Remakes have been a part of South Korean entertainment for a long time. Most of the shows that receive a Korean adaptation are television series from Japan and Taiwan. KKotboda Namja or Boys Over Flowers (the Korean version of Hana Yori Dango) followed the popularity of its Japanese and Taiwanese counterparts as it garnered high ratings, reignited the Hallyu Wave in Asia, and launched Lee Min-ho to superstardom. However, not all remakes do just as well as Boys Over Flowers. Despite having a huge fanbase, the dramas Playful Kiss (Itazura Na Kiss remake), To The Beautiful You (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e remake), and Naeil’s Cantabile (Nodame Cantabile remake) did not live up to expectations.
Producing remakes is a gamble, but even bigger things are at stake when the original comes from the United States. Compared to Japanese and Taiwanese programs, it is a necessity to tweak several elements of an American show to suit the tastes of Korean viewers.
Total Variety Network (tvN) is the Korean cable channel that will spearhead the Korean adaptations of American series. It is known for producing highly rated dramas such as the Reply series, Guardian: The Great and Lonely God (Goblin), and Signal. Unlike local television stations, cable networks have more freedom in terms of their adaptation choices and genre flexibility, which is perfect for recreating mature themes that are not typically found on traditional broadcasts.
Here are the two popular American series that tvN has adapted, and an exciting new one to be aired soon.
1. The Good Wife (2016)
Emmy-awarded CBS legal drama The Good Wife was the first ever American show to be remade in South Korea. Critically acclaimed actress Jeon Do Yeon returns to the small screen to play Juliana Margulies’ character as the wife who resumes her career as a lawyer after her prosecutor husband gets incarcerated for a political corruption scandal. Jeon Do Yeon is a versatile actress whose talent has been recognized worldwide. She won numerous awards, including for Best Actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Yoo Ji Tae, who plays her on-screen husband, is also a film festival regular. He is known for starring in Park Chan Wook’s movie Old Boy.
With astounding actors and gripping narrative, The Good Wife received favorable reviews, high viewership ratings, and acting awards.
2. Entourage (2016)
Based on the HBO comedy of the same name, Entourage stars Seo Kang Joon as the Korean counterpart to Adrian Grenier in the role of a young and popular movie star who goes through the ups and downs of the entertainment world with his entourage of childhood friends.
The series is known for being heavy on bromance and cameo appearances. The Korean Entourage attempted to recreate the same atmosphere but sadly failed to incorporate the Hollywood culture to Korean entertainment culture, resulting in the show’s plummet in ratings.
3. Criminal Minds (2017)
Criminal Minds is based on the American police procedural drama written by Jeff Davis. The show revolves around a group of highly trained profilers who focus on criminals’ psyches while solving cases. The American series started in 2005 and in 2017 it was renewed for a thirteenth season, while the remake will air in South Korea.
The main cast for this adaptation includes:
- Son Hyun-joo, the veteran actor who is known for the critically acclaimed drama The Chaser and the box office hit Hide and Seek.
- Lee Joon-gi, the charismatic Hallyu leading man who recently appeared in the Hollywood movie Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
- Moon Chae-won, the talented dramatic actress whose most notable works include The Princess’ Man, Innocent Man, and Good Doctor.
Korean dramas’ original storylines and relatable universal themes allow them to find international success. They boost the streaming industry as more and more non-Koreans continue to watch these programs online. Hollywood is constantly in search of new concepts and this phenomenon can trigger the idea of making remakes of US programs in South Korea and vice versa. A few years ago, American production companies greenlit the adaptation of some popular Korean dramas starring American actors. These include Good Doctor, the medical drama whose protagonist is a surgeon with Savant Syndrome; My Love From Another Star, the love story between an alien and a famous celebrity; and God’s Gift: 14 Days, a thriller about a mom who travels two weeks back in time to save her kidnapped child. Several other Korean titles have also had announced possible US adaptations but not many updates have been released since then. China has been the biggest consumer of Korean products, culture, and entertainment but as the current row between the two countries continues, South Korea will certainly have to work even harder to enter the US market. However, due to cultural differences, it’s definitely not that easy for these plans to materialize.
American dramas to be remade in South Korea meet the same challenges. For centuries, Confucianism has shaped the nation. This philosophy is deeply rooted in their values and hierarchy, so Western series that are replete with expletives, sex, violence, and homosexuality might have a hard time establishing a loyal following in this outwardly conservative society. However, these issues can be fixed by toning down mature content or by placing the show at a late time slot.
Korean adaptations of US shows have a bigger chance of gaining domestic success since language plays a huge factor in how the audience chooses the programs they want to watch. Koreans are not exactly fond of seeing the original English-speaking programs with subtitles. Even though they enjoy foreign films just as much as we do — and millennials in particular are keen to watch American shows — the majority of viewers, comprised of students and ahjummas (middle-aged women), are not going to sit through a long-running US series with subtitles. Believe me, I’ve been teaching Korean students of all ages everyday for the past 10 years. Moreover, humor is an essential part of entertainment but they are not familiar with all kinds of English puns, euphemism, and sarcasm.
Japanese and Taiwanese dramas are easily accepted into the Korean market since the audience is familiar with the melodrama and romantic comedy tropes. The police procedural is also a well-received genre, so there’s a high possibility that the upcoming Criminal Minds remake will succeed because not only does it feature some really famous actors, the teasers also promise an exciting and mysterious storyline.
Lee Joon-gi has millions of fans all around Asia. If Criminal Minds becomes a big hit in South Korea, the uninitiated will become familiar with the original franchise and this might encourage more Asian viewers to delve into the world of Western dramas. But then again, as proven by The Good Wife and Entourage, Korean adaptations of US shows can be hit or miss. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Criminal Minds will premiere in July 26, 2017 on tvN. Will you be watching the show? What do you think of these remakes?