Top movie stars heat up clash of global streaming titans

Several local platforms join race for original content

Lee Si-jin

Lee Si-jin

The Korea Herald


Kim Hye-soo plays the role of a stern judge in “Juvenile Justice.” (Netflix)

February 22, 2022

SEOUL – Global streaming service Netflix, which launched in South Korea in 2015, has been enjoying the first-mover’s advantage, with its megahit “Kingdom” series, which debuted in 2019, among its successes.

Looking to strengthen its foothold in the country, Netflix is scheduled to release long-awaited top actor Kim Hye-soo’s streaming debut “Juvenile Justice” on Friday. But Netflix rivals Disney+ and Apple TV+ are close on its heels, seeking to challenge Netflix’s reign in South Korea with original series starring big names: Oscar-winner Youn Yuh-jung and veteran actor Choi Min-sik.

But Netflix will fire the first salvo in the clash of original Korean content this week with its 10-episode court drama.

Helmed by director Hong Jong-chan, “Juvenile Justice” presents Kim Hye-soo as a stern judge who despises law-breaking youths. Netflix’s upcoming legal drama seeks to portray truth that is stranger than fiction at a time when there is growing debate in the country about punishment for juvenile offenders.

Though seemingly unstoppable, hitting one home run after another with recent global hits “Squid Game,” “My Name,” “Hellbound,” “The Silent Sea” and “All of Us Are Dead,” the Netflix empire faces a real challenge from “Pachinko” of Apple TV+ and “Casino” from Disney+.

Returning to a drama series after nearly four years since 2019’s “Never Twice,” Youn, who won an Oscar in 2021 for playing “not a real grandma” in Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” plays the role of an ethnic Korean in Japan in Apple TV+’s “Pachinko.” Based on a novel of the same title by Korean American author Min Jin Lee, the series depicts the struggles and discrimination faced by four generations of “Zainichi,” as ethnic Koreans in Japan are called.

The first three episodes will premiere globally on Apple TV+ on March 25. Each subsequent episode of the eight-part series releases weekly on Friday.

The series will be told in three languages — English, Japanese and Korean.

Youn Yuh-jung stars as an ethnic Korean in Japan in “Pachinko.” (Apple TV+)

After entering the Korean streaming service market in November 2021, Disney+ is preparing to challenge its competition head-on with Choi Min-sik’s first return to a television project in 24 years. His last TV drama was soap opera “Love and Separation” in 1997.

“Casino,” a crime-action series directed by Kang Yoon-sung, known for 2017 hit film “The Outlaws,” stars veteran actor Choi as a casino mogul returning to the game by putting his life at stake. Heo Sung-tae and Kim Joo-ryung, who rose to stardom playing the respective roles of Player No. 101 and Player No. 212 in “Squid Game” will reunite in “Casino.”

Though the release date has not yet been set, the 16-part series is already regarded as the biggest project among Disney+’s Korean originals that are being released this year — “Rookie Cops,” “Grid,” “Kiss Sixth Sense” and “Moving” — with Choi bringing his “Oldboy” fame and credibility to the lineup.

Choi Min-sik in crime-action series “Casino,” from Disney+ (The Korea Herald)

Meanwhile, local streaming platforms will also seek to continue their steady growth with unique original content.

Though widely used as a platform to livestream shows airing on traditional TV, Wavve began to stake out a position in the streaming market for unique original series. Though the record was later broken by “Going to the Blue House Like This,” comedy-drama “You Raise Me Up,” released in August 2021, marked the highest number of new viewers and viewing time upon its premiere for the local streaming platform.

Both series ranked among the top five in the drama series chart more than three weeks after release, attracting new subscribers with new and unique content, such as a character with erectile dysfunction and a timely political satire.

As of January, Wavve had 1.76 million subscribers, marking a 17 percent on-year increase, according to data compiled by research firm Mobileindex Insight. The service is betting that original series, such as the second season of “Tracer,” an action series set at the National Tax Service.

Another local streaming platform, Tving is seeking to chase the global powerhouses with webtoon-based series, such as “Yumi’s Cells” and “Work Later, Drink Now,” both released last year.

The number of paid subscribers rose by 256 percent in 2021, according to the company, which attributed the growth to its original content.

Tving is relying on comic-based series, such as “Dr. Park’s Clinic,” “I’ll Give It My All … Tomorrow,” and the second seasons of “Yumi’s Cells” and “Work Later, Drink Now.”

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