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When dramas go crazy: Aurora Princess, a case study

We’ve been following the ever-evolving story of Aurora Princess with raised eyebrows for months, as it has become a fixture in the headlines for its parade of shenanigans. And while it’s not the type of drama we’d typically be devoting a lot of attention to, it’s worth looking at if only as the cautionary tale of what not to do when making a show. If ever there were a case of a drama having more drama behind the cameras than in front of them, this would be it.

Aurora Princess is a long-running daily series on MBC and therefore went under our radars at first, but the constant reports of its outrageous behind-the-scenes antics grew too crazy to ignore; it’s the kind of stuff girlfriday and I would send each other with comments like “Omg, can you believe this?” and “What the heck are they smoking over there?” Just when you thought they’d reached some kind of quota on how much lunacy to pile into one production, the drama one-upped itself with fresh insanity. Lesson learned: Never underestimate the extent to which a drama can go crazy. (Hint: Most of this can be traced to one person, writer Im Sung-han.)

The drama is heading into its final week, so now’s a good a time as any to give an overall summary of all of its twists and turns. Well, as long as there aren’t any more changes to befall us in the last week, which given the circumstances doesn’t seem entirely out of the question.

 
Firings and death sprees

Aurora Princess kicked off in May of 2013 as a 120-episode daily, and for the first month or two, it proceeded without too much fuss. The plot was pointed out as a bit makjang, but that’s farily standard for the format, so it wasn’t until the show unexpectedly wrote out two main characters that it started to attract attention. It wasn’t the firing itself that was problematic (of Sohn Chang-min and Oh Dae-kyu) but the manner in which it was done, which is to say with what many saw as a lack of professional courtesy.

This occured fairly early on, while the drama had only aired 30-something episodes. Viewers were surprised because the actors had been given romantic pairings and storylines that would not get finished, and the actors were surprised because they’d been given no warning. Sohn had a day’s notice when he was given a script that sent his character abruptly off to America.

“I can’t comprehend it at all,” Sohn said. “The night before the last day, I was shooting late until dawn, and the next day around noon I received a call from a broadcast executive telling me that I wouldn’t be appearing from this next episode onward. [He] gave no reason or excuse and just said he didn’t know why.” He added that there is usually a minimum level of courtesy and ethics involved in situations like this, which this case did not meet. The departures were also criticized by viewers, who complained that they made no sense in the story.

That was just the beginning, because writer Im began writing out more and more actors as the show went on (more than a dozen in total), killing some off so unceremoniously that people half-joked that Aurora Princess was turning into a survival drama. Some actors gave interviews expressing their dissatisfaction and viewers started calling the drama “Im Sung-han’s Death Note.” (I’m surprised at how vocal the actors have been in criticizing this show, but that indicates that the level of distress was pretty high.) Nobody was safe—the firing spree culminated with writer Im eventually killing off the hero. More on that in a moment.

 
Makjang plots and foul language

As we know, makjang dramas tend to get a lot of leeway into depicting extreme situations, but apparently Aurora Princess went far enough as to receive warnings from the Korea Communications Standards Commissions, which cited the drama’s multiple immoral storylines and crude language as violations of its standards. The drama, which airs in the early evenings (7:15 p.m.), was sanctioned for material unsuitable for the younger audiences watching at that time.

 
Writer nepotism

Dissatisfaction with writer Im Sung-han mounted when it became known that one of the cast members, Baek Ok-dam, is her niece. (She is the daughter of Im’s older brother.) This is not Baek’s first drama, but her debut role and follow-up were both in aunt Im’s dramas, Ahyundong Madam and New Gisaeng Story, so you can see where denying nepotism accusations might not be too convincing.

The writer’s reps defended the casting by saying that Baek’s use of a stage name wasn’t to hide their relationship, and personally I don’t think this kind of connection-using is very rare in showbiz anyway. However, I do believe the amount of criticism this news elicited was proof of how writer Im was losing favor with her audience, and the complaints were starting to pile up quickly, especially as Baek Ok-dam’s role was expanded just as other stars were being fired. In the first three months, eight cast members were cut without reason.

 
Writer demands extension

Despite the grumblings of the viewership, ratings were pretty good (hitting the low teens steadily throughout its first half) and the drama was given a 30-episode extension, bringing its final episode count to 150.

