Hollywood's K-Drama Fever: How to Remake the Hit Genre (and Not Screw It Up)
The Korean drama is booming. Hollywood is circling. And the K-drama fan is worrying.
"It's hard to see one's favorite K-drama be reimagined into something else," the blogger known as Kaedejun tells Yahoo TV in an email. "You tend to think the original is sacred and should not be touched."
Too late. Short-run Korean-language serials from South Korea are the new telenovela, the Spanish-language TV staple that inspired Ugly Betty, Devious Maids, Chasing Life and the just-premiered Jane the Virgin. On the K-drama front, ABC is planning an adaptation of the girl-meets-E.T. romance, My Love From Another Star, CBS has a deal with Hawaii Five-O's Daniel Dae Kim to remake Good Doctor, a drama about an autistic surgeon (check out an episode below), and Fox is prepping a new take on the nostalgic K-pop-centered Answer Me 1997 (also known as Reply 1997).
These deals and more come as DramaFever, the K-drama streaming site and Hulu partner, reportedly is notching up to 20 million monthly unique viewers, the vast majority of of which are not Asian, a demographic footnote underscoring the genre's reach.
As the format explodes, the concern (or is it pessimism?) about Hollywood grows. Perhaps the headline on the Asian-pop blog Asian Junkie summed up the sentiment best: "America Is Now Going to Ruin K-Dramas..."
[Related: Asia TV Success Stories: Korean Dramas, Asian Animation]
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If done right, Hollywood’s versions of K-dramas can successfully bridge both worlds, a la The CW's telenovela update Jane the Virgin, which USA Today's Robert Bianco called "a satire of [its] genre, a homage, and a card-carrying member all at once." We touched base with a few K-drama observers for their top picks of the elements that Hollywood's K-drama-based projects must have in order for the remakes to retain their, well, K-drama-ness.
1. K-drama or no, go easy on the drama. In a recent episode of the now-running K-drama, The Greatest Marriage, the hour opens with blood and the aftereffects of a soap-opera-style, attempted miscarriage only to shift to romcom bantering and then back to a tense doctor's visit and then back to romcom bantering. The lesson, per Dan Acton, the social-media manager of DramaFever: balance "a sense of lightness and humor, even in melodramas."
2. Tell self-contained stories. "People watch K-dramas because the format gives time to develop characters, but it doesn't drag on," Kdrama Fighting! blogger Coco says via email. (Coco would not divulge her full and/or given name.) "Each series is typically confined to 16-20 episodes, so viewers know there will be a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end, and producers aren't going to keep extending the series until every last penny has been pinched out of it and the characters are just empty shells."
3. Keep it rated PG. "If there's a must, it's probably more a hope that the U.S. remakes do not over-sexualize the drama," says Kaedejun of Kaede + Jun, a blog devoted to TV dramas from Asia, including Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. (Kaedejun also preferred to be I.D.'d only by her blog name.) Kaedejun noted that even the 2011 K-drama I Need Romance — the genre's version of Sex and the City — was decidedly chaste by today’s TV standards. "Despite its many kiss scenes and allusions to sex, it's wildly tamer compared to the HBO version," Kaedejun said. "Basically the one thing that's unique about almost all Korean dramas is the focus on the relationships between the people — romantic or platonic — without letting sex getting in the way." Adds Coco, "In many K-dramas, it takes six, hour-long episodes before the first wide-eyed, awkward kiss. But the buildup of sexual tension is the exciting part."
Got all that, network execs? K-drama fans are just dying for you to prove them wrong.