Netflix Unveils Five Korean Original Series, One Film

'Chief of Staff'

The streamer's latest efforts to dig into the globally influential Korean content landscape include political thrillers, a spy action series and a high-concept romantic drama about a smartphone app that can detect the amorous feelings of people nearby.

Netflix lifted the curtain Friday on its lineup of original Korean content to come in the second half of 2019.

The streamer is set to add five Korean series and one Korean feature film to its platform, part of an ongoing push to become a go-to destination for K-drama fans around the globe. Although some of the titles are licensed from Korean broadcasters and others are produced in-house by Netflix, all of the shows will premiere as Netflix-branded originals.

"Netflix started adding Korean titles three years ago and we’ve seen how that has attracted new audiences who are discovering the Netflix viewing experience for their K-drama viewing,” said Minyoung Kim, director of international originals for Netflix in Korea.

Netflix has been bullish on Korean content since the service went fully global in 2016, because of the pre-existing popularity of Korean film and television drama worldwide. But the company has faced some challenges in building out its Korean content collection, as several of Seoul's largest production powerhouses, such as CJ E&M, have declined to license their locally popular shows and films to the foreign interloper.

Netflix achieved a breakthrough in 2018 with its Korean-language original Kingdom, a zombie series set during the Joseon dynasty. The show became a big hit, both domestically and internationally — something of a House of Cards moment for Netflix in Korea — drawing the interest of foreign Hallyu fans and driving Netflix's subscriber base in Korea to an estimated 2.4 million as of February 2019, almost five times the number for the same month last year, according to market research company Nielsen Koreanclick.

In April, Netflix rolled out trials of cheaper mobile-only subscription plans for Korea — as low as 6,500 won ($5.70) — in an effort to further boost local growth.

The company is now banking on its forthcoming local content lineup to continue the momentum in the difficult-to-crack Korean entertainment landscape.

Prominent on Netflix' summer slate is Chief of Staff, a drama series about the world of political aides, who are portrayed as the real players in politics and whose desire for power can sometimes be stronger than that of the lawmakers they serve. Directed by Kwak Jung-hwan (Ms. Hammurabi, The Slave Hunters) and written by Lee Dae-il (Life on Mars, Bring It On), the show stars Lee Jung-jae as the slyly ambitious chief of staff to the floor leader of a prominent Korean lawmaker, and Shin Min-ah as the gentle but resolute spokesperson for her party.

Produced by Korea's Next Entertainment World, the show launches on Netflix in most territories on Friday, the same day as its local broadcast debut on JTBC. 

The second K-drama series to launch on Netflix this summer will also be in the political thriller vein. The streamer has acquired the worldwide streaming rights to the Korean remake of eOne's hit series Designated Survivor. The Korean version is titled Designated Survivor: 60 Days and follows the main storyline of the original format, "but features more of the Korean reality," Netflix said.

The show follows a low-rung politician (played by Kiefer Sutherland in the original) who shoots from the position of Minister of Environment to President of Korea after an explosion at the National Assembly kills everyone in the cabinet who is more senior than him. The show stars Jin-hee (known to K-drama fans from the popular TV series Daejanggeum and Jewel in the Palace) as the scientist-turned-politician who must rapidly adapt to the cutthroat world of politics as acting president for 60 days, while also working to uncover the truth behind the deadly attack that put him there. The show launches on Netflix across most of the world on July 1.

On July 26, the second season renewal of Netflix's Korean youth romantic drama My First First Love will drop. Reuniting the first season's star cast — Ji soo, Jung Chae-yeon, Jinyoung, Kang Tae-oh and Choi Ri — the new season will continue to portray how the five characters grow as young adults, navigating love triangles and career ambitions.

Later in the summer, on August 22, Netflix will launch the first season of its new original series Love Alarm, a story of young friends in Seoul who find themselves "caught between what they truly desire and what a mobile app says they would want." The show's premise centers on an app that is designed to send an “alarm” when someone who has romantic feelings for you comes within a 10-meter radius. Love Alarm is based on a popular Korean webtoon of the same title by Chon Kye-young, whose other works like Unplugged Boy and Audition have a strong following in Korea.

Netflix's final Korean pickup for summer and fall is Vagabond, a spy action-drama series. The show tells the story of a stuntman, played by Lee Seung-gi, who gets involved in a tragic airplane crash and ends up discovering a national corruption scandal in the process. Directed by Yu In-sik, the action-heavy series shot in various locations outside Korea, such as Lisbon, Portugal and Morocco. It is scheduled to launch on Netflix sometime in September.

Netflix's Korean summer slate slate also includes filmmaker Jang Jae-hyun's latest feature, Svaha: The Sixth Finger, which launched on the platform on May 30. A mystery thriller, the film stars local icon Lee Jung-jae as a pastor who uncovers the murder of a young girl after he is hired to investigate a suspected religious cult. Produced by filmK, the film opened theatrically in Korea in February, earning $17.7 million.