Kim Eun-sook ( Korean: 김은숙, born 1973) is a South Korean screenwriter. She wrote the popular television dramas Lovers in Paris (2004), On Air (2008), Secret Garden (2010), A Gentleman's Dignity (2012), The Heirs (2013), Descendants of the Sun (2016) and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2016).
Lovers "trilogy" and film debut
Kim Eun-sook first gained attention when her television drama Lovers in Paris became a major hit in the summer of 2004, with viewership ratings averaging 41.3% and a peak of 57.6% (#11 highest rated of all time). The cast and crew flew to France to film several scenes in Paris and Nice, igniting a trend among Korean dramas for overseas location shoots. A Cinderella-like story of a cheerful, ordinary girl who becomes the housekeeper of a cold and suave businessman, lead actors Park Shin-yang and Kim Jung-eun shared the Grand Prize ("Daesang") at the 2004 SBS Drama Awards. Then at the 2005 Baeksang Arts Awards, Lovers in Paris won the following awards: the Daesang, Best TV Actress for Kim Jung-eun, and Best TV Screenplay for Kim Eun-sook and Kang Eun-jung. It also became popular internationally, and Kim Jung-eun was named Best Actress at the 2005 Asian Television Awards.
Kim chose another European setting for her next drama, Lovers in Prague (2005). In a gender reversal, Jeon Do-yeon played a diplomat in Prague, Czech Republic, who falls in love with a police detective, played by Kim Joo-hyuk. Kim Eun-sook said she wanted to feature a romance in which the woman's social status is higher than her partner, and wanted to make the social difference between the two main characters as extreme as possible by also making the heroine the daughter of the president of South Korea. Kim added, "Although some might say it is another unrealistic story, a drama is a drama. I just want to make people enjoy the fantasy." Jeon won the Daesang at the 2005 SBS Drama Awards, and Kim Joo-hyuk won Best TV Actor at the 2006 Baeksang Arts Awards.
Kim tried her hand at writing for the big screen in the 2006 melodrama Fly High (also known as Loving is Okay). Directed by Kwak Ji-kyoon, it starred Ji Hyun-woo as a high school student who falls for a girl with a terminal illness (Im Jung-eun). The film was a critical and box office disappointment, and Kim soon returned to her milieu, television.
Despite overseas shoots in Hainan, China, the conclusion to Kim's loosely named "Lovers trilogy" was simply titled Lovers (2006-2007). Based on the Lee Man-hee stage play Turn Around and Leave (that also inspired the 1998 film A Promise), Kim again cast Kim Jung-eun, this time opposite Lee Seo-jin, as they played a plastic surgeon and a gangster entering into an unlikely romance. Though not as successful as its predecessors, Lovers recorded solid ratings in the high teens to low-20s.
On entertainment, politics, and body-swapping
Kim's next drama, On Air (2008), revolved around four entertainment industry figures - a newbie TV director (Park Yong-ha), an established screenwriter (Song Yun-ah, as Kim's alter-ego), a diva actress (Kim Ha-neul), and her struggling manager (Lee Beom-soo), whose personal and professional lives intertwine during the shooting of a fictional TV drama. Filled with cameos and a gossipy, insider look at stars behind the scenes, On Air was a hit, and director Shin Woo-chul (in his fourth collaboration with Kim) won Best TV Director at the 2009 Baeksang Arts Awards.
In City Hall (2009), Cha Seung-won played an elite deputy mayor with presidential aspirations who unexpectedly falls for an unwitting female government employee-turned-town mayor (Kim Sun-a). Though she left space in the script for Cha and Kim to ad-lib, Kim Eun-sook called it her funniest work. She said she used politics as a backdrop for the romance to show her idealism regarding public officials.
A love story between the rich, arrogant and eccentric president of a department store (Hyun Bin) and a brave but sweet stunt woman (Ha Ji-won) whose bodies switch souls whenever it rains, Secret Garden (2010-2011) became one of the biggest hits of Kim's career. After writing six dramas, Kim said she "contemplated on whether to write a drama that benefits the world or one that will garner good ratings" and decided to "abandon the depth I showed in City Hall" (which recorded solid, if unimpressive, ratings in the high teens). Instead, she "made an easy, light drama for the whole family to enjoy on weekends," and intentionally wrote it "to be fun." Secret Garden won Best TV Drama at the 2011 Baeksang Arts Awards, as well as Best TV Screenplay for Kim, Best New TV Actress for Yoo In-na, and the Daesang for Hyun. Kim also won Best Writer at the Seoul International Drama Awards, the Korea Drama Awards, and the Korea Content Awards.
Jang Dong-gun's TV comeback
By this time, the writer-director duo of Kim and Shin had gained a reputation for making hits, and their projects attracted high-profile actors. In 2012, after 12 years of acting in films, superstar Jang Dong-gun made his television comeback in A Gentleman's Dignity. Jang said that Kim and Shin's involvement in the project influenced his decision. After repeatedly alluding to him in On Air, Kim confessed her "ulterior motives" that she had really wanted to work on a drama with Jang. She and the crew were so determined to cast him in the lead that not only was the airdate moved back from March to late May to accommodate his schedule, but Kim, in the hopes of getting him to take the role, also told Jang's wife, actress Ko So-young, a little white lie that there would be no kissing scenes. Instead, Kim wrote racy and sexy scenes, as befitting what has been called a "40-year-old, male version of Sex and the City." The drama portrayed the humorous love lives of a group of close-knit male friends played by Jang, Kim Min-jong, Kim Su-ro, and Lee Jong-hyuk, and previous On Air star Kim Ha-neul played Jang's love interest.
