Netflix series don’t just arise spontaneously in Korea. In Seoul, we met up with two key executives — Keo Lee, Netflix Korea director of content, and Gabrielle Jung, Netflix Korea director of content creative manager — to get their perspectives. With the success of K-dramas, and the phenomenon of Squid Game, Netflix content in Korea is on fire. After dropping 15 fully Korean stories in 2021, they’re pushing into even more genres and formats this year. (Sorry, no spoilers!)
PHILIPPINE STAR: How do you manage to walk the fine line between content that’s specific to Korean culture while still being universal?
KEO LEE: It’s a question we ask ourselves a lot: who are we programming for? The clear answer is we are programming for Korean audiences, I think it is most important that a show is resonant with Korean audiences and tastes. I would say we’re just really fortunate that Korean tastes have often been a good indicator of global tastes as well.
But… why is that?
Well, it’s interesting that Korean content was global before Netflix — and I think that’s because Korean audiences have really high standards. I think Korean audiences are often — in my humble, biased opinion — the hardest to please. And our creators and local storytellers have developed a great storytelling muscle in this environment. What Netflix was able to do is come into this market — be aware of the existing global power of creating content — and while being respectful of it, offer our take on it.
I feel like Netflix should provide a safe environment for creators, to allow them to be vulnerable and try something new and bold, like a playground to have fun and create.
GABRIELLE JUNG: And also, because it’s a global platform, we talk a lot about the little details — the titles, or the subtitles, or dubbing. For example, in All of Us Are Dead, there are half-zombies. So how do we call them for those outside Korea? How are we going to give that same taste for global audiences? So we called them “Hambis.” Or with dubbing, the globalization team asks us if we can find a similar voice or personality when we’re hiring local dubbing actors, so audiences who are watching it in other languages can also feel the same vibe from the original cast.
LEE: One of my favorite parts after launching a Netflix show that’s global, with maybe over 30 languages, we immediately see the reactions all over the world. It’s more than just the viewing numbers. We gather around after midnight and see the Top 10s, we see the reviews from the Philippines, or Mexico, everywhere, kind of like responding to the content. And I feel that the strongest and most critical thing about a story is you can feel the same thing — so if it’s about friendship, if it’s about love, whether you’re Korean or not, you already can relate to it. I think that’s the core power of the Korean content that we’ve created so far.
Is your content representative enough of all genders and viewers?
JUNG: As a woman, I try to have lots of input in making diverse women characters. It doesn’t always have to be positive, but something you haven’t seen, like athletes or leaders. I want to build stronger female characters in the series.
LEE: Gabby worked on both All of Us Are Dead or Squid Game, and both had male creators, so I’m sure they had questions to Gabby, for example, about whether something passes the smell test or not (in terms of female voices).
JUNG: I feel like Netflix should provide a safe environment for creators, to allow them to be vulnerable and try something new and bold, like a playground to have fun and create.
LEE: Our team’s role is to find the best local stories, work with exciting local storytellers, and support them. These are all local experts, all local decisions. There’s not a single decision that gets made outside of Korea when it comes to Korean content.