High Profile Lee Young Ae Comeback Drama Saimdang Wraps Up Disappointing Run But Makes Money Overseas

I don’t know anyone personally who watched recently wrapped SBS Wed-Thurs drama Saimdang: Light’s Diary, and judging from the sad sack ratings in Korea that’s the case as well. The drama was super high profile from the casting stage when it was announced as famed K-actress Lee Young Ae‘s comeback drama after thirteen years since record breaking hit Dae Jang Geum. The drama was fully pre-produced and easily sold overseas airing rights just on her name alone, alas the end product failed to ignite the interest on arrival and only puttered around from there on out based on the reviews and commentary.

It ended with only 28 episodes aired from the scheduled 30 filmed, leaving with so little fanfare compared to how it premiered. It’s too early to tell if this will dim Lee Young Ae’s aura but her name power got this drama sold to so many overseas countries for airing that the production has revealed that it’s made its budget back on that alone. Speaking of which, reportedly the Chinese rights buyer has to pay the full licensing fee even if it never gets approval to air in China thanks to recent THAAD and ongoing SARFT restrictions.

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High Profile Lee Young Ae Comeback Drama Saimdang Wraps Up Disappointing Run But Makes Money Overseas — 15 Comments

  1. I watched it all the way through but I can’t quite pinpoint what I didn’t like it about it. It was just kinda there. She’s really quite good at playing historical figures. But I have little understanding of korean historical figures. I am thinking she needs to branch out into some newish characters, ones with a little edge to them maybe?

    I also think all the wait etc just dimmed interested in the drama. I think it also had kinda slow pacing in certain parts. Otherwise, there were some good parts. I didn’t think it was dated looking show. I thought it was beautifully shot. But again, I have no desire to rewatch it. So I guess that says something.

    • Can I ask you for a spoiler? What’s the scoop behind the love story in this one? I thought it was so odd to give someone who was historically known for virtue and fidelity a love interest who was not her husband.

      • SPOILERS!!! –

        Well, in the past section Saimdang and Yi Gyeom were childhood sweethearts, but alas, tragically parted and it was not to be. As adults they were friends and he was her artistic champion. In the present, THEY NEVER MEET. Honest to freaking god. He sees her from afar, they email about counterfeit art. AND NEVER MEET. The drama gods were not kind.

        The odd thing about this show was how badly it integrated the past and present sections. I think that if it has stuck with one or the other, it would have been more compelling. However, it had several other things wrong with it: Lee Young Ae can act circles around Song Seung Heon – he was badly outclassed; In the present portion Lee Young Ae struggled with some of the rather nonsensical situations – the portions in the club come to mind.

        On the upside, they looked beautiful together. I mean, seriously pretty. It was beautifully shot.

        It was terribly directed and edited and poorly constructed narratively. It had absolutely no flow and generally was ….stupid. I mean…just dumb.

        Honestly, the only reason I watched it was because I had it running in the background while I was doing something else.

        Give it a pass. It isn’t worth the bandwidth.

  2. i commend it makers very much for their sound business acumen and their foresight in preselling the rights to soo many countries including china earlier and not being greedy and wait to see the drama hit big to capitalize on its success by asking for big money instead,this saves them.

    the opposite is what legend of the blue sea makers did with respect to china sales.at first they wanted 1 million dollars for each episode,the chinese asked for reduction but they refuse.soo sure that it will become a big hit like my love from stars,they waited for it to begin airing before selling china rights to capitalize on its success not knowing that thaad will reveal its ugly head by the time its start showing around the world.now they got nothing from china.

    soo sad that lee young ae couldnt achieve success in her comeback drama,i wish her luck in her next project.

  3. i commend it makers very much for their sound business acumen and their foresight in preselling the rights to soo many countries including china earlier and not being greedy and wait to see the drama hit big to capitalize on its success by asking for big money instead,this saves them.

    the opposite is what legend of the blue sea makers did with respect to china sales.at first they wanted 1 million dollars for each episode,the chinese asked for reduction but they refuse.soo sure that it will become a big hit like my love from stars,they waited for it to begin airing before selling china rights to capitalize on its success not knowing that thaad will reveal its ugly head by the time its start showing around the world.now they got nothing from china.

    soo sad that lee young ae couldnt achieve success in her comeback drama,i wish her luck in her next project.

  4. I stopped watching it early on and took a few weeks off before marathoning the rest. The break helped and I wished that they didn’t chop it by two episodes because that really made a detrimental difference to the story.