However, writer Im then demanded 50 additional episodes, in order to bring up the final count to 200. She stated that she needed the additional time to flesh out her storylines, and this is the point at which I roll my eyes—you were hired to write 120 episodes, you damn well knew how much time you had, lady.

That appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Because not only did viewers raise their voices in complaint of writer Im’s demands, they were actually incensed enough to organize a petition to protest the extension, which picked up a surprising amount of steam. MBC began reconsidering the extension length to 175 episodes, which some petition-signers called “half a victory,” which I would call half a correct statement.

 
Writer salary disclosed

Then it became known that writer Im was being paid nearly a whopping 5 billion won (just under $5 million) for Aurora Princess, and that exploded the already simmering anti-Aurora sentiment. At 30 million won per episode ($30,000), you can see why she’d enjoy having 50 more paychecks.

Now no longer content with opposing Aurora’s extension, the protesters pushed for an early end to the drama and added the demand that Im be fired from the show.

It’s worth noting that the petition began with the goal of collecting 1,000 signatures, but ultimately ended up with over 20,000 signatures. I’ll be honest, I usually find showbiz-related petitions to be useless, but I’m rather impressed at the relative success of this one.

Of course, through this all, Aurora Princess was logging higher and higher ratings (hitting upper teens), which… sort of negates the whole thing, doesn’t it?

In the end, MBC opted to not extend the drama beyond the initial extension, keeping it to 150 total episodes. Another half-victory?

 
More inexplicable deaths

More actors were written out of the show (accidents, cancer, America). MBC confused its fans at one point by opting to announce the latest character death on its homepage, before the show actually killed her off. It’s strange that MBC would steal the show’s big dramatic moment before it got there itself, but also hilarious given how carefully it had to explain the situation, as though asking fans not to be upset: “This was planned in advance in the story, actress Seo Woo-rim was given ample time to understand this, and we discussed this event with her ahead of time.”

The show killed off the dog, the twelfth target of Im’s Death Note.

Then it was announced that the show would be killing off its hero, Oh Chang-seok, whose role had been diminishing. (Fun fact: The lead character married him in an earlier episode, then divorced him and married a different character thirty episodes later.)

By this point I don’t think anybody was surprised at more deaths, although it’s pretty ballsy to do it to your headliner in what was supposed to be a light family romance drama where he was the love interest. You know, the guy in all the posters. Fan commentary ranged from “Another death, yawn” to “Are we going to kill Aurora next?”

Writer Im was apparently furious at the spoiler leak. MBC hastened to say that while Oh would die in a car crash, he wasn’t necessarily leaving the show… because he would come back as a ghost. Rumors circulated that another character would die along with Oh Chang-seok. One rep from the show said the last episode script had the actors in a state of “men-boong,” aka mind-meltdown-from-the-crazy.

A source said, “The atmostphere on set is the worst. The situation has deteriorated this far, and how could any actor be able to act with full composure? They’re holding it in, but it’s like a ticking time bomb.”

 
MBC steps in

You know it’s bad when it’s MBC, of all people, stepping in to tell you that your crazy has gone too crazy. But that’s what happened, and when the final script was turned in, MBC actually went and said, Nope, this is too terrible to air. We demand a rewrite.

The script is for the drama’s penultimate episode, and contained such “preposterous” events that MBC put writer Im to revisions. I wonder what could possibly top the last-minute death of your main character, but then again, it’s not like I doubt this writer can do that.

You may wonder why this writer continues to get work, if her projects are such a mess. I guess this is an unfortunate example of the ends justifying the means: Im’s dramas, for better or for worse, have been ratings succeses. And how much can MBC complain when she’s given them a hit (which topped the 20% mark earlier this month)?

Im Sung-han isn’t perhaps the star writer that Kim Eun-sook or Noh Hee-kyung or Kim Soo-hyun are, but her makjang-ridden plots have attracted audiences, and without star actors, to boot. She employs a rather crude storytelling algebra to accomplish this, but it has proven effective: One reviewer described her writing as “plots that destroy common sense while provoking viewer interest. Regardless of whether actors suddenly die while watching gag television, whether they have out-of-body experiences, whether they shoot lasers out of their eyes, those provocative events put viewers in front of their televisions.”

