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By Hyo-won Lee (@hyowlee)     27 Jan 2017

South Korean films and dramas have long had a cult following across Asia. Now Hollywood is finally waking up to their appeal

A grandmother wakes up one day as her 20-year-old self, and realizes her unfulfilled dream of becoming a singer.

Through the process she also dabbles in some romance and bonds with her rebellious grandson by forming a rock band with him.

Such genre-bending elements have fueled the long-standing pan-Asian popularity of South Korean movies and TV dramas, and the family comedy-meets-fantasy movie in question, Miss Granny, has already generated six different remakes.

The film has been remade in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, India and Japan featuring local stars.

The Vietnamese rendition, Sweet 20, in February became the country’s highest-grossing local film of all time.

Such attention has finally made Hollywood take notice, and Miss Granny will soon arrive stateside.

The Hollywood adaptation of Miss Granny is in early stage of production

The so-called Korean Wave is a cultural phenomenon that has been sweeping across Asia since the 1990s: it’s the love of pretty much everything that’s coming out of South Korea—from television dramas and movies to music and food.

But this love affair that has pervaded the East for the past decade had failed to make the leap across the Pacific to the United States. Until now.

Americans’ demand for Korean films and dramas is very much real—albeit online

‘Here in Hollywood, the hunt is on for new stories.

‘There are these stories coming out of Korea showing that they have global appeal, and this has people looking,’ says Angela Killoren, chief content officer at CJ E&M America, the US arm of the Korean entertainment giant behind Miss Granny.

Tyler Perry’s 34th Street Films will co-produce an English version of Miss Granny targeting the African-American community, while 3Pas Studios will produce a Spanish version tailored for Hispanic viewers in the US as well as across Central and South Americas.

Miss Granny isn’t the first Korean movie to be remade for American audiences.

Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, which put South Korea on the world cinema map when it won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, got a remake by Spike Lee in 2013.

The same year, Park himself made his Hollywood debut by directing his first English-language film, Stoker, a gothic horror starring Nicole Kidman, alongside Kim Jee-woon, who helmed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s big-screen comeback, The Last Stand.

A Hollywood remake of Kim’s noir actioner A Bittersweet Life is also currently underway.

 Meanwhile, online giant Netflix has been proactively expanding its library of Korean content

‘Timing and confluence of different events [are driving interest in Korean dramas and films],’ says Daniel Dae Kim, the Korean-American actor who runs production banner 3AD but is probably best known for his role in Lost.

‘K-pop is bigger than ever,’ he says. ‘There is awareness in the US of an international market, there is interest in intellectual property such as basing TV and films on books and foreign content, and there is also this emergence of Korean directors breaking into the US.’

Lost Serie TV Saison 2 2006 Jorge Garcia Naveen Andrews Matthew Fox Josh Holloway Daniel Dae Kim Yunjin Kim Evangeline Lilly Terry O Quinn Collection Christophel © Touchstone Television / ABC Studios / DR
Daniel Dae Kim, best known for his role in Lost

In 2014, US television network CBS announced plans to adapt Korean medical drama Good Doctor—with Kim set to produce—while The CW channel picked up the fantasy romcom Oh My Ghostess.

The same year, ABC bought remake rights for sci-fi romance My Love from the Star with Park Ji-eun, the creator of the original series, signing on as executive producer.

ABC also eyed an adaptation for time-travel thriller Nine: Nine Time Travels.

While none of these titles passed their initial pilot stage, Grandpas Over Flowers became the first non-scripted Korean format to be adapted by a US network.

William Shatner, Henry Winkler, George Foreman, Jeff Dye and Terry Bradshaw signed on to star in NBC’s travelogue reality series entitled Better Late Than Never, which first aired in the US in August 2016.

Moreover, Americans’ demand for Korean films and dramas is very much real—albeit online.

Internet platforms allowed a niche market to develop around the mid to late 2000s.

‘It’s still much more of a pure online base,’ says Suk Park, co-founder and president of DramaFever, a US-based website for streaming Korean dramas (it was recently acquired by Warner Bros).

New York City, USA. 24th July, 2016. NEW YORK, NY-July 24: Lily Collins shooting b-roll on location for Netflix & Plan B Enterainment film Okja in New York. NY July 24, 2016. Credit:RW/MediaPunch Credit: MediaPunch Inc/Alamy Live News
Lily Collins shooting b-roll on location for Netflix & Plan B Entertainment film Okja in New York

According to a November 2014 consumer research report by Korea Creative Content Agency USA, some 18 million viewers were watching the site.

Even short films on YouTube have been performing well in both territories, with videos like Marriot’s blockbusting Two Bellmen series racking up more than 13 million views on both continentswith the latest instalment seeing Ki Hong Lee and former Girls’ Generation star Jessica Jung trading action scenes in Seoul with American stars like William Spencer and Caine Sinclair.

Meanwhile, online giant Netflix has been proactively expanding its library of Korean content.

In November it bought distribution rights for the highly anticipated disaster film Pandora and the new TV soap White Nights.

Netflix has even gone on to launch its own original Korean series, Dramaworld—inspired by the very popularity of Korean dramas in the US.

It’s about a young American girl who loves Korean dramas so much that she is magically transported inside one of them.

‘The encouraging thing about Korean productions is that about 10 percent of our members have watched Korean content, and that’s a lot considering that we have over 80 million subscribers,’ says David Lee, vice president of international original productions at Netflix.

The network also made headlines for investing US$50 million in Bong Joon Ho’s upcoming film Okja, starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal and coming to theaters in 2017.

‘When the world thinks of great contemporary film directors, they think of Martin Scorsese, they think of Quentin Tarantino,’ says Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix. ‘After Okja they will start to think of Bong Joon Ho in that same list.’

Are you obsessed with Korean drama? Which one do you want to see Hollywood remake? Tell us below in the comment box.

Photos: Alamy

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