After a rocky start with Netflix, I’m now coming round to it. I started subscribing to the online service in order to watch Okja, the Netflix-only feature film by director Bong Joon-ho. Although that particular experience was a big disappointment, I continued the subscription in case I was tempted by any of the other movies it had on offer. After all, it’s only the price of a couple of coffees per month.
Since then, I have watched only a handful of movies, often underwhelmed by the selection, though occasionally happy to catch one or two things that I’d been wanting to see for a while and had never got around to. Alas, I was not quick enough to catch that guilty pleasure, not available on DVD, Ryu seung-wan’s Austin Powers meets the Manchurian Western, Dachimawa Lee. That one stayed online for far too brief a time.
But now the channel is beginning to turn out content that people are talking about. Foremost among these is the TV drama Kingdom, a kind of Dae Jang Geum with zombies, with Bae Doo-na in the Lee Young-ae role and directed by Kim Sung-hun (Tunnel, A Hard Day). It’s a shame that Bae has not been given more to do, but the focus of the series is less on the cooking and herbal medicine and more on the politics: the life-or-death struggle between the Crown Prince (played by Joo Ji-hoon) and the powerful Haewon Cho clan headed by the manipulative Lord Cho (Ryu Seung-ryong). In fact some have seen, in Kingdom, a thinly veiled reference to the leadership crisis in Samsung: an ailing King / founding father is suffering from a serious sickness and is being kept alive, away from the public eye, until the succession can be secured for the desired heir.
Whatever the truth of that analysis, the series has certainly caught viewers’ enthusiasm (mine included) for its production values and settings (part of the fun watching it is seeing if you recognise some of the locations used) and has spawned learned articles such as the one on Joseon dynasty headwear that appeared in the Korea JoongAng daily. Viewers are now waiting for the second series to see whether the frisky undead hordes in Gyeongsang Province will eat their way through Mungyeong Saejae all the way to the capital. You can find a nice interview with screenwriter Kim Eun-hee here).
Another TV drama, Memories of the Alhambra, which has been online for slightly longer, has also received some good word of mouth.
And now, with Kpop idol IU featuring in Persona, a set of four short films by noted directors – Lee Kyoung-mi (The Truth Beneath), Im Pil-seong (Hansel and Gretel), Jeon Go-woon (Microhabitat) and Kim Jong-kwan (The Table) – there’s even more buzz to tempt subscribers in. I’ll certainly be following IU’s performance, particularly in Jeon Go-woon’s contribution.
I’m just waiting for Netflix to get everyone hooked, then triple its prices. I hope it doesn’t happen.
All images courtesy Netflix.