A few other examples: A leukemia patient recently had the epiphany, “Cancer cells are living things too. If I try to die, my cancer cells can feel that. Those cancer cells arose out of me living my life wrong, so I don’t think it’s right to try to kill those cancer cells so that I can live.”

That same character, who sat in a wheelchair, was then portrayed singing along to Clon’s hit song “Koong Tari Sha Bara”… and fyi, a member of Clon suffered an accident in 2000 that made him paraplegic; he is now wheelchair-bound. Ouch.

 
The Answer Me 1994 parody

As an example of what exactly we’re dealing with here, a recent parody cropped up online, titled “Answer Me 1994, If Im Sung-han Had Written It.”

In this version, Garbage and Binggeure realize their homosexual love for each other. This sends Na-jung into such a shock that she falls into a spiritual possession and becomes a Taoist fairy.

Yoon-jin gets her wish and marries Seo Taiji, leaving Samcheonpo to fall into homelessness.

Haitai quits the show when he’s stricken with a heart attack at home.

Chilbongie makes it to the major league in baseball, and decides to come back to Korea to meet Na-jung. On the way over, his plane crashes and he dies.

The end.

 
Writer Im posts apology online

After all the hullaballoo, Im Sung-han posted a message on the show’s homepage on December 11, in which she apologized, sort of. She thanked various staff and crew for their hard work and stated that she tried to keep their thoughts in mind in her writing, and apologized for her failings. She said that she tried to keep objectivity in her writing and did her best to incorporate their opinions, but will have inevitably fallen short of that goal.

She also thanked netizens and reporters for their constancy in pointing out her flaws, and “hoped” that they would once again note her failings in the upcoming final episodes.

It starts sounding a bit sarcastic, doesn’t it? Netizen response pretty much figured as much, saying that she wrote an apology without an apology. Par for the course, I’d say.

Aurora Princess will wrap up with Episode 150 this coming week, on December 20.

Via Segye, Newsen, News 1, Star News, TV Daily, Mt.co.kr, MBN, TV Report, TV Daily, Sports Donga, Media Today, Chosun

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"This sends Na-jung into such a shock that she falls into a spiritual possession and becomes a Taoist fairy."

I've been laughing for 20 minutes.

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Oh, this is the same writer as Assorted Gems! Okay now I get it! Both the high ratings and why you have to expect any of her dramas to go off the rails.

I started the series when was ongoing because so many people were saying how much they loved it. I immediately understood why. It had great characters and a cute, breezy style. But as much as I liked it, I had to drop it for a later time. (Was watching on Dramafever, but their subs didn't translate what people were saying in the voice-overs, which was maddening. Dropped it until I could find better subs with high quality video.) I never did go back to it because I found out the OTP resolutions were VERY different than the ones developed during the entire series. Inexplicably different. Like one episode a character is set to marry the love of her life and the next, there's a time skip and she's married to someone else (a minor character, if I recall correctly). No explanation given. Though I suppose we should grateful that the writer wasn't killing off the characters right and left! Apparently her storytelling, like her behavior has escalated over the years.

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Dang, now I really wish you guys would have recapped it, because that would have been HILARIOUS.

But obviously no one can expect that big of a sacrifice just for our amusement :D

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Seems like the writer's life is a k-drama in itself...

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My heart goes to those actors and actresses who suffer and undergo undue stress having to come to terms with an absurd and illogical drama project!

I really don't understand Korean viewers. You have well-done dramas getting dismal ratings while totally screwed up dramas doing well?!

What is the Korean mindset? I am totally baffled.

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"What is the Korean mindset?" I've been wondering this for a long time :))

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My mother watches this religiously. My impression is that most of the viewers are older women who want something to watch that is entertaining and does not require much thought or engagement from the viewer. Having watched a few episodes, there's nothing in the drama that would be appealing to younger k-drama viewers, or overseas k-drama fans. The cast isn't gorgeous as in Heirs, there's no quirky charm as in You're Beautiful, no high production values and name actors as in Empress Ki, etc. There is no chemistry between the leads, either. I'm not surprised the drama has flown under the radar of k-drama sites and subbers.

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Wow! She even beats the Spanish telenovelas I have seen.

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Bingo! she is Americanizing korean TV. I told my husband about this new development and he laugh and said the circle will not be complete until there is a child that grows up from 9 to 20 in 2 episodes. lol I hope she gets her extention because I am looking foward to that.