Kim said she wrote the hero of 2013 drama He Who Wishes To Wear the Crown Endures Its Weight: Heirs (also known as The Heirs or The Inheritors, 2013) specifically for actor Lee Min-ho. He starred opposite Park Shin-hye in a Gossip Girl-esque trendy drama set in a high school populated by the uber-rich. Kim said the biggest difference was writing about 18-year-olds when her previous characters had been in their thirties and forties, calling The Heirs "a teen romance for grown-ups". She admitted that she utilizes clichés, "but all my previous works used plenty of cliches and were embraced by audiences. The key is making characters that are different, so the audience forgets the cliched setting. That's what I'm good at, and that is what I find fun. I want people to think, 'I've seen something like this before, but still this is strangely fun.'"
Descendants of the Sun and Pre-produced dramas
Three years since The Heirs, Kim Eun-sook announced that she would be coming back with a human melodrama about a man and a woman who bond gradually as they save lives in disaster zones and end up falling in love. Titled Descendants of the Sun, the drama starred Song Joong-ki in his first television drama after military discharge along with Song Hye-kyo. Set in the fictional world of Uruk, Song Joong-ki plays a special forces captain who juggles peacekeeping duties with wooing an army surgeon played by Song Hye-kyo. The military drama gained huge success and received immense popularity across Asia. It has given rise to the popularity of Korean soldier talk. The show also contributed to the rise of tourism in Greece, where scenes of the drama were shot.
The success of Descendants saw a change in tide toward pre-produced Korean dramas. However, in an interview, Kim Won-seok (co-writer of Descendants) stated that said there were some parts that could have been improved on if the show had been shot as it was being aired, per local industry norm.
Kim's trademark is slick and glossy romantic comedies with fast-flying banter. Some critics have opined that Kim writes shallow characters, and she is as polarizing as she is successful. But not only do most of her dramas appeal to a wide age range of viewers and receive high ratings, but they often have that extra element that make them pop-culture buzz projects, whether it's due to a particularly catchy line of dialogue or a recurring joke.
In 2012, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the SBS Drama Awards.
|Title||Korean title||Broadcaster and timeslot||Broadcast period||Highest rating||Lowest rating||Average rating|
|South of the Sun||태양의 남쪽||SBS, Saturday-Sunday 8:45 p.m.||August 30, 2003-October 19, 2003|
|Lovers in Paris||파리의 연인||SBS, Saturday-Sunday 9:55 p.m.||June 12, 2004-August 15, 2004||57.3%||23.3%||41.4%|
|Lovers in Prague||프라하의 연인||SBS, Saturday-Sunday 9:55 p.m.||September 24, 2005-November 20, 2005||30.3%||19.9%||26.1%|
|Lovers||연인||SBS, Wednesday-Thursday 9:55 p.m.||November 8, 2006-January 11, 2007||22.6%||10.3%||15.9%|
|On Air||온에어||SBS, Wednesday-Thursday 9:55 p.m.||March 5, 2008-May 15, 2008||26.2%||11.4%||19.5%|
|The City Hall||시티홀||SBS, Wednesday-Thursday 9:55 p.m.||April 29, 2009-July 2, 2009||18.7%||13.8%||15.9%|
|Secret Garden||시크릿 가든||SBS, Saturday-Sunday 9:55 p.m.||November 13, 2010-January 16, 2011||35.2%||14.8%||24.3%|
|A Gentleman's Dignity||신사의 품격||SBS, Saturday-Sunday 9:55 p.m.||May 26, 2012-August 12, 2012||24.4%||12.8%||19.3%|
|The Heirs||왕관을 쓰려는 자, 그 무게를 견뎌라 – 상속자들||SBS, Wednesday-Thursday 10:00 p.m.||October 9, 2013-December 12, 2013||25.6%||10.5%||16.7%|
|Descendants of the Sun||태양의 후예||KBS2, Wednesday-Thursday 10:00 p.m.||February 24, 2016-April 14, 2016||38.8%||14.3%||28.6%|
|Guardian: The Lonely and Great God||쓸쓸하고 찬란하神 도깨비||tvN, Friday-Saturday 8:30 p.m.||December 2, 2016-January 21, 2017||18.7%||6.3%||12.8%|
- Fly High (2006)
- 2016 30th KBS Drama Awards: Best Writer (Descendants of the Sun)
- 2014 2nd Asia Rainbow TV Awards: Outstanding Scriptwriter (The Heirs)
- 2012 SBS Drama Awards: Achievement Award (A Gentleman's Dignity)
- 2011 Korea Content Awards: Prime Minister's Award in the Field of Broadcasting (Secret Garden)
- 2011 4th Korea Drama Awards: Best Writer (Secret Garden)
- 2011 6th Seoul International Drama Awards: Outstanding Korean Screenwriter (Secret Garden)
- 2011 SBS 상반기 작품상: 및 특별상 시상식 특별상 (Secret Garden)
- 2011 47th Baeksang Arts Awards: Best TV Screenplay (Secret Garden)
- 2009 SBS 상반기 작품상: 및 특별상 시상식 특별상 (On Air)
- 2005 SBS Drama Awards: Special Award (Lovers in Paris)
- 2005 41st Baeksang Arts Awards: Best TV Screenplay (Lovers in Paris)
- Shin Woo-chul, director
- Yoon Se-ah, actress