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The new wave of K-content: Edgier and gripping—not just ‘kilig’

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 22, 2022 5:00 am

After the massive global success of Squid Game, Hellbound, and the recent The Silent Sea, Netflix continues to bring the K-wave to new heights in 2022 by launching more than 25 Korean dramas, films, and shows this year. This Korean content, which are all Netflix original shows, is their largest number so far.

In a Zoom roundtable talk with Asian journalists, Don Kang, vice president of Content (Korea) for Netflix, shared interesting insights and the plans of the streaming giant. He leads Netflix’s content team in their Seoul office to discover the “best made-in-Korea” stories to share with its worldwide viewers.

Kang joined Netflix in 2018 as part of a team of content executives to partner with local storytellers. He has spearheaded several key partnerships that included agreements with some of Korea’s established content companies. He also led in closing deals for hit series, including some of my favorites like It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, Itaewon Class, and Crash Landing On You.

Scene from Squid Game, the most viewed show on Netflix.

In 2020, the global viewing hours of Korean shows increased exponentially compared to the year before. Squid Game was the biggest show ever launched and was the most viewed Netflix show in 94 countries at its peak: 95% of its viewers were from outside Korea.

Then came Hellbound, which became one of the Top 10 Netflix shows in 93 countries, and ranked number one in 34 countries. The dark fantasy drama’s premiere registered 43.48 million viewing hours.

Hellbound is a slow, intense philosophical burn.

Then late last year, the Gong Yoo starrer, The Silent Sea, held the number-one spot on the weekly non-English Top 10 for its premiere.

According to Kang, “credit for this growing global interest goes to the talented Korean creators we have been working with for the past few years. From 2016 to 2021, we launched more than 130 Korean titles. As a result, Netflix has become a compelling destination for fans of Korean content, who know that this is the home of diverse and high-quality Korean storytelling. As this fan base increasingly includes viewers from all over the world, we are excited to continue collaborating with Korean storytellers to bring the K-wave to new heights.”

Being a Korean drama, film and even variety show fan, this is all very exciting. I asked him if he sees a trend in the genre that is popular now. It looks like the hits seem to be edgier, and have veered away from the usual romantic stories.

Don Kang, Netflix vice president of content (Korea)

“I don’t think there is a trend per se,” Kang says. “Streaming services like Netflix provide a playground or space for film and TV series makers to produce different types of shows. A lot of the darker and edgier ones are usually in films, but it is limited in time for its storytelling. There are different types of stories that can’t be told within this two-hour format. Netflix is not guided by the rules of advertisers, and by the limited programming time traditionally media has inherently had. So we provide a platform for these untold stories to be told. That is what you are seeing.

“Before we entered the market, there were a lot of stories that creators wanted to create but just couldn’t find homes. I think Squid Game is a great example. When director Hwang Dong-hyuk first brought the story, he couldn’t get it commissioned for a while. We partnered with director Hwang, and we became a great place to tell what he has always wanted to tell.

“So what you’re probably witnessing or what you see as a trend is that edgier and darker series couldn’t have been done before. A lot of great stories which weren’t able to be told previously can now be told through Netflix.”

Kang is confident about the lineup of Korean content on Netflix: “We believe this is a slate that showcases more of the inventive and gripping Korean storytelling that the world has come to love. To do that, we will continue to invest in Korea’s creative ecosystem and, together, we will keep on showing the world that ‘Made in Korea’ means ‘well-made.’”

Here are some of the upcoming Netflix Original K-dramas and films to look forward to:

All of Us Are Dead

All of Us are Dead is a zombie movie where young students fight for their survival.

Set to be launched on January 28, this Netflix series centers around a school with a zombie outbreak and a bunch of students who get together to fight for their survival. Based on a popular “webtoon,” it includes rising stars Yoon Chan-yeong, Park Ji-hu, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Yoo In-soo, Lee You-mi, and Lim Jae-hyeok.

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile Justice tackles young delinquents in society and stars actress Kim Hye-Soo (Hyena, Signal).

Kim Hye-soo (Hyena, Signal) plays a charismatic judge newly appointed to a district with the highest juvenile delinquency, and makes unorthodox decisions to existing judgments. She later tries to send a message that society is also responsible for the juveniles' immoral and illicit acts.

Twenty Five, Twenty One

Twenty Five, Twenty One flashes back to dreams of youth in 1988. It stars Kim Tae-ri and Nam Joo-hyuk.

I can’t wait for February 12 when this drama will premiere. Starring dreamy Nam Joo-hyuk and Kim Tae-ri (Mr. Sunshine), Twenty Five, Twenty One centers on the intensity of youth with its dreams, loves, hardship, or simply experiencing life among five friends.

Forecasting Love and Weather

Forecasting Love and Weather is an anticipated rom-com starring Park Min-young and Song Kang.

Also launching on February 12 and quite anticipated, this rom-com is about people at the Korea Meteorological Administration and their love experiences. The story focuses on Jin Ha-kyung, who decides never to commit to an office romance after a brutal breakup but ends up in a relationship with a newcomer on the team. The drama stars lovely Park Min-young and handsome Song Kang.

Thirty Nine

Well-loved Son Ye-jin stars in Thirty Nine, a drama about friendship, love, and life in general.