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Hey, is there a link to this reply 1994 parody? I've seen the SNL parody which was eh but the Im sung Han one sounds intriguing. Anyone know where I can go see it?

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LOL this show is too ridiculous.

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But what's crazier? The people who put out the garbage or the people who eat up the crap?

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Look away if bathroom stuff is too gross for you ...

Just watched a French drama Spiral that has a scene where the druggie swallowed drug packets before being caught by police, so he is being watched by the cops while he makes a pile, and the druggie eats his own shit to swallow the drug packets again.

All I can think is that this writer would probably appreciate this plot twist and like to include it in her next drama. I just don't get bathroom humor. Yuk.

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I pretty much will not watch French shows, it seems like too many just go for the weird and gross for attention, kind of like this show. I have yet to figure why anyone thinks that bathroom humor is humorous.

And while I agree that some other non-Korean shows have been as bad or worse, I don't watch those either.

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This sounds like a drama I should avoid at all costs lol The funny part is that even though everyone and their mother complained, they KEPT WATCHING her Death Note drama and even gave her 20%+ ratings SOOO basically she's still rolling on money at those hater's expenses lol

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Why is my beloved Pretty Man getting such low ratings and the pile of poo drama getting 20%? (shakes head in dismay)

guess I can't complain too much when I've stayed to the bitter end on some stinker dramas myself.

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Wow. ...... Between the cancer cells soliloquy and the death of the dog, along with all the other outrageousness, one doesn't even know where to begin with this.

How unfortunate that the actors, actresses and the behind-the-scenes personnel have had to endure what could have been an avoidable situation.

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Omo, the cancer cells soliloquy made me laugh so much!

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That's a unique drama journey if anything, dramas that actually feel worse than real life.

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I guess it's a drama that makes you appreciate your life more?

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Is this for real? It was a good laugh reading this article and I honestly appreciate 'the heirs' by 100,000 times.
And my heartfelt condolences to all those ppl who sat through 120 episodes

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Reading this, having never seen the drama, the thing that had me laughing the hardest was when they killed the dog ... the dog, for heavens sake, what did the poor mutt do to piss off the writer? Poo in her shoes? Take a leak on the script? Demand too high a salary? ROFL

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It sheds too much fur..

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LOL, that's hilarious. I think reading the comments about this drama is proving to be a very entertaining experience.

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Oh, I know. I've been laughing from article to comments.

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Correct me if I am wrong ....

SPOILER SPOILER BELOW

but i read same recaps and are they forming a threesome relationship?? Because the husband asks the ex-husband to move with them to america????

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As crazy as she seems to be, New Tales of Gisaeng and Assorted Gems happen to be two of my personal favorites :) I hope she can come out with something like those again.

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I read on Wiki that her husband work on those shows with her, he must have reined in the crazy.

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I saw Assorted Gems/Jewel Bibimbap on her Wiki page and if I remember correctly, I enjoyed that drama and though it was pretty good. O-o Maybe she wrote it before she went cray-cray?

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"A few other examples: A leukemia patient recently had the epiphany, “Cancer cells are living things too. If I try to die, my cancer cells can feel that. Those cancer cells arose out of me living my life wrong, so I don’t think it’s right to try to kill those cancer cells so that I can live.”"

Not crazy...Darwinism.

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Where can you watch the answer me 1994 parody? Im dying to see that

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“plots that destroy common sense while provoking viewer interest" 200 episodes?

This reminds me of one of those excruciatingly slow Taiwanese family dramas with convoluted multiple overlapping plots that make no sense that somehow attract the most masochistic of housewives and grannies that don't know any better.

Though I think this writer has one-upped Taiwan dramas in WTF absurdness but has miles to go to top those 1000 episode trains.

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I actually tried to watch one of those TW ones once. I found that it did not seem to make much sense unless you only watched every 20th episode. I have never finished one.

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“Cancer cells are living things too. If I try to die, my cancer cells can feel that."

Dude, this crackpot line belongs in a sitcom. Was the writer high on something?

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Probably. Or she really is trolling her viewers as someone else suggested. Either way: AWESOME!

