“On Air” Draws Comparisons with Reality #1

If you have yet to watch or even heard about “On Air”, then you are really losing out on something big. This mega-budget drama that has correctly depicted the background story of the entertainment industry thus far has invoked widespread interest which can be seen among the many messages left on it’s official website and ratings above 20% on the average.

On Air

The drama revolves around a newbie director, top screenwriter, top star and a down-and-out manager. Events like fights between management agencies, bribing the television PD, product placement, etc are evidently shown in the drama. Although they have taken extreme care to repackage the events, concealing the real identities of people and events that they are trying to re-enact, we can still guess as to who are they hinting at. This is one part that makes the drama so intriguing to viewers. How many have you spotted?

SW Entertainment is SM Entertainment in reality?
Artiste image rights, contract issues, violence against artistes, power struggles.

Because of that contract with SW Entertainment chairman, Jin Sang Woo, Oh Seung Ah is treated as a money-tree and has to put on a fake smile and live life in a humilating manner for the past five years. In this five years, she has totally understood the dark side of the entertainment industry and decides not to renew her contract with him. To avoid being pinned down by Jin Sang Woo into acting the drama, she uses every trick in the book to irritate screenwriter, Seo Young Eun and ends up getting the violent treatment from Jin Sang Woo. When her contract is up, she arrogantly tears up the agreement in front of me and walks away from him, not even looking back once. Jin Sang Woo doesn’t give it up and so tries to right his humilation by setting up traps to stop Oh Seung Ah from filming Lee Kyung Min’s “Ticket to the Moon” drama.

Although SM Entertainment focuses on the music industry and doesn’t have much links with the drama industry, “On Air” seems to be drawing comparisons with it against SW Entertainment. Besides long-standing rumours of stripping artistes of their image rights and media bribery, there’s also rumours of Lee Soo Man inflicting violence on its artistes which are spread all over the internet. Junjin and Andy are reportedly targets of his heavy hand in the past.

Lee Soo Man

The conflict between SM Entertainment and Shinhwa intensified on 1st May, 2003 when the latter declined to renew their contract and announced the termination of their five year contract 7 days later. In the same year, they signed with GOOD Entertainment and begun their new career. In order to continue using their name “Shinhwa”, leader Eric who belongs to a rich family reportedly forked out a huge amount of mony to buy the name rights back.

But it didn’t end there. Before Shinhwa released their 8th album in 206, a video of Eric and Junjin imitating people with disability was posted onto the net and created a furore. GOOD Entertainment claimed that it was SM Entertainment who did that. Although similiarities are aplenty, many netizens felt that “SW Company” was just poking fun at those management companies that only care about producing stars and much less actors/actresses.

Oh Seung Ah is Kim Hee Sun in reality?
Super beautiful woman, CF star, poor acting, not patriotic enough.

Jang Ki Joon has to douse the flames that Oh Seung Ah stokes

Kim Ha Neul plays Oh Seung Ah who is labelled as the “National Devil” in Korea. Despite her poor acting plus being labelled as a “fake” actress and having to rely on eye-drops for crying scenes, she still has thousands of fans to call upon. Every drama that she is in achieves ratings of 30% and above and is exceptionally popular in the CF world with advertisers. After signing on with Jang Ki Joon, she starts throwing tantrums as a top star. In order to calm things down, Jang Ki Joon goes to her home and hangs a flag outside, his reason, “Gwangbokjeol coming, I was afraid you might forget to hang it again.”

Poor acting but highly popular CF star

CF is in short commercial film and refers to commercials. Beautiful star but no acting skills, these reminds you of Kim Hee Sun. Since debuting, she has been labelled as “Korea’s Most Beautiful Woman” and is the darling of advertisers and media. The number of products that she endorses is staggering, ranging from jewelry, clothing, household appliances, wedding gowns, etc. How popular is she? Well, she commands at least 3 million for a commercial.

Kim Hee Sun

But despite being in popular dramas like “Sunflower”, “Tomato”, she always plays the same role and that’s what holding her back. Everytime she takes on a new challenging role, it always ends up with low ratings and deemed a failure.

