Saimdang ends on a low note in Korea but triumphs overseas

The series' 28th and final episode got 8.2 percent based on Nielsen Korea ratings.

Lee Young-ae and Song Seung-heon
Lee Young-ae (left) and Song Seung-heon in Saimdang Group 8

Hallyu actress Lee Young-ae's comeback drama "Saimdang: Light's Diary" aired its last episode on May 4 with a single-digit rating, unable to recover from criticisms.

The series' 28th and final episode got 8.2 percent based on Nielsen Korea ratings and placed ninth overall for the day.

This is a far cry from its pilot episode on January 26 which garnered 15.6 percent. However, viewers complained of slow story and the "time-slip" element.

From there, ratings continued to drop until it experienced mostly single-digit ratings from episode 7 and it was eventually clobbered by the KBS drama "Good Manager." It was then decided last month to cut the number of episodes from 30 to 28.

A pre-produced drama, "Saimdang" was filmed starting in August 2015 and completed after 11 months in June last year.

It was meant to be aired simultaneously in China, a huge market for hallyu, or Korean Wave, contents, but the row about the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Korea prompted China to ban Korean entertainment programs and artists.

Even the popularity of Lee Young-ae and Song Seung-heon failed to capture viewers in Korea.

This is Lee's first drama in 14 years after starring in the mega-hit project "Jewel in the Palace," which catapulted her into international stardom and contributed to the spread of hallyu.

Despite its dismal showing in Korea, "Saimdang" has become popular in overseas markets.

The drama's production agency Group 8 said that "Saimdang" has already earned 17 billion won (about US$15 million) through distribution rights in seven countries including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, Yonhap News reported.

The amount is 75 percent of the drama's total budget of 22.5 billion won (US$19.8 million). Group 8 said the drama has already earned profit but did not disclose the amount.

"Regardless of whether it is broadcast or not, we have already received the license fee from China," the production company said.

Group 8 said "Saimdang" is the most watched program on Taiwan's GTV and is also popular in different viewing platforms in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong, the report added.