Asianovelas have been popular with the Filipino audience ever since Taiwan's Meteor Garden hit the airwaves back in 2002. Since then, a steady stream of shows from Taiwan, Korea, and Japan soon found its way to Philippine shores and started a new craze in local programming, quickly adding a few more slots in the telenovela fan's list of favorites. In just a few years, the Asianovela invasion successfully built a country-wide fan base.
"Asianovelas" are drama shows produced in Asian countries and, of course, the Philippines. The term is a spin-off from "Telenovela," which refers to the Spanish soap operas, like Marimar, that first entered the country.
How do Asianovelas differ from the Telenovelas that we have grown to love?
Asianovelas offer unique, straight-to-the-point, engaging storylines. We Filipinos can comfortably relate with Asianovelas for their traditional ways of story telling. Real-life situations are interpreted and delivered so gracefully, all we have to do is sit back and enjoy the story's unfolding.
The Asian stars with their chinky eyes and smooth complexion look foreign yet feel familiar. After all, especially in urban areas, we often see or interact with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese nationals. The actresses' pulchritude and the hunky yet lean frame of the handsome leading men in Asianovelas exude freshness. No sweaty-looking actors and over-sexy actresses, no long complicated plots.
PEP's Top List highlights the Asianovelas that got us hooked from the first to the final episode. Ranking is based on the ratings and the word-of-mouth fame that a particular series earned both locally and abroad.
If you disagree with the list or if you have more shows to suggest, feel free to share here.
On to the Top Ten Asianovelas!
Just say "F4" and we all know which Asianovela gets the Number One spot on this list. The F4 band caught our attention with their music and pretty-boy looks. Bring in the beautiful, equally talented actress Barbie Shu and you find yourself in Meteor Garden. First aired in the Philippines by ABS-CBN, the show's first few episodes caught like wildfire, forging its status as one of the most watched TV programs.
Meteor Garden, which sounds like a sci-fi project but is far from it, was first released in 2001 in Taiwan. It was based on a popular Japanese manga (comics) titled "Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers)."
Taiwanese producer Chai Zhi Ping, who was really interested in that manga, decided resolutely to make a TV-series version. But first, she had to find the right group of boys who would play as members of F4. Jerry Yan, Vaness Wu, Vic Zhou, and Ken Chu were chosen to play the characters and soon launched the drama that would catapult them to stardom. The success of the drama made the F4 one of the most famous music groups in 2001. They made the album Meteor Rain even before they had finished the drama.
Meteor Garden is the story of a poor but tough girl San Chai (Barbie Hsu) who studies at the Ing Te University, a university for rich people founded and funded by the F4's family. San Chai and the F4 boys cross paths and they embark on a journey of self-discovery.
Jewel in the Palace.
Dae Jang Geum, or Jewel in the Palace, takes the Number Two spot.
This show is a 2003 TV series produced by South Korean TV channel MBC. Jewel in the Palace was shown locally in November 2005 under GMA-7 and was hailed as the highest rating Koreanovela in primetime during that period. Because of its popularity, the show was rerun and again, garnered high ratings. Faith Cuneta sang the Tagalog version, "Pangarap na Bituin," of the show's theme song.
Based loosely on the historical figure depicted in the annals of Joseon Dynasty, the show focuses on Jang-geum (played by Lee Young Ae), the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. The main theme is her perseverance, as well as the portrayal of traditional Korean culture, including Korean royal court cuisine and medicine.
Lovers in Paris.
This was another primetime Korean telenovela aired in the summer of 2004 under SBS studio. Lovers in Paris was the first of three romantic dramas set in Europe. The second was Lovers in Prague, and the third was simply titled Lovers.
ABS-CBN got the rights to air Lovers in Paris in 2005. Starting with a rating of 27.1% on its first airing, people thought that the show wouldn't do well, until it exploded with a rating of 36% a week later. It was an instant hit among drama fans, a top-rater in its timeslot. Its highest rating ever recorded was 39.7%. ABS-CBN aired the series in its international TFC last year, making it the first non-Philippine show in its roster.
Lovers in Paris is about Han Ki-joo, the president and son of the CEO of GD Motors. He's been living in Paris for two years after his failed marriage. A smart and charismatic man, he has been preparing to take over the company as chairman. That is, until he meets Kang Tae-young, the daughter of a film director. She works as a housekeeper for Han Ki-joo to eke out a living. Her optimistic and happy-go-lucky attitude endears her to people around her. A twist of events and series of confrontations bring Han Ki-joo and Kang Tae-young closer together.
Stairway to Heaven.
This Korean drama from SBS was shown between late 2003 and early 2004.
The first week of Stairway to Heaven got relatively low ratings (about 20%) on GMA-7 mainly because another Korean soap, Lovers in Paris, was being aired on ABS-CBN. Viewership increased when Lovers in Paris ended its run; Stairway garnered over 40% in ratings.
In 2006, GMA-7 aired Stairway to Heaven again, but this time, in the morning. It was replayed in Q, the sister channel of GMA-7 in the evening.
The story is about best friends Song Joo and and Jung Suh. Their friendship in childhood slowly blossoms into love. But fate sends Song to the U.S. After three years, he returns to the waiting arms of Jung, but her love sparks the jealous rage of another woman who makes life hell for Jung.