Outside of reel life, during Gwangbokjeol last year, Kim Hee Sun was criticised for not loving her country after being caught not having a flag outside her home. Earlier this year, she was also lambasted by newspapers for not fulfiling her voting duties as a Korean citizen at the 18th Korean General Elections, opting to stay at home to enjoy life as a newly-wedded wife instead. How would Kim Hee Sun have loved to have a manager like Jang Ki Joon in “On Air”.

Interesting point to note is that the Korean media loves to scrutinise celebrities for not hanging the flag on Gwangbokjeol when the day arrives and always does extensive coverage on it. As for celebrities like Rain, Song Hae Gyo, Kim Seung Woo-Kim Nam Joo couple living in the high-class apartments in Kangnam district, why do they always have a flag outside their homes when Gwangbokjeol arrives? According to the caretaker for their apartments, “When Gwangbokjeol arrives, the security guards for their apartments will hang the flags for each unit in the apartment.”

Prima-donna behavior hinting at some top stars?
Clues include talking arrogantly, throwing fits at any situations…

In the drama, top star Oh Seung Ah loves to do things that always lands the other party in an awkward situation and splashing coffee at people she doesn’t like in the same line. When she meets junior actress, Cherry at the hair salon, she started saying sarcastically, “Why, even pigs and dogs can be famous in this era…”. When Cherry rebukes back, “Are you finished?”, Seung Ah immediately splashes water at her face, “How dare you rebuke me?”

They meet again later during a fashion show where Seung Ah once again steps out to teach Cherry a lesson, grabbing her hair, telling her that she must bow when greeting her seniors. Many viewers were astounded at Kim Ha Neul’s portrayal of Oh Seung Ah’s arrogant and haughty behavior. It’s so real and convincing that it makes you wonder if there is really someone like her in reality.

Although the Korean media has been pretty protective towards their Hallyu stars image, you still get the occasional odd reports of prima-donna behavior from Korean celebrities. So Ye Jin refusal to let anyone take pictures of her during a fan meeting last year led to her being barracked by the Korean media; Earlier this year, during Kim Tae Hee’s autograph event, there were rumours of fans being upset by her demand of, “Only autograph, no pictures please”.


With regards to this, Song Yun Ah who has been in the business for 14 years said, “There’s one Oh Seung Ah among 10 actors/actresses. When I see people like this, I will find it to be very sad for him/her. Actually, our jobs is like being in a war, you have to fight for what you want. But some of them are just too greedy and makes others unhappy at their own expense.”

Interesting Snippets from “On Air”
Some intriguing points in the drama that piques interest.

Lee Bum Soo Gossip
The drama has invited many Korea stars to cameo and most of them acted as themselves using their real names. In episode 4, Jang Ki Joon (Lee Bum Soo) was making small-talk with Kim Min Joon and subsequently praised him for acting in that excellent drama, “Surgeon Bong Dal Hee”.

“I never missed an episode of that drama, I watched everything.” Ki Joon then starts gossiping, “But the person that acts as Ahn Joong Geun in the drama, why does he keep raising his voice like he’s shouting? That’s not acting, (actor) is he originally like that in real-life?”

Weird to see him criticise other people? But then again, the person who acted as Ahn Joong Geun in “Surgeon Bong Dal Hee” was Lee Bum Soo himself.

Poking fun at “Lovers in Paris”
“On Air” can be considered to be a Korean drama that loves to criticise, and for screenwriter Kim Eun Suk, she spares no effort in criticising her own work right down to the wire. Seo Young Eun ponders and looks at her past works after Lee Kyung Min criticises her past dramas for having scenes and lines that are too romantic and lack realism. Many scenes in particular pokes fun at the high rated drama, “Lovers in Paris” which was written by Kim Eun Suk herself.

Several cliched scenes are re-enacted in “On Air”, for example, 2nd-generation rich kid romance with poor girl, main girl gets terminal illness, birth background is a mystery; In addition, mushy over-dramatic lines are also re-enacted.

