'Taewangsasingi' makes Korea ratings history


SEOUL -- The most expensive television program in Korean history got off to a solid start Tuesday night as "Taewangsasingi" grabbed a 20.4% share of the audience here, but producers are still waiting to decide if the ambitious series will grow into a genuine hit.

"It's a good start, but we'll have to see how the ratings continue," said John Kim, CEO of series co-producer SSD.

At a cost of $43 million for 24 episodes, "Taewangsasingi" features a spectacular and effects-heavy take on Korea's founding mythology. By comparison, most TV dramas in Korea cost less than $200,000 per episode.

"Taewangsasingi" has been pre-sold in 14 Asian territories, and Kim said he is in talks for as many as 70 more countries.

By far the most important territory for the series' success is Japan, where state broadcaster NHK is expected to begin airing "Taewangsasingi" in December. Kim said that a theatrical run there also is a possibility depending on demand.

The series stars Bae Yong-joon, who became one of Korea's biggest international stars following the success of the melodrama "Winter Sonata" in 2003. When Bae signed on to "Taewangsasingi," the show's budget soared from $11 million to $33 million, largely based on Bae's appeal in Japan. Costs swelled to $43 million thanks to production problems and the complicated effects.

Produced by Kimjonghak Prods. "Taewangsasingi" is directed by Kim Jong-hak and longtime co-writer Song Ji-nah. Kim and Song teamed on two of the biggest Korean hits of the 1990s, the historical dramas "Tears of Dawn" and "Sandglass."