Set in 1987 in South Korea, Snowdrop centers on the love story of a university student named Eun Young-ro (Kim Ji soo) and a North-Korean spy named Lim Su-ho (Jung Hae-in). They meet on a blind date in a coffee shop, and Young-ro falls in love with him at first sight. However, when more and more secrets unfold, Young-ro finds herself in a dangerous position.
According to Forbes, the storyline of Snowdrop was already sparking controversies since it was revealed last March. Archyde states that a petition to stop the production of Snowdrop was already made last March, and it garnered more than 300,000 signatures, surpassing the number of signatures needed on a petition for the government to officially respond within 30 days. Last March, the South Korean government responded that they would not intervene directly against the production of the drama to respect the “freedom and independence of the media.”
So what is the controversy behind Snowdrop’s storyline?
International Business Times states that Jisoo’s character was going to be named Eun Young Cho. This name is really similar to the real-life student protestor Chun Young Cho. Allkpop explains that Chun Young Cho was an active student protestor during the 1980s who suffered questioning and torture at Namyeong-dong National Police Agency. This police agency was said to have the most perfectly hidden torture chamber.
Furthermore, in the drama, Lim Su-ho, played by Jung Hae-in, is revealed to be a real North Korean spy. According to India Today, there were many innocent activists in South Korea that lost their lives because they were falsely accused of being spies and having the main character revealed to be an actual spy is a sensitive topic.
Also, PhilSTAR Life says that a song called “Dear Pine, Dear Pine,” was being played in a scene where Su-ho was being chased by an officer of the Agency for National Security Planning. This was upsetting for many Koreans because, according to Jazmine Media, this song was sung about the people who led the pro-democracy movement in South Korea in the 80s and talks about their suffering and accomplishments.
One Twitter user — @gatamchun — expressed her opinion on Snowdrop’s storyline. In one of her tweets, she revealed that her mother was part of this pro-democracy movement during the 70s-80s and personally knew Park Jong-cheol, who according to Yonhap News Agency, was a student activist who was killed after hours of torture. His death helped set off the pro-democracy movement in South Korea.
@gatamchun also said that her mother cannot even speak of the 70s-80s because it was just too traumatizing. Her account of her mother’s experiences of the time shows just how emotionally people can react to any dramas set in that time that touch upon political issues.
Because of the stirrup Snowdrop was causing, PhilSTAR Life reports that many companies announced that they were withdrawing their sponsorships. SK POP states that one of Snowdrop’s biggest sponsors, P&J Group, announced that they have canceled their sponsorship and apologized for investing in the drama without knowing details of the plot.
Many smaller companies followed in P&J Group’s footsteps in revoking their sponsorships. This could cause the Snowdrop production company, JTBC, a lot of damage because they could lose a lot of revenue.
According to The Korea Herald, a second petition to cancel the broadcasting of Snowdrop was drawn up after the first two episodes had aired in December 2021. The petition reached over 300,000 signatures, and though the Blue House has yet to respond, Soompi states that the Seoul Western District Court has ruled that Snowdrop can continue airing. Seoul Western District Court ultimately decided that even if Snowdrop is distorting South Korean history, the chances of the general public actually believing the distortions and accepting them are low.
Moreover, the court stated there aren’t any laws that protect the pro-democracy movement from historical distortion. The court went on to explain that even if such a law did exist, “Unless the content of the drama directly involves [the civic group], it’s difficult to argue that it infringes on the rights of [the group].”
Essentially, the court cannot stop Snowdrop from airing because JTBC technically isn’t doing anything illegal. In light of the controversy surrounding one of their newest productions, JTBC released a statement regarding the plot of Snowdrop.
According to Soompi, JTBC refutes some of the public’s claims, saying that their plot has a fictional story of the political party in power working with the North Korean government to tug some strings to remain in power. JTBC argues that Snowdrop focuses on the personal stories of people who were used and victimized by those in power. Also, the male and female leads (Lim Su-ho and Eun Young-ro) do not take part in the pro-democracy movement.
As the drama continues, there is less alleged historical distortion, and the drama starts to focus on the main love story and less on the political context of the story. It’s safe to assume that the show will continue airing, as the controversies have slightly died down and there are no legal reasons for it to be blocked.
That being said, many viewers of Snowdrop are eager to see how Young-ro and Hae-in’s love story will play out. Snowdrop airs every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 KST and is available on Disney Plus in Asian countries.