|A scene from AStory's hit series 'Extraordinary Attorney Woo' / Courtesy of ENA|
Series' remakes and adaptation deals underway
By Lee Gyu-lee
About half a year has passed since the legal drama series "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" became tremendously popular not only in Korea but also globally, topping Netflix's streaming chart for non-English drama series, for nine weeks following its release in June.
|Lee Sang-baek, the CEO of production company AStory / Courtesy of AStory|
"Our priority right now is the U.S. remake of the series, because of its huge market! There are about 10 other countries (considering doing a remake). At the end of last year, the webcomic adaptation was launched in the U.S. and we saw a positive outcome. And we also have a musical adaptation underway," the CEO said in a recent written interview with The Korea Times.
"As the deals are still coming through, I can't fully disclose, but I expect the greatest success of all time."
The series, about a newbie lawyer who is on the autism spectrum and tackling challenges in and beyond the courtroom, was recently nominated for the best foreign language series at this year's Critics Choice Awards. Although it failed to secure the win, which went to another Korean-language contender "Pachinko," it showed the potential of the homegrown studio's original series in the global marketplace, especially in the U.S., one of the world's largest entertainment scenes.
Founded in 2004, the production studio has given birth to some major series, like the 2016 thriller crime series "Signal," and the 2019 apocalyptic horror series "Kingdom," as well as the variety show "SNL Korea." The CEO shared that his previous experience with "Kingdom," Netflix's first Korean original series, has helped him understand the market and find the right, appealing content.
|A scene from Netflix series "Kingdom," created by production company AStory / Courtesy of Netflix|
"In the past, I've heard that 'Kingdom' was submitted for awards in the U.S. But it didn't make it to the nomination. I realized that for the work to see success, it needs to be in a mainstream genre, rather than a minor genre, to be nominated at the country's awards," he said.
"Success, here, means popularity from the public, to begin with. A series should also have an artistic value and be recognized for the depth of its story, and its message about society should be relatable. As I saw the list of nominees, I could grasp why those nominated works deserved to be applauded."
As Lee mentioned, "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" garnered popularity with its heartwarming story from the perspective of an autistic lawyer, navigating through prejudice and encountering different social issues through each court case.
"Extraordinary Attorney Woo," which aired through KT's affiliate channel, ENA, reached global audiences through Netflix. However, unlike Netflix's previous smash-hit Korean series "Squid Game" (2021), the series was made as a non-Netflix original series, allowing the production studio to secure the intellectual property (IP) rights of the series and its franchise.
The CEO expressed this has opened up an opportunity to experiment with how a series franchise could expand its success.
"Thanks to Netflix, the series could make it into the U.S.' award nomination and be dubbed and translated into different languages, which allow it to draw worldwide recognition in such a short period," he said. "But as the local series producer, I'm pleased to be the first case to hold the IP of this globally recognized series and have decision-making rights for other productions like musicals, webcomics, and follow-up seasons. It's an opportunity to see what kind of gains such a result will bring."
|A poster for the series 'Extraordinary Attorney Woo' / Courtesy of ENA|
"It is true that Netflix and other global OTTs have helped Korean culture and sentiment be delivered to overseas audiences and accepted by them. So we are doing our best to hunt for interesting elements (for the content) that are still yet unfamiliar in other countries, which could be period or sci-fi," he said, adding that the company is currently making a documentary of mountaineer Kim Young-mi, the first Korean and female Asian to reach the South Pole unassisted.
"We continue to invest in producing such meaningful projects, regardless of the genre … Our goal is to become Asia's best content studio. So we plan to expand our business to achieve the title. I hope to show a small production studio, which is far from a conglomerate affiliate or state-run company, growing into a well-established company in the motion-picture industry, like (K-pop powerhouses) SM, HYBE, JYP and YG."
The CEO candidly said that Korea's entertainment content market still has a long way to go to reach its peak, calling for structural assistance from the government.
"(Korean content) still has a long way to go for its quality, like the story and video techniques, to hit the highest level. There should be more active support from the government," he said. "Exporting culture is the easiest way to boost a positive image of a country, which will invigorate further exports of the goods made in Korea … if such a virtuous cycle is created, I think it will contribute to making a stronger reputation for the country."