A Korean production studio may have made your favorite show – even if you don’t watch K-dramas

Posted on : 2023-12-15 17:51 KST Modified on : 2023-12-15 17:51 KST
A localization strategy has helped Korean production companies make more films and TV series across the globe
Still from “Severance,” produced by CJ ENM. (courtesy of CJ ENM)
Still from “Severance,” produced by CJ ENM. (courtesy of CJ ENM)

“Secret Playlist” is a Japanese drama. In fact, it debuted as an original series on Hulu Japan, a streaming service, on Nov. 18.

But most of the names in the ending credits are Korean. The screenwriter was Park Yun-seong, the director was Kim Jong-chang, and the leading roles were played by Kim Hyang-gi, Shin Hyun-seung and Yeon Oh.

“Hulu Japan wanted to release an original Korean drama made by a Korean production company,” said Playlist, the studio behind “Secret Playlist.”

Korean drama production companies are expanding into the global media market through a localization strategy. In addition to selling publication rights to other countries, they’re now making television dramas for broadcast in those countries.

There has often been personnel swapping between Korea and Japan; for example, the drama “Connect” for Disney+ Korea was directed by Takashi Miike, who is Japanese. But it’s unusual for a Korean production company to produce a Japanese drama.

“As Korean dramas and movies grow more popular, more places overseas have been seeking the approach and methods used by Korean production studios, which is bringing a greater variety of opportunities.”

Still from “Secret Playlist.” (courtesy of Playlist)
Still from “Secret Playlist.” (courtesy of Playlist)

Those remarks came from a source at Korean production studio COCCS, which produced the movie “See Hear Love” for Amazon Prime Video as a collaboration between Korea and Japan.

Studio Dragon is making a Japanese drama called “Like Asura,” remarking the drama of the same name that was broadcast on NHK in 1979. The show is being directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda and stars a number of famous Japanese actors including Rie Miyazawa, Yu Aoi, Machiko Ono and Suzu Hirose.

Shooting on the drama is in its final stages. At this pace, post-production will be wrapped up and the drama ready to broadcast by summer 2024.

“We’re planning a number of Japanese dramas in addition to ‘Like Asura,’” said a source at Studio Dragon.

Korean production studios’ localization strategy echoes how idol entertainment companies have recently sought break-out success in other countries with K-pop groups composed of locals.

Growth is basically at a standstill because all markets, from music to drama, are already saturated with Korean media content. Producers’ skills have sharpened and supply has increased, but there are limited outlets for their talents.

In addition, there are few companies that can cover the cost of producing a streaming show, which now runs in the tens of billions of won. The popular show “Weak Hero Class 1” streamed on Wavve last year, but its second season is being produced on Netflix because of the huge costs.

“We have about 100 TV episodes and films stuck in limbo. An alternative approach is to treat regions with big markets and lots of capital as a base for global expansion,” explained a producer at one company that handles outsourced production.

There are already success stories in the US.

Last year, CJ ENM purchased a famous US drama production company called Endeavor Content and changed its name to Fifth Season. Since then, it has produced US dramas including “Tokyo Vice” for HBO Max and “See” for Apple TV+. “Severance,” which was released on Apple TV+ last year, was honored at both the National Board of Review and the Emmy Awards.

Production studio SLL acquired another famous US production studio called Wiip last year and has since premiered shows including “The Summer I Turned Pretty” and “Bodkin” on major US streaming services.

This past March, Studio Dragon produced “The Big Door Prize” with American production company Skydance Media and released it on Apple TV+. The show was positively received and soon confirmed for a second season, which will be released next year. Studio Dragon is currently working with Universal Pictures to produce an American drama based on “The Plotters,” a novel by Korean writer Kim Un-su.

The US and Japan are both countries that are receptive to Korean drama’s distinctive narratives and sophisticated touch.

Hirokazu Kore-eda, who’s set to direct “Like Asura,” which is being produced by Studio Dragon. (Hankyoreh file photo)
Hirokazu Kore-eda, who’s set to direct “Like Asura,” which is being produced by Studio Dragon. (Hankyoreh file photo)

“‘Secret Playlist’ was positively received in Japan thanks to the kind of elaborate and emotive plot one expects from a Korean drama,” said Ahn Hye-ri, a producer with Hulu Japan.

Since both countries have a much bigger broadcasting market than Korea, they’re capable of picking up the slack from Korea.

As of 2021, Japan’s market was two and a half times larger than Korea, while the US’ market was 12 times larger.

“If we’re going to see growth in the drama market, we’ve got to broaden our distribution network. Series that aren’t released in Korea could get released in Japan or the US instead,” said a source at one drama production studio.

With Korean drama production studios acquiring intellectual property of their own, they’re now ready to make a bid for global income streams.

“Even if our short-term profits from Japan aren’t great, a successful program can maintain ongoing interest that will boost our profits accordingly. We’re starting with Japan and can gradually expand to other regions,” said a source with Playlist.

“We’ll be growing our market by actively producing remakes for global audiences through the IP in SSL and Wiip’s possession,” a spokesperson for SSL said.

By Nam Ji-eun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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