  5. I thought the posters for this were beautiful, and this genre is right up my alley. However, I just cannot jump into a drama that is over 20 episodes without getting viewer feed back. I do not care about ratings at all in terms of my own personal viewing, but I do care about what people are saying who are committing hours of their life to the drama. As far as ratings go, one viewer commented that this drama might have done well 10 or so years ago but just seemed dated now. I had already decided to skip this one but thanks @momosan for confirming this was the right decision. I hope the actress has better luck next time and jumps into something quickly. I think she should pick a comedy or something totally different.

    • If you want to try a longer 30 episode drama, Rebel is much better. Which is a surprise because the leads are all new or not really that famous other than Lee Ha Nui, but it’s really good. Even the childhood portions are great.

  6. There are two versions – domestic (SBS), which was edited into 28 episodes, and the original 30 episodes which was broadcast internationally. Narratively, the international is far superior, giving equal prominence to both timelines and the link between the two, unlike the SBS version, which suffers from a lopsided narrative, emphasising on the historical timeline, rushing through the modern timeline, and cutting out scenes that would have far better fleshed out the story. Regardless, the drama is captivating and performances strong, and there is a beauty in the parallelism between the two timelines and characters LYA portrays, making it relatable and memorable. LYA and SSH give us some of the most poignantly beautiful performances in the drama. It is truly a shame that so many of the disparaging reviews and comments have been based on the weaker SBS version. Certainly, for me at least, it is well worth the 30+28 hours x multiple versions of subs that I spent watching, and I truly miss the characters and universe now that it is over.

  7. There are two versions available – the SBS (domestic) with 28 eps, and original which is broadcast internationally with 30 eps. Narratively, the international is far stronger, giving equal emphasis to the two timelines and tying them together well, compared to the SBS which has a lopsided narrative emphasising on the historical, rushes through the modern timeline and removes scenes which would have far better fleshed out the story. Regardless, it is captivating and beautiful, and boasts strong performances, with LYA and SSH giving us some of the most poignant, devastating deliveries in the drama. The original version also gives us a beauty in parallelism between the two timelines, making LYA’s characters relatable and believable. For me at least, it is well worth the 30 and 28 hours x multiple subs that I spent watching, and I definitely miss the universe and its characters very much, now that it is over.

  8. I always give a drama atleast 4 episodes if it’s 16 episodes long before writing it off but I was struggling to get past even 3rd episode of this one. I honestly can’t even recall clearly how that 3 episodes went by too.

    Maybe her next drama will be better. :/

  9. I watched the whole thing. It was beautifully shot and I actually enjoyed the slow pace. I think what was disappointing was the end of the love story. After you accept that their love has to remain platonic in the past, there is a strong wish that in the current timeline they have better luck. Justice was just not enough. They could have killed her modern spouse and open a door to new romance. Or not given her a husband and son.
    If you compare with Goblin, which was slow and had a beautiful melancholy tone, this one was more vibrant but lacked the payoff at the end.

  10. The Korean press unanimously criticized LYA’s performance for being dated and lackluster, but actually commended SSH’s.

  11. The writer tries to weave together a sageuk story and a modern one by using the trope of time travel, but along the way forgets about it while getting embroiled in a hodgepodge of family drama, court intrigue, unrequited love and the growth of a female artist. Just trying too hard to pack too much into the drama. The directing is choppy, too, running parallel lines of development even within the same sageuk timeline but failing to dwell long enough in any one line to allow for audience immersion. This is made worse by the constant awkward switch between past and present, which does not really serve any purpose theme-wise, except to stress the shared theme of what a hard life a woman has to lead both in the past and in the modern time.

    Other than that, the sageuk part is beautifully shot and has many poetically resonant scenes where painting, calligraphy, literature and character psychology are well blended and delivered. I think the drama is not very good at telling a story but great at constructing poignantly beautiful and symbol-laden vignettes. Perhaps like a painting or a poem. Great visual and music.

    Because of the constraints of a historically real character known for her wifely and motherly role, LYA’s performance in the first half is stilted and stiff, giving rise to unanimous criticism by the Korean press and netizens, though I think the later episodes see a return of form, partly because her character begins to demonstrate genuine emotion and reciprocates the love of the leading male character. Before the show aired, most of the press cast doubts over the casting of SSH in a genre where he had a notable previous failure (Dr Jin). But he actually turned out to be quite good and earned good reviews. One such review was the only Saimdang-related news throughout the run of the drama that was trending at number two on the day the drama ended.

  12. I watched the whole drama. The only thing positive about the drama is LYA looked pretty in a hanbok and SSH was impressive in his portrayal of his love for Saimdang. As Saimdang, LYA was boring. I didn’t love her acting either in DJG, but the story was good and kept me going, but in this drama, I was bored by her portrayal of Saimdang. It would have been better if she took a role that relates to hanbok, then maybe I would be more lenient with her lackluster acting since she was so pretty in the hanbok, but I was so disappointed that I was stewing at the end.

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