This drama-comedy explores the situation of two people getting married only on paper. A hilarious turn of events plagues Han Ji-Eun when she discovers that her friends tricked her into selling her home to a budding actor named Lee Young-Jae.
When confronted by Han, Lee agrees give Han's home back only if she agrees to work as a maid for him. Out of misunderstanding and in an attempt to make Lee's girlfriend jealous, he proposes to Han with a contract of marriage good for only six months. As time goes by, the two bickering housemates slowly fall in love... and the rest is history.
Full House made its debut on Philippine shores under GMA-7 back in 2005. It moved on to be the highest rated Koreanovela with a whopping 52.0% in the ratings, making it a household name among primetime fans.
Princess Hours, also known as Palace Love, is another comedy-drama from Korea. Under Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, it became the most popular show of 2006 in Korea, second only to Jumong. According to TNS Media Research, Princess Hours was the tenth most popular drama of 2006. And so, a second season was produced but controversy within the show led to its cancelation.
Princess Hours premiered in the Philippines through ABS-CBN in December 2006. The network changed the names of the show's characters to make it more attuned to Filipino audiences.
Its theme song, "Pag-ibig Nga Kaya" was sung by former lovebirds Christian Bautista and Rachelle Ann Go. The show's finale was aired for two days last April 2007 with a special episode called Princess Hours: The Royal Special.
Set in an imaginary Korea ruled by a royal family, Princess Hours follows the lives of its Crown Prince and his new bride.
Endless Love: Autumn in My Heart.
Probably the most heart-wrenching Korean drama, Endless Love: Autumn in My Heart is the first installment of a four-part series revolving around the four seasons of the year. It was produced by the TV network KBS in Korea (2000). The Philippine airing rights went to GMA-7 back in late 2003. The drama was so popular among Pinoy fans that GMA-7 aired it two more times in 2004. Endless Love is considered to have started the Koreanovela phenomenon in the Philippines.
The story is about two teenagers, Johnny and Jenny, who are siblings-that is, until they find out after an accident that they are not blood-related. Jenny then gets into an argument with her foster mother, prompting her to leave home and begin the search for her real parents. Johnny and his parents had already left for the U.S. after the mishap.
For Jenny, it is tragedy after tragedy when she learns that her biological father is dead and that her mother and brother live in absolute poverty. Jenny makes ends meet by working as a telephone receptionist. An unlikely reunion takes place when Johnny returns from the U.S. after ten years. Thus follows a series of tearful events that fans can happily cry about.
Endless Love: Winter Sonata.
Winter Sonata (2002) is the second installment in the Endless Love series, but it focuses on a completely different story. Like its predecessor, Winter Sonata follows the tragic path of Jung Yujin and Joong Sang, who meet under fateful circumstances.
GMA-7 again got the rights to air this second Endless Love and, once again, attracted drama fans by its signature style of tearing up eye ducts with its engaging storyline and dramatic climax.
Kim Sam Soon.
Kim Sam Soon, produced by MBC TV in 2005 is probably the biggest thing that ever happened to the Koreanovela-its finale garnering over 50.5% in Korean households. The success of this show stemmed from the fact that it focused on the life of a chubby, single, middle-aged woman. The stereotype portrayed by actress Kim Seon-Ah won the support of nearly every middle-aged woman in Korea. Kim was said to have gained 15 pounds for the role, turning her into the "Bridget Jones of Korea."
The show depicts the life of a middle-aged woman named Kim, the daughter of a rice-mill owner. Her passion for baking lands her a job in a big French restaurant where she encounters a rude boss named Mr. Hyun. Though exact opposites, they gradually fall in love.
Jumong is another drama gem from TV MBC. The show premiered in Korea in May 2006 and its pilot episode immediately grabbed the 3rd spot in the rankings. It's a historical drama about Jumong Taewang, who lives in the old Korean empire of Gojoseon. Gojoseon has fallen to the Han Empire of China and it's up to Jumong to drive back the invaders. Because few historical records are found on the life of Jumong, the producers approached the story artistically. Much of the myth surrounding the main character had to be replaced with more realistic scenes, such as that concerning his birth.
The show commanded the ratings with its highest ever at 52.7% in Seoul. Nationwide ratings clocked in at 51.9%.
Jumong invaded the Philippines at the start of 2007. It became an instant hit because of its historical significance and awesome battle sequences. However, these qualities weren't enough to take Jumong to the top of the ratings game. It averaged only at a steady 20% to 25.3%, a fifth to sixth placer in the top ten primetime programs (AGB Nielsen).
Asianovelas will always have a place in Philippine TV because of their unique storytelling appeal. These dramas remain faithful to the story from start to finish, without ever dragging. They explore all kinds of emotion, never exaggerating and often portraying tradition and values that reflect our own.
Asianovelas truly leave us always surprised with their quick turnover. Take The Coffee Prince and Spring Waltz, for example. These two new shows came in as a fresh start after the Jumong craze.
It's unlikely that people will tire of Asianovelas anytime soon. Our local telenovela writers might learn something out of all the creativity that Asianovelas deliver.