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Um...wow...just...wow. Is it bad that I kinda wanna watch it to see all the crazy ;)

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has there EVER been a show that went as crazy as this one did? i cannot believe the female heroine (snort) divorced and remarried... that just doesn't happen in dramas.

im sung-han seems to live in her own strange world, if her the dialogue her characters utter are any indication. i saw the episode where seo ha-jun's character made the cancer cells comment, and the whole scene just made me shake my head in disgust. how much more illogical and irresponsible could she get? i should think anyone who has ever battled cancer would find this offensive.

to anyone who has been tracking this writer's works in recent years (since around 2009, possibly even prior), this is just the odd, strange, common-sense-skewing, twisted-logic sort of thing she'd write.

even with makjang dramas, there's a standard. usually, there is one. what i mean by that is that while many makjangs have some absurd and unrealistic setups, at least the characters themselves will usually act and behave in a manner that appeals to viewers' common sense. the "common sense" that exists within princess aurora is one that isn't even worth trying to understand. again, it's like the writer lives in her own world, is determined to show off her crazy through her drama, and try and justify it all to boot. okay, end of rant.

the only reason i ever watched this was that there was a time (well, one time) that this writer produced a clean, decent family drama—보고 또 보고 (see and see you again), around 1998. that starred a very young and likable park yong-ha, along with other name stars. she also wrote miss mermaid, which was also makjang, but it was popular and there was no crazy. i don't know what happened to the writer who produced those dramas.

i also don't understand why respected actresses like kim bo-yeon continue to work with her. she does seem to secure high profile veteran actors for her dramas, and they must do it out of loyalty, or personal friendship, or something...

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Wasn't Miss Mermaid voted by Korean critics as the worst drama of the year? .. Or maybe a different one..

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I remember her show See and See Again and loved it. I loved her other kdrama Foolish Princes too. I have a soft spot for her earlier kdramas and haven't watched any of her newer ones.

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Ah, Princess Aurora.
She loves him. She stalks him.
Then she breaks-up with him.
There is a guy. He likes a guy. Then he likes a girl.
But his guy-friend tries to beat-up the girl he likes.
But the girl kicks his @ss. So he takes the girl.
Then his mother wakes-up dead.
Back to the Princess: She marries the guy she stalked and then broke-up with, but only because he out-witted his sisters.
But she can't out-wit the sisters so she divorces him.
Then she marries someone else.
She lives with the both husbands: the old and the new.
Oh, and through this all she drags a dog around.
But he too wakes-up dead.
Now she lives with both husbands, an X and a current.
All this in 145 episodes.
What remains for 5 episodes?

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ghost dog.

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'Ghost Dog: Legend of the Samurai" . . . And if she had the leading lady suddenly become a Samurai, that would be REALLY cool.

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Someone needs to summarize the ending if there ever is gonna be one. How worse can it get? Oh I know! Aurora falls into a deep slumber and her dog resurrects into a bird that guards over her body. She is really waiting for her ex husband (or is it the current? Anyway, the one that died) to be reborn and to wake her up from her kiss. But when she wakes, she only has an hour to live.

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Aurora dies and is eaten by cats ...

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I almost died laughing from this post. Without actually watching the show, I would say the drama is, what you would call, controversial, sometimes it's a good thing, and sometimes it's not :DDD Great post, more of these please :))

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Damn, many kdrama sucks, but this drama blew my mind, just by reading all the comments here. What in the heck of ecstasy this writer was thinking? Was she high on something? Somebody better call psychologist to explain her sanity.

Man, I had dealt with people like her before, and all of them are the same. Childish, immature, and selfishly irresponsible, they succesfully turned me into Hannibal Lecter for a second. No wonder with the lack of common sense. These people are even available at highschools.

Btw, I really enjoyed everyone complaining about this drama. Made my day.

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Is this drama mentioned in the post here?

http://netizenbuzz.blogspot.com/2013/03/lol-random-funny-comments.html

If it is then ROFL for this epic writer. XD

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This writer oddly reminds me of Howard Stern. Half the viewers are fans and the other half are in it for the train wreck and just can't look away. lol

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hahahaha, I didn't know about this. Priceless

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sounds like one of those longest-running Indian dramas....hehe...never-ending-all-twisted plot ...lol

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Oh gee, I wish I'd been watching this. I feel I missed seeing a great disaster.

