The K-Drama Snowdrop has been facing severe backlash from the South Korean community due to various aspects. While the writer herself has been under fire for her choice of character set-up and names, one of the most angering details about the show was the portrayal of the National Security Agency (NSA), otherwise known as the “An-Gi-Bu“. Another translation is the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Read on more to find out about the NSA and why South Koreans are so angry about its portrayal in Snowdrop.
1. Basic background about the Democratic Movement and oppression
One thing for you to know going in is that many supporters of the democratic movement, including student supporters, were wrongly accused as North Korean spies. The NSA was not actually an organization meant to take down North Korean spies, but to simply eradicate any dissent and opposition against the governmental regime. This included supporters of the democratic movement. However, in order to have a “legitimate” reason to torture the democratic supporters, the NSA used the guise of catching North Korean spies.
2. Discrepancies with real life figures
Firstly, the female lead’s father is the head of the NSA. In the drama, Eun Chang Soo heads the NSA. This in itself might not have been an issue, if not for the fact that the writers decided to portray him in a more positive light. According to the character profile, he may be a strict dictator when it comes to work, but his love for literature makes him soft at heart and delicate.
In actual fact, the real head of the NSA back then was Jang Se Dong, who was the beloved right-hand man of then president, Chun Doo Hwan. Jang Se Dong covered up many brutal murders in order to scare the people into thinking that they were caused by North Korean spies. One such case was the case of Susie Kim, who was murdered by her husband. Her husband lied that she was a North Korean spy, something Jang Se Dong readily accepted without investigation. This was as if the South Korean citizens became more wary and paranoid of spies, they would be more likely to support the punishment of accused spies which were more often than not, simply supporters of the democratic movement.
South Koreans are angered at the fact that Snowdrop has rewritten such a diabolical and cruel man as a literature-loving softie.
3. The character of Lee Kang Moo and romanticization of the NSA
Lee Kang Moo is the second male lead of Snowdrop. A team leader at the NSA, he is dedicated to his work. His synopsis includes that he is a man “who only walked on one path to catch the bad guys.” His character motivations include the death of his father who was killed while chasing a spy, and his life mission which he abandoned his first love for.
South Koreans are angered at the apparent humanization of someone who was in charge of leading a team to hunt down democratic supporters. The NSA and its teams were famous for sending infiltrators to plant false evidence in student groups of democratic supporters to accuse them as spies.
Given the atrocities of the NSA as a whole, South Koreans are unhappy with the potential Snowdrop has to romanticize the organization and its members.
4. The Park Jong Cheol case
The Park Jong Cheol case was a famous one that eventually led to the downfall of the regime when the truth was exposed to the public. He was a student that supported democracy. The NSA took him in and tortured him relentlessly using all sorts of tactics, including waterboarding. This eventually led to his death. Doctors were brought in to try to revive him and when that failed, the NSA tried to falsify his reason of death. After the truth was brought to light, South Koreans grew enraged over the regime.
Although he has since passed on, Park Jong Cheol’s representatives have spoken up against the drama Snowdrop recently. After the first two episodes aired, his representatives claimed that the drama was causing a second round of harm to the victims of the aftermath of the NSA and its regime with the way it romanticizes the NSA and distorts history.
5. NSA’s involvement in Berlin
One of the set-ups of Snowdrop is Germany, more specifically, Berlin. The male lead, Soo Ho, has ties to Berlin. A North Korean spy that left for missions in Berlin, he masquerades as a graduate student from a university in Berlin and comes to South Korea to complete his thesis. However, his father was actually a genius musician residing in North Korea and Germany. This stirred up anger because the alleged inspiration for his father was based on a famous South Korean musician, Yun Isang, who was falsely accused of being a spy and forced to commute between North Korea and Germany before being kidnapped by the NSA.
Read more about Yun Isang and the backlash Snowdrop faces for the inspiration below.
However, despite South Koreans’ fierce opposition with the broadcasting of Snowdrop, jtbc has denied accusations of distorting history. An official statement was released on December 21, 2021. It can be read below.
Stay tuned for more unpacking of the historical background of the show and why South Koreans are against it.