With only two months left, it's safe to conclude that 2021 has been a great year for K-dramas. A lot of titles—from healing series to psychological thrillers—achieved high viewership ratings and broke records across the world. But despite their popularity, some of these shows were criticized because of their storyline, cast members, or product placements. In South Korea, the cancel culture does not only apply to actors and K-pop idols—K-dramas also receive backlash from its viewers.
Here are the *most controversial* K-dramas of 2021:
1. Joseon Exorcist
Even after airing two episodes and finishing 80 percent of its filming, Joseon Dynasty was permanently canceled due to its distortion of Korean history. Both eps showed Chinese-style props and the audience viewed them as a misinterpretation of the past. It was also reported that some parts of the fantasy historical drama were created without any historical basis.
Following this issue, SBS released an apology statement and announced that the series' broadcasting will be postponed. However, this still didn't sit well with its Korean viewers and 156,000 people allegedly signed a petition to cancel the drama. On March 6, Joseon Exorcist was eventually terminated.
This Jung Hae In and Jisoo-led series is set to air this December but before it reached its premiere, Snowdrop has already sparked controversy. Early this year, the drama's synopsis was leaked—and this raised eyebrows in South Korea. It was said that the plot tampered with Korean history after placing a male lead who's a spy and another male character from the Agency for National Security Planning (NSP). South Korea fought for its democracy in 1987, and NSP "would have been part of the authoritarian regime at the time," according to Soompi.
Since this is a sensitive topic in the country, more than 100,000 citizens filed a petition to cancel the release of Snowdrop. JTBC then released a statement and explained that the drama will not glamorize the life of a spy. As of present, viewers are highly anticipating this series which will air on Disney+.
3. River Where The Moon Rises
In October last year, Kim So Hyun and Ji Soo were confirmed to lead the sageuk drama, River Where The Moon Rises. Five months after, Ji Soo was under fire after he was accused of bullying his former schoolmates. He allegedly "carried around a BB gun and fired it at students for fun," and threw food at them.
The actor apologized through his Instagram account and he soon stepped down from the drama. He was replaced by Mr. Queen star Na In Woo and it was reported that they had to refilm the episodes all over again after finishing 90% of its filming. This led to the drama's production company to file a lawsuit for damages against Ji Soo's agency. River Where The Moon Rises continued with its release with a different male lead and for its finale, it ended on solid viewership ratings.
Vincenzo had its own share of scandal because of a certain scene. In episode eight, Vincenzo Cassano (Song Joong Ki) and Hong Cha Young (Jeon Yeo Bin) were seen eating a bowl of bibimbap and viewers spotted that it's a product placement from the Chinese brand, Zihaiguo. This enraged Korean netizens because people might think that their beloved dish is a Chinese one. ICYDK, there's an ongoing feud between the two countries and it was reported in the past that China has claimed kimchi and hanbok as theirs.
The specific scene was soon removed from streaming platforms and Song Joong Ki shared an apology, saying: "As an actor in a title role, I think it is right to apologize to those who are disappointed with our program." Despite the issue it faced, Vincenzo became the sixth-highest rating K-drama in tvN history.
5. Racket Boys
The coming-of-age drama Racket Boys drew the ire of Indonesians after the release of episode five. There was a scene where Han Se Yoon (Lee Jae In) competed in a badminton match in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Coach Fang (Ahn Nae Sang) of the Korean national team complained about the event's venue and facilities. He ranted about the Indonesian organizers and said that they did it on purpose. Additionally, Se Yoon received a "Boo!" from the Indonesian audience after winning the game.
With this, SBS' Instagram account was filled with mass complaints from Indonesian netizens where they demanded an apology from the drama's team. They expressed that the episode gave their country a negative image especially that badminton is considered as their pride. SBS released an apology statement and mentioned that they did not intend to belittle any country or player. The following episodes of Racket Boys were well-received by their viewers and the drama continued leading in its timeslot.
6. Dear M
Dear M, which stars NCT's Jaehyun, Park Hye Soo, Noh Jung Ui, Bae Hyun Sung, UP10TION's Lee Jin Hyuk, and Woo Davi, postponed its premiere after its female lead was plagued with controversy. The college drama was set to air last February 26 but as of writing, there are no reports yet on its airing date.
A few days before Dear M's release, Park Hye Soo was accused of being a school violence perpetrator. There were claims that she reportedly bullied her former schoolmates but the rumors were soon denied by her agency, and they announced that they will take legal action. By March, Park Hye Soo personally addressed the allegations and shared on her IG account that she was the one who was bullied. Apart from this issue, the production team behind Dear M also relayed that they're improving the drama's quality—the reason why there's a delay.
7. The Penthouse 3
The third season of the makjang drama The Penthouse drew flak twice: The first was when one of its characters was accused of cultural appropriation. Alex (Park Eun Suk) sported dreadlocks, face tattoos, and golden teeth grills, and he also spoke an African American accent. This was deemed as a racist portrayal by the drama's international audience. After it sparked criticism, The Penthouse 3's production team addressed the scandal and changed Alex's appearance. Through his TikTok account, Park Eun Suk has also issued an apology.
The second issue is related to the use of real-life tragic events in South Korea. The drama featured a news clip from the 2017 Pohang earthquake as well as the 2021 Gwangju building accident. SBS admitted to using inappropriate videos and they apologized to the victims and family members of the disaster. They also deleted the said scenes in that specific episode. The Penthouse 3 finished on a high note and was consistent as a buzz-worthy drama this year.
Not to be confused with the healing series Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, this drama is under the thriller genre and is set in 1999. It's about Choi Hyung In (Yoo Jae Myung), a detective in charge of serial killings, and Jo Jung Hyun (Han Ye Ri), a woman looking for her lost niece. Both of them were soon involved with a terrorist.
A week after it aired, Hometown removed its writer Cho Hyun Hoon from its official credits. Apparently, he has been using the pen name Joo Jin and he is actually the director who sexually harassed a female director in 2013. Cho Hyun Hoon admitted to this in 2018 and he apologized for his ill behavior. It seems like this scandal created a negative impact on its viewers because after the revelation, Hometown received poor ratings as low as 1.1 percent.
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