Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Many Asian countries will be celebrating the Lunar New Year on February 12, but that’s not the only thing we Asians have in common. We share a love for good stories, too. In fact, we love some stories so much so that we don’t mind telling an engaging tale more than once, in another language.
In this article, we take a look at k-dramas that have been remade by many different countries and vice versa.
Why should I watch more than one version?
Watching the same narrative retold through many other lenses allows you to appreciate the nuances of culture and art from different countries. It’s interesting to see how the same plot can be refurbished with varying situations that are native to a specific place and time. It’s also entertaining to see how an old drama gets adapted to suit the tastes of modern audiences.
How do I know which versions to watch?
Watch the Korean version if you like complex backstories and tight storylines. Look for good world-building and plots that are mostly logical and well researched.
Watch the Thai version if you like slow-placed stories, and over-the-top dramatic elements. If watching characters pull each other’s hair, and throw water at the villains are your guilty pleasures, you’ll enjoy the wild ride of the lakhorn (Thai drama).
Watch the Taiwainese version if you like the more realistic, less glossy version. You’ll also like it if you enjoy a bit of slapstick comedy and do not mind second-hand embarrassment.
Watch the Japanese version if you like to keep things short and understated. Japanese dramas usually last ten episodes, and are less than an hour long. The backstories and subplots are often removed, and the story progresses at a quicker pace. Acting tends to be exaggerated in manga or anime adaptation.
Watch the Chinese version if you like the kilig (heart-fluttering moments) factor played up. Seasons tend to run longer so the romantic tension and dramatic build up are extended.
Caveat: Keep an open mind when you watch, as adaptations have varying styles, and standards, and are meant to entertain a very specific audience. What is acceptable in one culture might be frowned upon in another. What was acceptable several years ago may no longer be tolerated. Finally, using one standard for acting, production design, or even dialogue won’t help you enjoy the new interpretation. When watching various versions, you simply need to take things as they are, make a lot of allowances for cultural nuances, and let the story unfold.
Where do I start?
In general, the simpler the original plot, the easier it is to adapt. Dramas with more universal themes, like those about young love, friendship, and family also fare better when tweaked for different audiences.
These are some of the more popular adaptations out there:
Full House (Original story from Korea, 2004, 16 episodes)
A girl must marry a celebrity temporarily in order to keep the beautiful house her father built.
Full House, Thailand, 2004, 20 episodes
Smiling Pasta, Taiwan, 2006, 24 episodes
Full House, Philippines, 2009, 65 episodes
Midsummer Is Full of Love, China, 2020, 24 episodes
Fated to Love You/You Are My Destiny (Original story from Taiwan 2008, 24 episodes)
A one-night stand results in an unexpected pregnancy that pushes two strangers to marry quickly.
Fated to Love You, Korea, 2014, 20 episodes
You're My Destiny, Thailand, 2017, 17 episodes
You Are My Destiny, Japan, 2020, 10 episodes
You Are My Destiny, China, 2020, 36 episodes
In Time With You (Original story from Taiwan, 2011, 13 episodes)
The male and female leads have been best friends forever. Everyone can see that they belong together, except the two of them.
The Time We Were Not in Love, Korea, 2015, 16 episodes
The Evolution of Our Love, China, 2018, 40 episodes
I Don't Love You Yet, Japan, 2019, 16 episodes
Boys Over Flowers (Original drama from Taiwan adapted from a 1992 Japanese Manga, 2001, 27 episodes)
A working-class high school student crosses paths with wealthy boys in her high school.
Hana Yori Dango, Japan, 2005, 9 episodes
Boys Over Flowers, Korea, 2009, 25 episodes
Meteor Garden, China, 2018, 50 episodes
F4 Thailand: Boys Over Flowers, to be released in 2021
Age of Youth/Hello My Twenties (Original story from Korea, 2016, 12 episodes)
Five young women, who live in the same house, come to terms with their relationships and careers as they navigate their young adulthood.
Youth, China, 2018, 26 episodes
The Full House Korean version was my gateway drama many years ago. While it did not age well with its uncommunicative, insensitive male lead, it holds a special place in my heart for introducing me to the k-drama aesthetic, one-season format, and excellent storytelling. The Full House Thai version introduced me to lakhorns, and over-the-top drama that exists in all its unadulterated glory. The Japanese version of I Don’t Love You Yet is my favorite adaptation of the friends-to-lovers story. With shorter episodes, the story is not needlessly dragged and the quiet, slice-of-life treatment made it more memorable.
All in all, the experience of watching the same story unfold in different languages (even if I only read the English subtitles) is one way of bridging the gap among belief systems, values, and even generations.