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Ko - production in Busan
  • Film Directors Migrate to the Small Screen
  • by Pierce Conran /  Sep 23, 2019
  • Korea’s Top Content Creators Navigate New Distribution Landscape

    Much like we’ve witnessed in several western markets over the past decade, the lines between the film and TV worlds are also beginning to blur in Korea. Major Hallyu stars have frequently crossed this line, but the content creators have largely remained in their own trenches, until now. With the explosion of streaming services redrawing the global content map, filmmakers and TV drama creators are exploring new mediums. Industry leaders like PARK Chan-wook and KIM Jee-woon have been heading overseas for major TV mini-series, while other local names are being snatched up by Netflix for local-language series. Eager to jump in on the action, local cable shows are also hiring big filmmakers for new and more cinematic series, as well as commissioning them for ambitious anthology projects.

    This week, we take a look at some of the film directors who have been making waves with streaming or TV projects.

    PARK Chan-wook Makes TV Debut with The Little Drummer Girl

    For his second English-language project (following 2013’s Stoker), famed director PARK Chan-wook made the jump to the small screen with the BBC miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, adapted from John LE CARRÉ’s classic spy novel of the same name. The show features Midsommar star Florence PUGH as an unknown actress in 1970s London who is recruited by Israeli agents to infiltrate a Palestinian terrorist cell. The show co-stars Alexander SKARSGÅRD (True Blood) as the actress’ handler and Michael SHANNON (The Shape of Water) as the leader of the Mossad team that recruits her. The Little Drummer Girl was produced by The Ink Factory and presented by the BBC and AMC, the same partnership that yielded the previous LE CARRÉ miniseries The Night Manager, another series directed by an award-winning world cinema filmmaker (Denmark’s Susanne BIER).

    While Director PARK may not be the first Korean filmmaker to helm a small screen project, he is by far the biggest name to make the move and in doing so may have helped to blur the lines between the formats and prompt other names to consider moving to TV and cable networks to seek out a broader range of directing talent.

    KIM Jee-woon’s Investigates Klaus 47 in France

    Hot on Director PARK’s heels is another of Korea’s most acclaimed and globally recognized filmmakers, as it was recently revealed that A Bittersweet Life (2005) and I Saw The Devil (2010) director KIM Jee-woon has partnered with the major French broadcaster Canal+ for a high-end, four-part espionage miniseries called Klaus 47.

    Based on real events, the series will focus on a lobbyist in the arms industry who is at the center of a scandal that rocks French political circles. Originally a Taiwanese person, the character’s nationality was changed to Korean for the series. Extreme Job star LEE Ha-nee is reportedly considering an offer to star in the project.

    Netflix Sets Up Shop in Korea

    Global streaming giant Netflix initially looked to Korea for completed projects, snatching most international rights for titles such as the disaster drama Pandora (2016) and the sci-fi thriller Lucid Dream (2017). Before long, they entered the market as content creators, first with BONG Joon-ho’s globe-trotting opus Okja, which debuted in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 and featured an international cast which comprised Tilda SWINTON, Jake GYLLENHAAL, Paul DANO and Steven YEUN, among others.

    Not long after that, Netflix set up an office in the central Gwanghwamun district of Seoul and began greenlighting its own original Korean drama series. First out of the gate was the period zombie series Kingdom, from Tunnel (2016) director KIM Seong-hun and writer KIM Eun-hee, of the hit drama series Signal, and starring RYU Seung-ryong (Extreme Job), JU Ji-hoon (Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, 2017) and BAE Doo-na, already a Netflix star with its original series Sense8 from the WACHOWSKIS. Following that, the youth romance series My First First Love launched two seasons in 2019 and the romcom webtoon adaptation Love Alarm debuted in August.

    Next year, Kingdom will return with a second season while new shows will include the supernatural action-drama The School Nurse Files from The Truth Beneath (2016) director LEE Kyoung-mi, which stars JUNG Yu-mi (Our Sunhi, 2013) and NAM Joo-hyuk (The Great Battle, 2018) and the high concept death match series Round Six from Silenced (2011) and Miss Granny (2014) director HWANG Dong-hyuk.

    tvN Woos Film Talent for Drama Stage

    In late 2017 the Korean cable channel tvN launched the anthology series ‘Drama Stage’ which featured ten one-hour TV specials across a range of subjects. The first season featured TV directors at the helm but when the series retuned for another 10 episodes in 2018, the mandate had changed, with many segments coming from recognized films talents. Segments by SHIN Su-won (Madonna, 2015), JEONG Jae-eun (Take Care of My Cat, 2001) and AHN Gooc-jin (Alice In Earnestland, 2015) all featured as extended versions at this year’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN), while an episode by PARK Jung-bum (Alive, 2015) was featured in the Jeonju International Film Festival lineup. PARK’s film, known as Height of the Wave, was invited to the competition section of this year’s Locarno International Film Festival, where it earned a Special Jury Prize.

    YEON Sang-ho Busy across TV and Film

    Never one to take a break or stick to the same medium, TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) director YEON Sang-ho has been connected with two TV projects this year. The cable network OCN released the show Save Me 2, a remake of YEON’s acclaimed animated featured The Fake (2013). The show was helmed by Door Lock (2018) director LEE Kwon and features UM Tae-goo of KIM Jee-woon’s The Age of Shadows (2016) in the lead role.

    YEON, who is currently shooting Peninsula, a sequel to TRAIN TO BUSAN, is also reported to have teamed up with tvN as a writer for the upcoming occult-themed series Method (translated title). The series will focus on a major IT company named Forest that was guided to success by a dark spirit with an evil plan which a girl with special powers and a dogged reporter attempt to foil. UHM Ji-won of The Silenced (2015) is considering a lead role.

    Cable and Streaming Commission Short Films from Top Talent

    Both Netflix and the cable channel JTBC have worked with major directors for commissioned short film projects over the last few years. In 2017, JTBC launched the reality series ‘All Audiences’ which invited 10 filmmakers to make short films and have the filmmaking process and the finished product screened on TV. Featuring filmmakers included LEE Myung-se (Nowhere To Hide, 1999), CHUNG Yoon-chul (Marathon, 2005), LEE Won-suk (The Royal Tailor, 2014), PARK Kwang-hyun (Welcome To Dongmakgol, 2005) and CHANG (The Target, 2014).

    Earlier this year, Netflix released the anthology series Persona, a showcase for superstar singer IU, who stars as different characters in four separate episodes. The directors included YIM Pil-sung (Antarctic Journal, 2005) and LEE Kyoung-mi, both of whom also participated in ‘All Audiences’, as well as JEON Go-woon (Microhabitat, 2018) and KIM Jong-kwan (Worst Woman, 2016). A second season showcasing singer and actress Sulli was recently announced.
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