8 South Korean dramas accused of plagiarism

Patricia Hului

If you are a victim of plagiarism, then you would know that feeling of anger mixed with annoyance after finding out your hard work has just been ripped off.

Plagiarisers might claim they were ‘inspired’ or ‘giving tribute’ but never admit that they were straight out copying.

University students are constantly reminded to properly give credit for other people’s works, especially when doing their theses and assignments. (That’s why your lecturer is going to be a pain in the ass when it comes to citing your sources).

Stepping out into the real world after tertiary education, plagiarism is no longer limited to a student’s work.

Articles, websites, movies, dramas, products, advertorial campaigns, music videos are all vulnerable to plagiarism.

Even though K-dramas are wildly famous today, it does not mean that they are free from plagiarism accusations.

Here are eight South Korean dramas that have been accused of plagiarism:

1.Let Me Introduce Her (2018)

This romance mystery drama stars Nam Sang-mi, Kim Jae-won and Jo Hyun-jae.

It follows the story of Ji Eun-han who loses her memory after undergoing plastic surgery. What better way to start a new life with a brand new identity other than having a new face and your memory loss?

However, Eun-han cannot let go of her forgotten past life. In order to find her forgotten memory, she seeks the help of her plastic surgeon Han Kang-woo.

After the drama was aired, South Korean production company DK E&M announced an intention to file a plagiarism lawsuit against SBS, the production company and airing channel behind Let Me Introduce Her.

DK E&M claimed that the drama plagiarised the 1999 Japanese drama Beautiful Person, which DK E&M were in talks with to produce a Korean drama adaptation of it.

The Japanese drama tells the story of a woman who gets plastic surgery to hide from her abusive husband.

In response to the accusation, SBS released a press statement refuting the claim.

The statement said: “’Let Me Introduce Her’ is about a woman who just wants to live happily with her daughter after her chaebol husband abuses her. She undergoes plastic surgery to find the phone that contains evidence of her husband’s abuse but ends up losing her memory. This is all screenwriter Park Un Hee’s creation. This was made clear from the drama’s first episode.”

SBS also claimed DK E&M’s accusation to be a ‘baseless claim of plagiarism’ and the screenwriter reportedly had never watch Beautiful Person before.

Watch the trailer here.

2.My Love from the Star (2013)

Oh yes, this famous Korean drama which stars Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Soo-hyun was embroiled in a plagiarism scandal.

First of all, the drama is based on the historical Gwanghae Journal from the Joseon era which referenced mysterious UFO sightings.

Apparently, 2008 manga Seol-hee by Kang Kyung-ok was also inspired by the same journal.

As the male lead never ages, he continues his life on earth hoping for a chance to go home. He meets a young girl who looks exactly like the girl he lost.

Only this time he can save her life. Twelve years later they meet again. She has become a Hallyu star.

Meanwhile in Seol-hee, a girl is operated on by an alien and gets to live 400 years. She falls in love with a movie star she met in the U.S. when she was a little girl. The movie star is the alien who first helped her.

On Dec 20, 2013, Kang posted a statement on her blog that the background, setup, jobs and relationships between the characters in the drama and her manga were similar.

Both stories were about an alien saving a human life, had lived for 400 years, at least one of the romantic pairs was a celebrity, and they fell in love with each other after meeting again.

She then proceeded to file a lawsuit against the drama’s producers on May 20, 2014.

However on July 3 the same year, Kang dropped the lawsuit against the drama.

It was never confirmed whether a settlement was made outside of the court.

Watch the trailer here.

3.Hwayugi (2017)

Also known as A Korean Odyssey, this fantasy series is written by the famous screenwriter duo – the Hong sisters.

The drama is a modern spin-off of the Chinese classic 16th century novel Journey to the West.

In May 2019, internet novel writer known as Ttangyeol filed a lawsuit against the Hong sisters for plagiarising her novel ‘Aeyugi’.

However, the Hong sisters strongly denied the claim, stating that the drama had already entered the planning stage way before the publishing of ‘Aeyugi’ in 2015.

