You Who Came From The Stars / My Love From the Stars, a 21-episode Korean romantic drama, became a huge hit in Asia. I rarely watch TV drama nowadays, but this one caught my attention. An alien, who has the form of a young handsome man, came to Earth via UFO and landed in Korea 400 years ago. He saved a little girl’s life, after spending time together the girl declared she loved him, but something tragic happened soon after that. In present day, he retains the same appearance as he did 400 years ago, and meets the reincarnation of the girl, who has become the biggest TV star. Now she has the exact same personality as portrayed in The Sassy Girl (2001), which is a movie I loved and also contained UFO (and had many other sci-fi elements).
While Jun Ji-hyun’s tremendous performance as the female lead and the alien’s handsome appearance definitely helped, these are not the only reasons for its success – we have no lack of handsome/pretty actors/actresses and good acting is not too hard to find, but few TV series can become such a huge hit. Surely the screenplay is very well done. Of course it is romantic – Korean dramas are well known to excel in this. These are necessary ingredients for ordinary level success, but for huge success, something more is needed.
So here is my unromantic analysis of it. This may look harsh, but I must emphasize that I really like this series too, for different reasons (I like movies about superpowers and reincarnations, and I really like Jun Ji-hyun’s acting).
The number one thing with the success of You Who Came From The Stars is that it inherits the core of what made The Sassy Girl (2001) a success in Korea. This needs to be understood from a cultural context. Korea does not have gender equality. In Korea, a wife obeys her husband and is expected to do all the housework. A year or two ago I read a news article reporting a Thai woman marrying a Korean man and regretted that because of the culture putting her at a disadvantage. Both The Sassy Girl and You Who Came From The Stars do the opposite of their cultural expectation – the male lead obeys the female protagonist, every single time. Clearly this makes female Korean audience feel liberating.
The second thing is that there are two men (including the alien) who do everything for the protagonist (isn’t this the same as Twilight? Perhaps women really love to see female characters courted by two men?) One man comes from a rich family and has been loving her since high school, and continues to do many things for her despite receiving repeated rejection in the past 15 years. The alien exhibits the following characteristics (and surely there are something I missed):
- Handsome and looks young
- Insanely rich due to accumulation of 400 years of wealth and owning a lot of land
- Has superman eyesight to locate her in distress
- Has superman hearing to locate her in distress
- Has Dragon Ball Instantaneous Movement-style teleportation to reach her in distress
- Can freeze time! This ability is used to save her or do romantic scenes
- Has telekinesis to do romantic or comedic scene
- Has more medical knowledge than usual doctors to diagnose her
- Has legal knowledge to help her
- Is really smart and uses his intelligence and wisdom to help her
- Repeatedly save her life and help her in other situations for an uncountable number of times
- Do all the housework
- Buy food and other things from supermarket for her while she watches TV at home and buys useless stuff
- Obey her
Observe that the alien has multiple superpowers, but rather than using these powers to save the world like what we expect from superheroes (i.e. the principle of “with great powers comes great responsibility”), he does everything for her instead and ignores everyone else (with a reason) – not even the woman who got robbed just in front of him. So only the female protagonist gets all the benefits, not any other woman, how cool is that (if I were a woman). Perfect is not right word to describe the alien, because he has so many superpowers, he is so much beyond perfect, and sets the bar of a dream lover impossibly high that no one will ever see in the real world, other than in this fantasy series. Clearly he exceeds the traditional prince on a white horse in fairy tales by several orders of magnitude.
On the other hand, the female protagonist, other than being pretty and fundamentally a good person, is the opposite of a Disney cartoon princess. She is rude, dumb, has less common knowledge than normal people, cannot remember her own door password, unable to drive in a lane, messing up the whole place after eating snacks, and cannot do housework without breaking everything. Yet she gets this beyond-perfect, handsome, rich and powerful boyfriend. I believe this works in the same way that we have fat ugly short male actors in porn (i.e. if even this fat ugly short guy can have sex with beautiful women, my chances should not be too bad either), or Pretty Woman (1990) (if a prostitute can enjoy true love and marry a charming billionaire, my chances…)
In my humble opinion, these aspects catapult the series from being just an exceedingly well executed TV romantic drama to a really huge hit.
By the way, since I’ve recently studied a little bit about backlit portrait photography that makes the subjects’ hair look beautiful, I’ve noticed that over 95% of the scenes in this series project light onto the hair of the characters. All characters, particularly the female ones, show very beautiful hair with glowing light.
Looking forward to the sequel.