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Wow. She should team up with a couple of other writers that is on my shit list (LTM, MSOAN). Let's see what craziness they could come up with. I like makjang stuff done right, but add the over-the-top makjang this writer came up with plus the behind the scenes drama (firing actors without enough notice?!! nepotism?) and other stuff, wonder what the writer was smoking? The other writers mentioned may have their faults ranging from boring plots with holes to very boring plots with crater-sized holes but at least it made some kind of sense and seemed sane though it falls short of the mark. From some comments above, writer Im was able to write dramas that people enjoyed. Maybe she got cancer that's why she thought up that crazy line about cancer above. The pissed off audience could only hope.

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I heard about this while watching Entertainment Weekly on KBS.
I used to watch and enjoyed Miss Mermaid, that was my first ever makjang! XD
And I also like Assorted Gems - which feels lame to compare with Princess Aurora.

I believe this writer has something wrong in her brain, the incident with her husband's suicide is totally not normal.

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....heol.....
lol, that word has never been so accurate for a situation

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"The show killed off the dog, the twelfth target of Im’s Death Note."

Korean TV and movies always kill the dog, if anyone has to die, but cheesus, I was ROFL at this one.

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The dog probably got a note from F4.

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Dogs Over Flowers.

This should be a show.

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So far this show tackled the followings I remember:

- out of body experience
- death premonitions
- Bi-sexuality
- Homo sexuality
- Cure of homosexuality by praying at the temple
- three-way "love"
- Cure of incurable disease
- Infidelity
- being a Chub - a mistress
- Cougars
- Pregnancy by rape
- cancer
- Several divorces

My favorite is the cure of homosexuality via praying at the temple. It might become a new cottage industry in Korea next to k-pop exports. Don't you think?

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This is absolutely ridiculous. Talk about drama behind the drama! I don't know who to feel sorry for, the writer (although not much; from what I can gather, she's making no apologies for writing a terrible drama, and firing actors all willy-nilly. Glad I'm not watching it!), the actors who are getting preemptively fired, MBC for being too cowardly to fire the writer because they want the ratings her shows bring in, or the audience who can see it's terrible, write petitions, but still go back for more! What a crazy situation. Don't know what to think, only that I'm glad this is the first time I'm hearing of this show.

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Laughed so hard on the 1994 Parody, just wow. People do enjoy watching train wrecks don't they. I can't tutut too much cause I went through a phase when I was younger of watching US soaps that are as CRAZY.

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Now they killed Aurora's ex-husband, who was that dude in all the series posters, and was supposed to be the male lead. Aurora's current husband wasn't even in the original series presentation.

At this rate I think Aurora will be dead by series end.

Or, as some of the Korean netizens are speculating, this was all the novel Hwang Mama was writing!

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LOL i just cant believe this..
thank God i'm never interested to watch dramas with more than 60 episodes #pheew

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I think crazy is just what she does when she runs out of ideas. New Gisaeng's plotline seemed to go nuts like that, too. For thirty episodes we were enjoying decent main lead chemistry and exploring class conflict in modern Korea (okay, in over the top drama fashion, but still ...), and then the main characters got together and there were still 20 episodes to go. Suddenly there were premonitions, ridiculous spiritual possessions, deaths, and unresolved subplots. It was a totally different (read: terrible) drama.

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Lovely acting, understand the high rating rec'd. Don't understand why not included in best dramas of 2013! Even tho controversies were concerning the writer, why take it out on the actors? If anything these actors should all win best of the best awards because they did such wonderful job during such incredible silliness of the storyline. Congrats to such GREAT ACTORS for getting to the end of this silly, problematic drama with your skills as great actors refined as thru fire. You are the best and I'd watch anything you all are in again with pleasure!

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At the "Reply 1994" parody if Im Seong-han wrote it, I think javabeans was referring to this article: etoday . co . kr / news / section / newsview . php ? idxno = 835872

And BTW, Aurora's dog totally reminded me of Marimar's Fulgoso. XD At least, Fulgoso was more adorable in that it "speaks" whereas the dog has subtitles.

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I was considering watching this drama, but because it's so long I wanted research a bit to not wasting my time. It sure paid off. Usually long dramas have plots that make a 180 turn from what it started out, but I really don't even know what to call this one.

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Hi :)
So..... can someone tell how it ends?
I can't make myself to watch it till the end......

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Why do we people in England don't get a chance to watch this in English sub . I have watched all of her dramas. And this is the one that most everyone want to watch . It keeps comming up on my you tube feed . I have searched everywhere . Come on it can be revived again.

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