Starring well-loved actress Son Ye-jin, Thirty Nine is set to show on February 16, a down-to-earth life and romance drama that touches deeply on the friendship, loves, and lives of three BFFs who are about to turn 40. One day when they are all 39, life takes a turn for the worse, and they have to get ready to say goodbye.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is an afterlife fantasy and includes hot young star Rowoon in its cast.

An “afterlife” fantasy drama, Tomorrow depicts how a longtime unemployed Choi Jun-woong accidentally bumps into grim reapers on a special mission. He becomes a contract worker at their Crisis Management Team to help them accomplish their goal. The drama stars Kim Hee-seon, Rowoon, Lee Soo-hyuk.

Business Proposal

Based on a popular webtoon of the same name, Business Proposal is about an office romance between a CEO and a regular employee.

Business Proposal is an office romance drama where a CEO goes on a blind date with his employee. It is based on a globally famous web novel and webtoon of the same name with a total of 320 million views. It stars Ahn Hyo-Seop, Kim Sejeong, Seol In-ah, Kim Min-gue, and Lee Deok-hwa.

The Sound of Magic

Choi Sung-eun plays the role of Yoon Ah-yi while Hwang In-youp will play her classmate

It only takes the name of Ji Chang-wook to make me watch a drama. The Sound of Magic is a touching story about Yoon Ah-yi, a girl who had to grow up too fast, and Rieul ( Ji Chang-wook) , a mysterious magician who—although grown up—wants to remain a kid. Choi Sung-eun plays the role of Yoon Ah-yi while Hwang In-youp will play her classmate.

Remarriage and Desires

Seasoned actress Kim Hee-sun stars in Remarriage and Desires about a matchmaking agency.

This drama is a satire on Korean society and is set at an exclusive matchmaking agency catering to the top echelons of society. Clients are social climbers who hope to upgrade their status by marrying or remarrying into the ranks of the elite. The star-studded cast includes Kim Hee-Sun, Lee Hyun-Wook, and Jung Eugene.

A Model Family

Starring JungWoo, Park HeeSoon, Yoon JinSeo, Park JiYeon

A Model Family is a story about a man on the brink of bankruptcy and divorce stumbling upon a car loaded with cash. The incident has him crossing paths with the second-in-command of a drug organization. Jung Woo, Park Hee-soon, Yoon Jin-seo, and Park Ji-yeon lead this thrilling illustration of an ordinary family unexpectedly getting their hands on illegal drug money.

The Accidental Narco

The Accidental Narco is based on real-life events.

Based on real-life events, The Accidental Narco is about an ordinary entrepreneur who has no choice but to risk his life by joining the secret mission of government agents to capture a Korean drug lord. The cast includes Ha Jung-woo, Hwang Jung-min, Park Hae-soo, Jo Woo-jin, and Yoo Yeson-seok.

Black Knight

Starring Kim Woobin, Esom, and Kang Youseok

One of my favorite actors Kim Woo-bin returns to the screen in an air-polluted world in 2071, where people depend on respirator masks to breathe. Amid desolation, Black Knight tells the story of a legendary delivery driver with exceptional battle skills and a refugee who dreams of following in his footsteps.

Money Heist: Korea - Joint Economic Area

Following the hit Money Heist, the Korean version, Money Heist: Korea - Joint Economic Area will air this year.

A version of the hit Spanish series, Money Heist: Korea - Joint Economic Area narrates the story of a genius strategist and his talented crew composed of top-class thieves, and their attempt to pull off an unprecedented heist in the Korean Peninsula.

Yaksha: Ruthless Operations

Yaksha: Ruthless Operations is an exciting spy action thriller.

A breathtaking spy action film, Yaksha: Ruthless Operations unfolds as a merciless man known as “Yaksha” crosses paths with a prosecutor on a special inspection mission in Shenyang, a city in China notorious for espionage. Stars Sul Kyung-gu, Park Hae-soo, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Yang Dong-keun, EL, Song Jae-lim, and Park Jin-young.

Carter

Joo Won (Good Doctor, Alice) plays an agent who loses his memory in the upcoming film Carter.

Carter is an original film about an agent suffering from memory loss who is thrown into the middle of a mysterious mission. At the helm is director Jung Byung-gil, who has produced many unique action films. Joo Won, who played powerful and interesting roles in Good Doctor, Yong-pal, and Alice, transforms into an action hero in this flick.

20th Century Girl

Starring the lovely Kim Yoo-jung and handsome Bench ambassador Byeon Woo-seok, 20th Century Girl is about rekindling first love.

20th Century Girl focuses on the lives of the youth in their 20s filled with vivid moments of love and friendship. Starring the lovely Kim You-jung, heartthrob Byeon Woo-seok, Park Jung-woo, and Roh Yoon-Seo, this film will be directed by Bang Woo-ri, who won the Best Short Film award for Mrs. Young at the Blue Dragon Awards.

JUNG_E

JUNG_E brings viewers to an uninhabitable and war-torn future on Earth.

This is set in an uninhabitable Earth due to climate change. There is chaos and internal warfare. The end of the war hinges on finding a way to clone the legendary mercenary JUNG_E into a scalable robot. JUNG_E is directed by Yeon Sang-ho of Train to Busan, Peninsula, and Hellbound fame. The cast includes Kang Soo-youn, Kim Hyun-joo, and Ryu Kyung-soo.