How K-drama Wedding Impossible Went From Web Novel to Hit Series, Led by EP Chang Shin-ae

Studio Dragon

New K-drama Wedding Impossible, which aired its much-awaited finale on April 2, isn’t your typical Korean rom-com. For starters, one of its main characters, Lee Do-han (played by Kim Do-wan of Start-Up and My Roommate Is a Gumiho), is a closeted gay man, who also happens to be the heir to a conglomerate. And heroine Na A-jeong is played by actress Jeon Jong-seo, who’s more known for delivering gritty performances in dark thrillers like The Call, Burning, Bargain and Ballerina. Across 12 episodes, the series subverts K-drama tropes by putting a clever spin on a host of plot cliches and character archetypes. All that risk-taking paid off: According to a spokesperson at Viki, Wedding Impossible ranked as the top show on the streamer globally during its run, earning praise from viewers around the world for its refreshing take on the K-romance genre.

Related: The Best K-Dramas of All Time

Jeon shines as Na A-jeong, a sassy, struggling actress who agrees to a fake marriage with her best friend Do-han in order to help him keep his sexual orientation a secret. But things get complicated when she falls in love with Do-han’s younger brother Ji-han (Moon Sang-min of Under the Queen’s Umbrella fame).

Based on the eponymous web novel by Song Jung-won, Wedding Impossible was co-produced by Studio 329 (which brought us the edgy teenage crime drama Extracurricular) and Studio Dragon, the TV production arm of CJ ENM that’s helped create many of today’s hit K-dramas like Queen of Tears, Marry My Husband, Gyeongseong Creature, Sweet Home and countless others. To find out how Wedding Impossible came to be and to shed some light on how K-dramas are made in general, Teen Vogue caught up with the show’s executive producer Chang Shin-ae, who also executive produced other highly acclaimed series including Flower of Evil, Behind Every Star, Shadow Detective and A Bloody Lucky Day (personally one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent years). Don’t worry, we won’t mention any spoilers here, since surely there are some readers out there who haven’t watched Wedding Impossible yet and don’t know what they’re missing out on!

<cite class="credit">Studio Dragon</cite>
Studio Dragon

Teen Vogue: One of the most common praises about this show is that while it contains a lot of K-drama cliches (like a guy and a girl entering into a contract marriage, or a rich guy falling in love with a poor girl), it somehow makes them seem funny and entertaining and not cringey. How do you think your show was able to portray these K-drama tropes in a way that feels fun and refreshing?

Chang Shin-ae: As you know, most K-drama rom-coms — or what Koreans call “ro-co” — are based on cliches. And while the original Wedding Impossible web novel contains the “contract marriage” trope, it also adds a twist by having the girl who’s about to enter into a contract marriage fall in love with her future brother-in-law who’s trying to stop the marriage, and that twist makes the story refreshingly entertaining.

We started with the original web novel’s biggest strengths, and as we were adapting it into a TV show, we took some of its cliches and updated them to fit these times. Because the original work was published back in 2017 and a lot of time has passed since then, we thought a lot about how to update the female lead and her romance story to be more in step with the times and to better suit the tastes of today’s Gen Z and millennials.

TV: I’m told your actual title is “CP,” or “Chief Producer.” Can you explain what that title means and what a CP does?

CS: A “CP” in Korea is basically like an executive producer, though there might be small differences. I’d say there are at least 70 or so producers at Studio Dragon, and there are five CPs including me, and there are about 10 or so producers (or what Koreans call “PD”) for every CP. A CP manages producers on a TV project and oversees quality control for the whole project. Sometimes a CP is basically a producer, while other times the CP will be a showrunner and essentially help create the show. In other cases the CP will be like an executive producer who oversees the whole project. So a CP’s role can vary depending on the project. For Wedding Impossible, there are two other producers from Studio Dragon who worked on it with me, and I was the executive producer.

TV: I haven’t read the web novel, but how faithful is the show to the original work? Can you talk about a few of the key differences that you felt you had to make for the K-drama adaptation?

CS: The basic story is the same as the web novel, but we made a lot of changes to the main characters. For example, in the case of the female lead, the original work kind of portrays her as a Cinderella-like character, but we turned her into more of a Joan of Arc type — someone who decides to be the lead character in a contract marriage drama in order to protect herself and her best friend. Someone who is more independent and able to decide for herself.

Also, in the web novel, it’s the mother of Ji-han and Do-han who initially opposes Do-han’s marriage to A-jeong, but in the show, the mother has already died in an accident, and Ji-han is traumatized by her death. There’s also a lot of mystery surrounding her death that the grandfather isn’t telling Ji-han and Do-han. And Ji-han and Do-han have half-siblings. These are all details that aren’t in the original work, but we added these new family dynamics in to create more tension and flesh out the main characters a bit more. Chae-won’s character also isn’t in the web novel, but we created her to add a romantic subplot.

