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K-dramas’ global appeal lies in ‘wholesome sexiness’

Media experts explore growing popularity of Korean TV shows

The international appeal of Korean TV shows lies in their “wholesome sexiness,” according to Sean Richard Dulake, who plays the dreamy male lead Joon Park in the show-within-a-show universe of the online drama series “Dramaworld.”

“I had always wondered why Korean content was connecting to outsiders,” said the actor-producer Wednesday in Seoul at Broadcast Worldwide 2016 (BCWW), a media convention hosted by the Culture Ministry and Korea Creative Content Agency. In 2013, Dulake directed “Finding Hallyuwood,” a documentary on the Korean Wave phenomenon.

“Dramaworld,” available for streaming on Viki and Netflix, parodies K-dramas’ cliches and fans who are obsessed with their pristine characters and sugar-coated plotlines. Some 80 percent of its viewers are Caucasian, black and Hispanic, according to Viki; only 20 percent come for Asian countries.

Most of these fans are “in their teens to mid-20s” who are “hopeless romantics,” according to Dulake.

“A lot of content they find in (their) local market is very gritty, with a lot of antihero stuff. Characters are having sex in the first episodes,” he said. “What K-drama offers to fans is this wholesome way to fall in love and it brings a different kind of joy to their lives.”

From left: Actor-producer Sean Richard Dulake and producers Gene Klein and Michael Ellenberg speak to reporters at a press conference at the InterContinental Seoul Coex on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
From left: Actor-producer Sean Richard Dulake and producers Gene Klein and Michael Ellenberg speak to reporters at a press conference at the InterContinental Seoul Coex on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

With an increasing international viewership for K-dramas, foreign studios are vying to take them abroad and even participate in their production.

According to Craig Hunegs, president of business and strategy at Warner Bros. Television Group, the TV arm of Warner Bros. Entertainment, the US production company is taking “big steps” to increase its presence in Korea and distribute K-dramas online. It produced Kim Jee-woon’s film “The Age of Shadows,” which was selected as a contender for the Academy Awards on Tuesday.

Since acquiring the K-drama web streaming platform DramaFever in February, it has “dramatically increased” the site’s programming budget, Hunegs said, exclusively licensing titles such as “Jealousy Incarnate” and “Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo,” which are currently airing on Korean television networks.

Warner Bros. will also be producing two original series within the next three years with Studio Dragon, a production subsidiary established by major Korean media contents company CJ E&M, Hunegs announced at BCWW 2016. CJ E&M confirmed the partnership Thursday.

“We are in active and advanced discussions with other studios as well,” Hunegs added. “Working together we can bring the very best of South Korea to the global audience.”

Broadcast Worldwide 2016, hosted by the culture ministry and the Korea Creative Content Agency, takes place at Seoul’s Coex Center from Aug. 31-Sept. 2. (Yonhap)
Broadcast Worldwide 2016, hosted by the culture ministry and the Korea Creative Content Agency, takes place at Seoul’s Coex Center from Aug. 31-Sept. 2. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, Korean television is seeing a surge in American drama remakes. “The Good Wife,” an adaptation of the eponymous US courtroom drama series, wrapped up last week on cable channel tvN; a rendition of “Entourage,” a comedy series depicting celebrity life, will air on tvN this November.

Legal drama “Suits” is also being remade by Korea’s EnterMedia Pictures and set for broadcast early next year. Gene Klein, the producer of the original series, hoped that “something new” would be added in the show’s new version.

“There are plenty of examples of ‘I wouldn’t do it that way,’ and I think that’s great,” Klein said on the Korean script at BCWW 2016. “It has to work in its own way. ... A local version should be informed by the voice of the actors and the lives there. If the audience wants to see the original, they can.”

BCWW 2016 will run until Sept. 2 at the Coex Convention and Exhibition Center.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)
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