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How Kim Eun-hee is bringing South Korean drama into a new era

Written by Liz kangJane Sit, CNN

The first time Kim Eun-hee tried to write a love story, the film failed. “I realized romance wasn’t working for me,” she said.

Not surprisingly – the South Korean screenwriter famous for the historic zombie epic “Kingdom” has a rather pessimistic view of love.

“Doesn’t all love expire in about three years? Does true love even exist? I pretty much think of it that way,” she told CNN. “I don’t think I can write scripts that make people’s hearts beat.”

Today, more than 15 years after his attempt at a romantic film, Kim’s job as a television writer is to provide a sort of “catharsis” to his audiences. But, she said, “I don’t want to give too many false hopes that appear in dramas.”

She talks about genres and tropes that many Korean TV shows are traditionally known for – romantic comedies and melodramas that some say include rather unrealistic depictions of love.

Kim’s stories tend to be about social issues, including crime, class division, and politics. “I want to write about how vice is punished … poetic justice,” she explained.

His 2019 Netflix series “Kingdom” explored these themes with a 15th-century zombie twist. Set against the backdrop of a zombie outbreak in South Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, “Kingdom” features the epic journey of the Crown Prince as he searches for the cause of the outbreak.

“Kingdom” special effects assistant raises the living dead

According to director Kim Seong-hoon, stories like “Kingdom” have changed Korean dramas, bringing the thriller genre into the mainstream.

Korean cinema has a long history of national success, but in recent years it has become increasingly popular with international audiences. In 2020, the movie “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and the growth of streaming services has provided a platform for Korean shows to make their way into them. trade shows around the world.

“Squid Game” has become Netflix’s most popular show, and the importance of streaming has given new importance to the role of screenwriter.

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Netflix made Kim Eun-hee one of its first creative partners in South Korea, and the streaming service claims to have invested nearly $ 500 million in Korean content in 2021 alone. “She is the cutting edge. spear, ”said Keo Lee, director of Korean original series for Netflix. “What I admire most about her is her belief in the strength of a good story.”

A “scary imagination”

Kim’s storytelling prowess has long been recognized in South Korea, and roles on her shows are coveted. Actor Jeon Suk-ho credits “Kingdom” with a turning point in his career. “It seems to show exactly what the power of writing is,” he told CNN.

This sentiment is also shared by popular actors Ju Ji-hoon and Gianna Jun, both principal in the series “Kingdom”, as well as in Kim’s latest drama “Mount Jiri”.

Kim’s shows often feature a set of characters with individual stories, which combine to make her work complex and fascinating. “Kim Eun-hee’s writing is very difficult to play as an actor,” Ju said. “Although his scripts are easy to read, the roles are not easy to play,” he added, due to their many layers.

Jun said that while she always loved watching Kim’s shows, some of the “spooky and brutal scenes” surprised her when she started working with Kim. “Every time I look at her, I think, where could that scary imagination come from?”

“Anyone can write a script”

Released in October 2021, “Mount Jiri” depicts the life of mountain rangers and hikers on South Korea’s second highest mountain. While researching the script, Kim tried to climb the mountain to better understand why people go. It did not turn out as she had hoped.

“I’m afraid of heights, afraid of insects, and I also have a weak body, so I found myself in distress in the middle of the mountain,” she recalls. “Eventually I ended up spending a night at a nearby shelter. It was very difficult for me, but seeing the night sky full of stars gave me confidence in writing this screenplay.”

Writer Kim Eun-hee attends the “Kingdom” premiere with the cast on January 21, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea. Credit: Woohae Cho / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images for Netflix

For Kim, the dedication she puts into her job shows in the details, and while the job can be tough at times, she feels rewarded when viewers compliment her shows. “This kind of feeling is very addicting.”

Despite her own worldwide success, Kim believes anyone can become a screenwriter. “I didn’t get good grades as a college student, and my social skills weren’t very good either. I wasn’t really good at anything,” she said. “If you’re interested in people, whether you’re male or female, you can become a great screenwriter.”


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