The “Jang Dong Gun” element in Korean dramas
Korean screenwriters seems to love using Jang Dong Gun in their script. When the two main leads started playing around in “Snowflakes”, the female lead would praise her boyfriend, “You are more handsome than Jang Dong Gun”; “In “Be Strong, Geum Soon”, in order to convince her husband to let their son, Tae Wan to become an actor, Geum Soon’s grandma kept insisting that, “Someday, he will become an actor just like Jang Dong Gun.”

Jang Dong Gun is also a regular in the “On Air” script, it was used at least four times in episode 10. In episode 4, when Kim Min Joon was curious whether Oh Seung Ah was seeing someone she liked, she smilingly said, “Don’t you read the newspapers? Didn’t they say I was dating Jang Dong Gun recently.”

Park Yong Ha song playing in the background
In episode 8, director Lee Kyung Min (Park Yong Ha) and screenwriter Seo Young Eun (Song Yun Ah) was in Taiwan to scout for filming locations. While eating Korean cuisine, background music started playing and Seo Young Eun started humming two lines. She was laughed at by Lee Kyung Min, “Why don’t you go become a singer?” That background music was what Park Yong Ha sang in 2003 for “All-In” drama starring Lee Byung Hun and Song Hae Gyo, “Like The First Day”. Park Yong Ha actually went to Taiwan to promote this song because the drama and the latter was immensely popular back then.

Romance between director Lee Kyung Min and screenwriter Seo Young Eun

Quick Question and Answer

Q1: What does “On Air” really mean?
On air means live or direct broadcast. Another way to interprete it is “one-sided love” and aptly describes the relationship between the four main leads.

Q2: Who’s that mixed-blood hunk that teaches Seung Ah English?
His name is Ricky Lee Neely and has American and Korean blood. He’s heralded as the next Daniel Henny. His popularity is currently surging thanks to “On Air” and his highest ranking on empas website was number nine. 26 years old Ricky graduated from Kansas State University and has a pretty face plus a tall frame of 1.85m; He is fluent in English and Korean and compared to Daniel Henney, Rickey is likely to fare better in Korea. But Ricky was humble about it, “I still lack the required acting experience, but I will work hard to improve it and hope that I can become an established actor in the shortest period possible.”

Q3: Do Korean screenwriters really get 2000k per episode?
Not entirely. Screenwriters in Korea are divided into classes. New screenwriters usually gets 250-400k per episode but for A-listers like Kim Soo Hyun, Choi Wan Kyu (Jumong), they do get up to 2000k. As for Kim Eun Suk who writes “On Air”, she is still some distance from receiving that much money as an A-lister.

8 thoughts on ““On Air” Draws Comparisons with Reality #1

  1. This drama it is so interesting and fun to watch! i love how these little ‘intriguing points’ keeps everyone thinking, it’s like they tell a real history but you have to guess who are this people they talking about *if that makes any sense…oh my poor english*
    and i laugh so hard in that Park Yong Ha scene when they played his music in the BG and Song Yun Ah started singing^^

    on the dark side, i didn’t know about Shinhwa being abused by SM Entert.
    what i did know was about that contract issue and that Eric had to spend his own money to keep Shinhwa’s name. I’m glad that they fine now but that was a hard period of their lives.

  2. wow how did you know all this? its amasing to read all this after i’ve watched the episodes that have come out so far. Thank you!

  3. I haven’t watched this drama but thanks so much for these hints. It will make much more sense for us (non Korean viewers) when time comes to watch it.

    It’s amazing how people connect the what happens in “ON AIR” to the real life events/celebs/entertainment companies. I guess that makes the drama even more intriguing. So much to elaborate about.

  4. very interesting, on that shinhwa thing
    is that a fact? i mean they have to hpat to keep their name?
    i hate that sometimes korean entertainment industry hides things
    but i’ve heard the violence that happened w/ sm artiste

    thanx for so much info! your blog is very interesting

  5. Pingback: “On Air” Draws Comparisons with Reality #2 « Coolsmurf Domain

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