From Song Kang-ho to Lee Jung-jae

Actors’ salaries continue to skyrocket. With salaries exceeding 10 billion won, K-drama production faces a serious obstacle.

Song Kang-ho

According to sources, Song Kang-ho’s fee per episode for the Disney+ K-drama “Uncle Samsik” is 700 million won. Initially planned for 10 episodes, it was expected to earn a total of 7 billion won. However, with the series expanding to 16 episodes, it is estimated that he ultimately received over 10 billion won.

Lee Jung-jae

Lee Jung-jae reportedly asked for a colossal sum to star in season 2 of “Squid Game” on Netflix: 1 billion won per episode. This is the first time that a K-drama has exceeded 100 billion won in production budget, and as the lead actor, Lee Jung-jae would receive $1 million (approximately 1.3 billion won) per episode. This is the highest remuneration ever given to a Korean actor. Since “Squid Game” is planned for 13 episodes until season 3, it is estimated that Lee Jung-jae will earn a total of $13 million (17.134 billion won).

These astronomical fees for the actors naturally lead to an increase in production costs. According to industry professionals, casting a star as the main character requires a standard budget of 300 to 400 million won per episode, bringing the production budget to more than 1 billion won per episode.

Kdrama's 10 Billion Won Actor Fee Era: From Song Kang-ho to Lee Jung-jae K-Selection

Kim Soo-hyun

According to recent reports, tvN’s K-drama “Queen of Tears” cost a total of 56 billion won for its 16 episodes, an average of 3.5 billion won per episode. Lead actor Kim Soo-hyun was previously reported to be paid 800 million won per episode, which would make it the highest fee for a domestic K-drama, although Kim Soo-hyun’s camp denied that. Later, reports emerged that Kim Soo-hyun agreed to a fee of 5 billion won, or more than 300 million won per episode, meaning that about one-tenth of the production cost went to him.

Kdrama's 10 Billion Won Actor Fee Era: From Song Kang-ho to Lee Jung-jae K-Selection

With actor fees accounting for a significant portion of production costs, concerns over the viability of the K-drama market are growing. As production costs increase, the production of K-dramas has decreased significantly, leading to the suspension of K-dramas from Wednesday to Thursday and the reduction of K-drama schedules from Monday to Tuesday. In 2022, 141 K-dramas were broadcast on national channels, but this number increased to 123 last year, and it is expected to decrease to around 100 this year, a reduction of 30 to 40%.

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