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In COVID-19 confinement? Consider K-drama

‘We don't consciously look for something that's going to help in exporting Korean culture. Rather, those that are authentic to Korea, authentic to Korean life, authentic to Korean lifestyle, emotions, politics, whatever it may be. Then automatically---very naturally and organically---these shows tend to work as an ambassador of Korean culture.’

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With more people than usual at home due to lockdowns in many countries, the demand for Korean dramas is at an all-time high.

In a video interview with Bulletin Entertainment and select members of local media, Netflix Vice President for Korean Content Min-Young Kim reveals how the company picks what to produce.

The priority now is scripted series. Think “Kingdom,” “Crash Landing On You,” “Extracurricular,” and “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay.”

“And we make sure these series bring joy to the audience,” she said to that effect. “And with Netflix, the content get wider distribution.”

Indeed. To date, the streaming entertainment service has over 167 million paid memberships in over 190 countries.

Min-Young added: “Ever since the beginning—before ‘Parasite,’ before ‘Kingdom,’ before anything—we’ve always had a strong belief in our Korean creative community; not only on the creator side but also powerhouses like Studio Dragon and JTBC Studio and many other partners. Netflix is helping them grow their audience outside Asia while diversifying the type of shows our existing Korean fans are watching.”

This means that as rest of the world begin to discover K-dramas, people in Korea, in turn, get a serving of foreign movies as “Marriage Story,” and “Irishman;” as well as top-end series “House of Cards,” “Money Heist,” “Stranger Things,” and more.

The streamer is now moving into game shows, reality TV and light entertainment.

Back to the K-dramas, Min-Young said their goal for Netflix is simple: Curate the best shows and bring it to the audiences.

“Our second pillar is where our originals are more focused — finding what’s available in the traditional system and what could or couldn’t be made in, in the traditional system and what that gap is, and trying to figure out what the white space is and finding the right shows within that white space.”

By doing this, they hope for the series to break the language barrier and resonate with a global audience.

Min-Young cited “Extracurricular” as example. She said the series is from relatively newbie writer Jin Han-sae collaborating with seasoned director Kim Jin-min. The coming-of-age story is about high school students who have chosen a life of crime to earn money, and those who are threatened by extreme risk as a result.

“It’s Okay To Not Be Okay” is also a special project for them as the series marks Kim Soo-hyun’s comeback project after finishing his military service. The story is about an unusual romance between two people who end up healing each other’s emotional and psychological wounds.

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Do they have favorite actors, one reporter asked, pointing out that Lee Min Ho who did “Vagabond” recently is now about to be seen in the romantic fantasy drama “The King: Eternal Monarch” also on Netflix.

Or is it because they are who the audience wants cast?

“I don’t think viewers are dictating the talent that we get for our originals,” she said. “Rather it’s a combination of who are the talents that are in-demand and who are those talents who can realize the vision of the creators.”

Case in point: “Love Alarm” stars Song Kang, a newbie in the industry.

Min-Young noted that before the show, he only had 150,000 Instagram followers versus the two million followers he has now.

Did they expect “Crash Landing On You” to be this successful, we asked.

Min-Young nodded, noting there’s a “formula” there that worked.

“That’s a combination of a very compelling story by a top writer, and a very strong on-screen talent,” she said.

Then Min-Young added: “But you know, in creative, even if you follow all that formula, you never know if the show is gonna be a success or not. But then when we read the script of the show, when we saw the cuts of the show, we were very confident that this is the show that a lot of our Korean content fans have been waiting for, and they’ll actually enjoy it a lot. So yeah, I would say ‘Crash Landing On You’ was something that we were confident of.”

She talked about how Korean movie “Parasite,” which made history by becoming the first Asian movie to win Best Film in this year’s Oscars, is changing the game, foremost to the advantage of the Korean creators.

“‘Parasite’ is a show that’s very authentic to Korea. And a film like that to be successful and be recognized in a place like Oscar, I think, is an exciting thing for not only Koreans but anybody in the world working in the creative industry.”

Do they purposely choose movies that put emphasis on Korean culture?

“I think if it’s a great story then the show travels well to a more global audience,” she answered. “As director Bong Joon Ho said quoting Martin Scorsese, ‘What’s most personal is what’s most creative.’ So these types of shows tend to appeal well to audience beyond Korea.

“So, in looking for shows, we don’t consciously look for something that’s going to help in exporting Korean culture. Rather, those that are authentic to Korea, authentic to Korean life, authentic to Korean lifestyle, emotions, politics, whatever it may be. Then automatically—very naturally and organically—these shows tend to work as an ambassador of Korean culture.”

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