It wouldn’t be surprising for a drama fanatic to name The Heirs as one of the most watched dramas of 2013, despite its not-so-exciting story. In the past, such successes were followed by 1) broadcast rights sold for soaring prices to foreign television companies; 2) uncountable pieces of accessories and other merchandise resembling what the main characters gifted each other; and 3) a remake, or possibly multiple ones, of the original series.
International broadcasting rights to The Heirs have already been sold to 13 countries in Asia, Europe, and America, and the price Japan paid for theirs was the highest number amongst all 2013 dramas. And, if you ever want a purple dreamcatcher of your own, they’re not too hard to find. With that said, it seems like it’s time for the remake.
China is one of the major reproducers of Korean dramas (and variety shows such as Dad! Where Are We Going? too), with adaptations of You’re Beautiful (remade by Taiwan), Temptation of Wife, Autumn in My Heart, and I’m Sorry, I Love You. Now, they’re adding The Heirs to the list. Chinese press made the announcement in late December, only about half a month after the original series ended. Titled Billion Dollar Man as of now, the series began production recently with Super Junior‘s Choi Siwon stepping into the shoes of Choi Young-do, Kim Woo-bin‘s character in the original. Veteran actress Kim Hee-sun has also been reported to play the role of Kim Tan‘s mother, although she has yet to be spotted on set in Guangxi.
The popularity of The Heirs in China has been no secret. At the end of January, Lee Min-ho made an appearance at the 2014 CCTV Spring Festival Gala, the most prestigious TV event in China with viewer ratings of up to 70%. In almost unprecedented speed, Billion Dollar Man was announced and began filming, clearly to ride off the original’s popularity. Also in the news is the fact that the co-director for the upcoming series is a Korean PD, Oh Sang-won. This decision was perhaps made to ensure that the remake doesn’t transform into another typical Chinese teen series, which the Chinese director of Billion Dollar Man, Li Shao-hong, is known for. Of course, the addition of Choi Siwon and Kim Hee-sun are also aimed to attract their existing Chinese fans, as well as some audiences in Korea.
Interestingly, following all the hype of a remake, Choi Siwon made a post on his Weibo account on February 10th to clarify that the project is not a direct adaptation of The Heirs:
Many people say our drama is a reproduction of The Heirs, and there has even been news about it :^) Actually, the copyrights were bought a long time ago, and we are shooting brand new content :^) I hope everyone can give us more attention than what we have now :^)
Siwon has obviously been browsing the internet, and bravely spoke up with his happy faces. Just as he said back in December 2013, the company who originally purchased the copyrights already clarified that they weren’t recreating The Heirs. The director of the series has also responded in an interview that plans of Billion Dollar Man began two years ago.
Nevertheless, netizens and fans alike still cannot erase the concept of Billion Dollar Man being a remake from their minds. And it’s perfectly understandable. The project has supposedly been under planning for two years, so why start shooting right after The Heirs‘ finale while drama-lovers everywhere were still discussing Kim Tan’s sweater collection and Choi Young-do’s character development?
The way I see it, whether it was planned from before The Heirs aired or not, the team behind Billion Dollar Man decided to use the similarities between the two series to increase their recognition among the public. Sure, the original idea for the drama could have been in place two years ago, but we’ll never know the extent to which it was developed. Chinese news sites have already matched each member of the announced cast to a character in The Heirs, so it’ll be interesting to see how close (or not) the qualities of the characters from the two dramas are. The scriptwriters for Billion Dollar Man can easily alter their current story to emulate the successful characters and relationships showcased in The Heirs, but that will then directly contradict their remark of not being a remake.
Additionally, Billion Dollar Man bears the burden
of the crown! of escaping the low-ratings trend for Chinese dramas featuring Korean actors. Unfortunately, the decision to do so hasn’t been much of a successful one. For example, Siwon’s previous group-mate Kim Ki-bum was starring in a new adaptation of a traditional Chinese novel a month ago. A month later, the series has been cancelled mid-air. Chinese remakes of Korean series also haven’t done well with the public, with producers and directors often receiving criticism for unoriginality and relying on past popularities to make money. Enthusiastic Korean drama fans in China especially attack remakes for not living up to the original works.
Following the rumors of an upcoming remake of The Heirs, numerous petitions and blog posts surfaced, pleading production companies to refrain from “destroying” the hit series. I can imagine both fans and passersby impatiently waiting for Billion Dollar Man to air so that they can criticize either the similarities to The Heirs, the brand new story that’s seemingly lacking, or a mixture of the two — how the plot is a copy of The Heirs and yet it still can’t match the original’s charm. It’s now up to the production team to decide what type of backlash they’d like to receive.
What do you think? Is Billion Dollar Man on your list of to-watch dramas? And if it is, is the reason the drama itself (or Choi Siwon) or just to see how it compares to The Heirs?