Finally, the court ruled that while there were some similarities between the two works, they are not enough to constitute plagiarism.

Watch the trailer here.

4.Return (2018)

When a woman turns up dead on the freeway, the four suspects are from among the powerful elites.

South Korea’s most famous female lawyer Choi Ja-hye decides to take the case and defend one of the suspects – Kang In-ho, chief director at Taeho Corporation.

Things do not look good for Ja-hye’s client as In-ho was having an affair with the victim and was seen having a fight with her the day before the murder took place.

The deeper Ja-hye digs into the case, she realises the case is more than a simple murder, as it circles around the dark secrets among In-ho and his friends.

This plot is reportedly too similar to 2014 Belgian film ‘The Loft: The Room of Secrets’.

The movie is about five middle-aged friends who come from wealthy and honourable backgrounds.

Not all is as it seems, as each of them holds a key to a secret penthouse where they enjoy their own love affairs.

One day, the body of one of their mistresses is found. As it turns out, the other four friends had conspired to kill her and frame their friend for the murder.

In response, the production crew of ‘Return’ stated, “The setting and storyline of Return is one that is common throughout thrillers. It is merely a plot device. To say that it is plagiarism is wrong. The story that will be told in the drama is also exhaustless. When looking at the big picture, viewers will be able to see that it is not plagiarism.”

Watch the trailer here.

5.Iris (2009)

This famous South Korean espionage television drama series was the centre of a lawsuit by novelist Park Chul-ju, who claimed that the drama plagiarised his novel ‘The Sun Never Rises on Mount Fuji’.

The drama circles around two best friends from the 707th Special Mission Battalion recruited in a secret South Korean black ops agency known as the National Security Service.

The two friends later find themselves in the middle of an international conspiracy.

In the lawsuit, Park claimed that 162 parts including characters and key contents were strikingly similar with his novel.

He cited the similar content of a North Korean nuclear weapon developer’s seeking of asylum in the South and the attempt to detonate a nuclear weapon in central Seoul.

In the end, the court ruled against Park stating the plot was similar in places but not similar enough for it to be considered plagiarism.

6.Queen Seon Deok (2010)

This historical drama circles around the life of Queen Seondeok of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

She was the Queen Regnant of Silla from 632 to 647.

The drama became one of the most high-rated historical series in South Korea.

Unfortunately, the fame and success of the drama is crippled by a plagiarism lawsuit.

In 2012, the court found the drama production company, MBC guilty of plagiarism.

The court announced in favour of the producers of the musical ‘Queen of Rose of Sharon, Seon Deok’ who sued MBC in 2010.

While the scripts were not exactly the same, the court stated that there were many similarities in the character details, events and in the overall summary.

MBC was fined for USD 186,000. Moreover, any additional reruns on cable TV and internet, any related books or DVD are now banned.

7.Five Fingers (2012)

When the production of Five Fingers (2012) was accused of plagiarising the novel Murder Rhapsody, they said “We have never even heard of the novel.”

The drama follows the story of a genius pianist who struggles to fulfil his dream and find his love while the novel revolves around three different characters, one of whom, is a struggling pianist similar to the novel.

Other similarities include a family whose lives revolve around the piano, the conflict between a biological child and illegitimate child and the fact that the main character gave up his pianist dream after hurting his little finger.

Yet in the end, the author did not proceed to sue the drama production company.

8.My Husband’s Woman (2007)

My Husband’s Woman was the second highest-rated Korean drama in 2007. It follows the story of unassuming housewife Ji-soo who lives a happy married life with her college professor Joon-pyo.

Their happy marriage is interrupted when Ji-soo’s widowed friend Hwa-young comes into the picture.

The story explores the stories of both women when comes to an extramarital affair.

Scriptwriter Rye Gyeung-ok then accused My Husband’s Woman’s scriptwriter Kim Soo-hyun of plagiarism. Gyeung-ok claimed that the drama was similar to her own TV drama That Woman, Ok-hui.

Soo-hyun strongly denied the accusation, saying “I am so mortified that I just cannot do anything.”