Image: Poster for Snowdrop. Credit: JTBC.
One of this seasons’ most anticipated new dramas is Snowdrop 설강화, the latest creation of writer Yu Hyeon-mi 유현미 and director Jo Hyeon-tak 조현탁, the duo who produced the 2019 hit drama SKY Castle SKY캐슬. The 1980s period piece, to be aired on JTBC, will also be the acting debut of Jisoo 지수, member of the world-beating K-pop idol group Blackpink 블랙핑크. She will play the lead character Yeong-ro 영로, a women’s college student who falls in love with a bloodied student protester (Jeong Hae-in 정해인) who stumbles onto the her dorm seeking refuge from the police.
But the drama’s synopsis caused an outrage because of the secret held by Jeong’s character: he is in fact a North Korean spy who has infiltrated South Korea’s democracy movement. A common false claim about South Korea’s democracy activists, still made occasionally by Korea’s far-right, is that they were all secret communists acting on behalf of North Korea. Another source of controversy is the character played by Jang Seung-jo 장승조, a supposedly “straight-edged” agent of the National Security Planning Agency 국가안전기획부 competing for Yeong-ro’s love while hunting down Jeong’s character. No reference is made to the fact that the NSPA was the South Korean dictatorship’s spy agency notorious for kidnapping and torture.
When the drama’s teaser was first released in March, JTBC released several statements claiming the drama was not about the democracy movement. Yet the preview of the drama included a number of easter eggs connecting it to the actual democracy movement: the fictional Hosu Womans University shares the same slogan and the same deliberate misspelling in the name as Ewha Womans University 이화여자대학교, a hotbed of the democracy movement in the 1980s also known as “Liberation Ewha” 해방이화. Jisoo’s character was originally named Yeong-cho 영초, a rare name reminiscent of the famous woman student leader Cheon Yeong-cho 천영초, until JTBC changed the name following a negative reaction. A Blue House petition demanding the show’s cancellation garnered over 240k signatures. (The Blue House responded that freedom of expression prevented the government from intervening with a TV show.)
The first episode of Snowdrop aired on December 18.