as a hottie Oppa in Something In The Rain (2018) and as a timid soldier in D.P. (2021).
In Snowdrop, Jung wields all manner of weapons skillfully, be it a handgun, semi-automatic rifle, grenade or bomb traps, and even takes a hostage without blinking an eye. Suffice to say; I’m enjoying this new darker, rougher and ruthless side of the baby-faced Jung, who is clearly pushing the boundaries of his acting repertoire.
Did I also mention the sizzling chemistry between him and Blackpink’s Jisoo? The two have been casually bantering and showing how lovebirds do it, even off set. So who’s up for another power couple to make their entrance next year?
3. Director Jo Hyun-tak really knows how to use mise-en-scene to bring to life a bygone era
Cassette tape radios? Check. VCRs? Check. Floppy shoulder pads, mullet hairstyles and apple-bottomed jeans? Check, check and check.
The props, makeup, hairstyles and settings in Snowdrop are definitely on point. For a political drama series that doesn’t really make the mark with some of its characters, its use of mise-en-scene to create the ambience and aura of a bygone era of the 80s is stunningly accurate and immersive.
The devil is in the detail for director Jo, down to the lace coverings that are replete in every restaurant and household, to the polka dot dresses and flannel jackets common to the era's fashion, everything feels fastidiously chosen yet overtly subtle.
If you grew up in the late 80s or want a glimpse into what the past looks like, this will definitely take you back.