Friendship drama over K-drama
Friendship between South Korean actors in spotlight as their new shows go head-to-head
Long-time friends and popular South Korean actors Kim Woo Bin, 27, and Lee Jong Suk, 26, are known for their bromance.
Their closeness even set off rumours that they are an item and it did not help that Kim responded that "friendship is a form of love".
They also played best friends in the drama School 2013, which premiered in December 2012. But their bromance is being put to the test.
The reason? A ratings war between their current dramas - Lee's W and Kim's Uncontrollably Fond. Both are airing in the same time slot every week in South Korea.
Both shows are being shown on viu.com and the Viu mobile app here.
Kim and Lee had anticipated the public's fascination over their supposed rivalry.
At W's press conference last month, Lee talked about the competition between their latest dramas.
He was asked by Kim to make a cameo in Uncontrollably Fond, but did not do so due to scheduling conflicts.
According to entertainment website allkpop, Lee said: "We have a symbiotic relationship to the point that we consider ourselves spiritual companions. We told each other, 'Whoever does well should buy a meal'."
Kim echoed Lee's sentiment at Uncontrollably Fond's press conference last month.
Entertainment website Soompi reported Kim as saying: "It's an honour to (compete) with a friend, and it's not every day that this happens, so we're supporting each other."
But reports continue to compare their acting skills and the drama ratings.
Uncontrollably Fond, which premiered on July 6, received a solid rating of 12.5 per cent in its first week.
It is about a couple, played by Kim and South Korean singer-actress Bae Suzy, who are reunited after they were separated when they were teenagers.
With Bae as the female lead, Uncontrollably Fond was tipped to be the next K-drama sensation following Descendants Of The Sun.
But when W debuted two weeks later on July 20, the ratings for Uncontrollably Fond stumbled before diving to 7.9 per cent.
W continues to hold strong, with 13.8 per cent for its Aug 10 episode.
In the fantasy-romance, Lee and South Korean actress Han Hyo Joo are able to cross between the real world and the webtoon realm to save the life of Lee's webtoon protagonist.
Going beyond the numbers, the typecasting of Kim as the alpha malehas attracted criticism.
He played a grudging student in School 2013, a privileged high school bully in The Heirs (2013) and a volatile actor who kicks a girl for rejecting his advances in Uncontrollably Fond. Kim appears to be dishing out the same thing.
In contrast, Lee showed his versatility when he played a fiery journalist in Pinocchio (2014) and then a mind-reader in I Can Hear Your Voice (2013).
And it looks like the negativity has affected Kim.
The website Soompi reported that Kim, using his Uncontrollably Fond's character name, Shin Joon Young, posted an apology in his "fan cafe", a website for fans and idols to interact.
It read: "I apologise for coming to you so late. In this precious time, when everyone is seeing me as Shin Joon Young, I wanted to leave a message under the title 'This is Shin Joon-young,' but leaving one (message) now, as the drama passes the halfway mark, I'm embarrassed.
"Everyone must have waited a long time for a new drama (Uncontrollably Fond), and looked forward all the more, but I'm worried that I wasn't able to meet expectations… I'm sorry about not being able to show a bright and cheerful character."
The constant comparison between Kim and Lee is not new, with Lee always ahead of Kim since their breakthrough in School 2013.
Until Uncontrollably Fond, Kim had yet to nail a lead role in a drama, whereas Lee played it in three hit dramas - I Can Hear Your Voice, Doctor Stranger (2014) and Pinocchio.
In 2014, Lee's career took a hit after he rejected a fan's gift at the airport. He was compared to Kim, who was exalted as respectful and considerate for receiving gifts with both hands.
Lee bounced back after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus and is riding high again thanks to W.
Last week, 3,000 tickets to a fan meet in Seoulwere snapped up in five minutes.
But Lee is not resting on his laurels.
On his character in W, he told W magazine: "I think (acting as a webtoon character) is something I'm good at. I'm confident when it comes to getting rid of cheesiness. It's difficult this time, so I'm working hard."
l Uncontrollably Fond and W are available on viu.com or Viu mobile app, with Chinese and English subtitles, for free.
l For Viu Premium users, catch the latest episodes of Uncontrollably Fond every Wednesday and Thursday 10pm, right after Korea's telecast and enjoy unlimited downloads for offline viewing while on the go. W is also available on Viu Premium as fast as eight hours after Korea, every Thursday and Friday.
We have a symbiotic relationship to the point that we consider ourselves spiritual companions. We told each other 'Whoever does well should buy a meal'.
- Lee Jong Suk on his friendship with Kim Woo Bin