K-Content News

Remake boom of K-dramas is a testament to their brilliant storytelling
  • June 04, 2021

Remake boom of K-dramas is a testament
to their brilliant storytelling

Updated : 2021-06-03 17:05

By Kwak Yeon-soo

K-dramas have a wider audience than ever thanks to the success of global streaming platforms and a rising demand for diversified content.

According to data from the Korea Communications Commission, Korea's over-the-top (OTT) market grew by 23 percent in 2020 from the previous year.

A boom in OTT services has led to a surge in binge-watching of TV productions, such as tvN's inter-Korean romance "Crash Landing On You," JTBC's coming-of-age drama "Itaewon Class" and OCN's fantasy action series "Uncanny Counter." They were ranked in Netflix's top 10 list, variably across Asia, North America and Europe.

According to a report from the Korean Information Society Development Institute, K-drama exports were worth $273.27 million in 2019, up 11 percent from $241.89 million a year earlier. In a nod to the international success of K-dramas, the foreign adaptation business is booming.

A string of K-dramas have gotten or are getting foreign adaptions this year. In March, the Philippines started airing a remake of tvN's 2018 romantic drama "Encounter" starring top actors Song Hye-kyo and Park Bo-gum. Another romantic-horror drama "Let's Fight, Ghost" (2016) was successfully remade in Thailand, and has been enjoying a high viewership.

In May, JTBC's "Clean with Passion for Now," a romance between a hygiene freak CEO of a cleaning company and a woman not prone to neatness, got a Chinese adaptation with the new title "Use for My Talent."

MBC's romantic comedy series "She Was Pretty" and tvN's crime drama "Voice 2" are working their way through Japanese remakes. Both will come out in July.

The U.S. is gearing up to embrace more K-drama content. OCN's suspense thriller series "Trap" will be getting an American remake with a Korean lead. Titled "The Club," the adapted series will revolve around a veteran detective (Ma Dong-seok) who investigates a mysterious group of hunters who have attacked a famous news anchor and his family on a camping trip.

MBC's supernatural drama "W: Two Worlds Apart," which centers on a heart surgeon's journey into a webtoon world in search of her missing father, is also getting an English-language spin.

Experts say K-dramas' riveting plots and characters appeal to diverse audiences around the globe.

"Unlike Japanese dramas that are slow-paced and filled with mundane conversations, or Chinese dramas that have loose plots and a lack of continuity, Korean dramas boast dramatic twists and turns that take audiences on a roller coaster of emotions," said Yun Suk-jin, a drama critic and professor of Korean Language and Literature at Chungnam National University.

Yun explained that Korean TV productions have made a major leap forward over the last decade. "Overall, K-dramas have evolved a lot. In the past, TV productions have been largely viewed as artistically inferior to films. But now, they're regarded as independent works of art that are as high-quality as a film. Today, we see more diverse stories and high-quality content, driving the market forward," he said.

Kim Min-young, vice president of content for Netflix in Korea, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, said Korean content is notable for its strong attention to detail.

"I think the biggest strength of Korean content is that they are very good at helping our audiences resonate and relate to the show by being able to describe emotions in a very detailed way," she said during an online press event titled "See What's Next Korea 2021" in February.

Although streaming platforms have ensured easy access to K-dramas and original shows, there are ongoing demands to remake K-dramas equipped with unique, complex plots.

Although it's difficult to generalize, preferred genres of K-dramas differ per region. "Both Asian and American viewers have shown high preference toward romantic comedies and melodramas. However, Asian viewers have a tendency to look for dramas that arouse heartfelt emotions. By contrast, Western audiences focus more on the progression of events in each episode," the Korea Creative Content Agency said in a report.

"Despite the core concept being the same, there are some very culturally specific things that are different. Since there is more than just a change in setting and language for an adaption to work, people have high demands for remakes," said an official at Studio Dragon, a drama production affiliate of media giant CJ ENM.

On top of the remake boom, he said more collaborations with foreign TV production companies are likely.

Last year, Studio Dragon announced its plan to remake "Hotel del Luna" in partnership with U.S. production company Skydance TV. Earlier this week, the TV production company unveiled a co-production of an original series titled "The Big Door Prize" with Skydance TV and Apple TV+. This marks the first time for a Korean TV production company to produce an American drama series targeting global audiences.

"Beyond sales of remake rights, we're aggressively making our next move to put the company name on an opening credit of American TV drama series. We expect a bigger slice of the profit pie in the U.S. market," the official said.