TV: Are there casting directors in Korea, or do writers, directors, and producers get together to choose the actors they want to cast?

CS: Every K-drama does have a casting director, but the writer, director and producer are generally in charge of casting the main characters, while the casting director does the casting for supporting roles and minor roles. When a role appears in a script, even if it’s a supporting role, the casting director comes up with a list of potentially suitable actors to present to the director. But because the main characters are such key elements for a show, the writer, producer, and director often do the casting for those characters upfront.

Kim Do-Wan and Moon Sang-Min in *Wedding Impossible*.
Kim Do-Wan and Moon Sang-Min in *Wedding Impossible*.
Studio Dragon

TV: Jeon Jong-seo is undoubtedly a talented actress, but I was surprised to see her cast in this show, because she’s mostly known for doing horror and thrillers. But her acting really blew me away, and I don’t think anyone else could’ve played Na A-jeong as well as she did. What made your team decide to cast her for the role? Did she readily accept it?

CS: Just like how we changed the character of the female lead, we took a fresh approach to casting as well. There may be certain actresses that you typically associate with rom-com roles, but we felt that that might be too predictable, so we thought about casting Jeon Jong-seo instead. And fortunately, the timing was perfect because Jeon Jong-seo also wanted a role where she could appeal to a mass audience after playing tough characters for so long. She said she was ready to show a more everyday side of herself to viewers. So on our end, we wanted to develop a new kind of female romantic lead that we hadn’t seen before, and the actress wanted to transform her image, so it worked out well.

TV: And for all the Moon Sang-min fans out there, I feel like I also have to ask how he was cast.

CS: We actually filmed the show from February through August of last year, so it’s a pre-produced series. At the time, Moon Sang-min had just completed Under the Queen’s Umbrella, so we cast him when he got super popular. (Laughs). Even though he was a rookie actor in Under the Queen’s Umbrella, he showed incredible acting skills, and he also possesses all the visuals you want in a male romantic lead — he’s super tall and he has a nice gaze. I think the actor’s gaze is super important for romance series, and so even though Moon Sang-min didn’t yet have much acting experience, he had all the basic qualities you’d want to see in a male lead. So after watching him in Under the Queen’s Umbrella, we thought he’d make a great Ji-han.

TV: I’m seeing a lot of comments from American K-drama fans who are saying that Moon Sang-min is so handsome and acts really well in the show. Like, I think even women in their 40s, 50s and 60s are in love with him now!

CS: (Laughs) I think the series is more well-received abroad than it is in Korea!

TV: Really?

CS: Well, this show appeals mostly to younger viewers, and in Korea, most people who watch linear TV are from the older generation, so our TV viewership isn’t very high even though the show is being talked about a lot online by younger folks. But seeing as how there’s been so much love for Jeon Jong-seo and Moon Sang-min from international fans, I think it’d be nice if those actors could travel abroad and see and experience it for themselves! (Laughs)

TV: Definitely! I’m sure a lot of fans would show up to see them! I’ve also read a lot of comments from international fans saying that they love Na A-jeong’s two actress friends as well. Personally, my favorite character besides Na A-jeong is her younger sister Na Su-jeong [played by Moon Seung-you].

CS: For those supporting roles, we held a bunch of auditions, and there were a lot of great actors that the director found in the process. I too thought the actress who plays Na A-jeong’s sister did an excellent job! She was selected among a ton of actresses who auditioned for that role.

TV: What were some of the funniest moments during filming?

CS: The mood on set was very positive. Jeon Jong-seo has talked a lot about how the atmosphere on set was so comfortable — how easy it was to talk to the director and how the actors got along really well. For me, one of the funniest scenes in the show is in episode two, where you see A-jeong and Ji-han both get drunk and hop in the chairman’s car, thinking it’s a taxi. I think that scene is hilarious no matter how many times I watch it, but what’s even more hilarious is that Jeon Jong-seo actually doesn’t drink alcohol. So I thought it was so funny how someone who can’t drink alcohol was able to act so convincingly like a drunk person!

TV: As a top TV producer, what do you look for in a K-drama? Which factors do you consider when deciding what kind of K-drama to produce?

CS: I’m interested in stories that feel new and original and characters that are compelling. Nowadays, since our viewers aren’t just limited to Korea but are also based in the US and across the globe, I’m currently working on a wide range of projects in hopes of bringing fresh and well-crafted stories to audiences all over the world.

This interview was conducted in Korean and has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue

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