Netflix’s bold two-season commission of “Kingdom” and the series’ global success have propelled screenwriter Kim Eun-hee to the front lines. But she is no newcomer to Korean TV drama. She says that the times have changed, and with it new story-telling and financial opportunities.
It has been reported that women represent 90% of screenwriters for Korean drama series. What attributes have led to such success?
“It’s true that there are a lot of female writers, but I didn’t know the numbers were that high. I’m also very curious. I personally deduce that, while (subjects have) become very diverse now, the genre that is most loved in Korea is romantic comedy. Wouldn’t female writers have an advantage in drawing a delicate sense of love? I think that’s why talented female writers may have emerged.
“In addition, in the case of daily dramas or family dramas where the main audience is female, female writers may have stood out because they can better portray the joys and sorrows of women who are vulnerable members of the family.
“However, as drama genres are gradually changing, I think that, rather than being bound by gender, writers specialized in each field are now emerging.”
What is your typical working process?
“My motto is to use my feet, not my head. For ‘Kingdom’ we focused on researching the Joseon Dynasty before writing the script. We would explore the towns and fortresses that actually existed in that era, and try running through the hanoks as zombies in a replica Joseon era folk village. And, while interviewing historians, I started working on the script by continuing to investigate the lives of the people at that time and the life of the palace.
“If I write simply from what I know, I can’t help but write like an ordinary woman in her fifties. I continue to interview experts, find materials, and try to reflect the era of the time and characters.”
You had been working on “Kingdom” since 2011. What was it about this idea that kept this concept going for such a long gestation?
“In 2011, it was hard to secure investments for zombie projects in Korea because zombie content was thought to be a sub-genre that only a few enthusiasts enjoy. Moreover, it was unimaginable for there to be a scene of someone getting decapitated on linear TV.
“My public television debut was a forensic drama called ‘Sign,’ but there was a lot of opposition, asking who would want to see a corpse being cut open with the whole family gathered at 10:00 p.m. Also, in the case of Korean dramas, the standards for broadcast review are strict, so scenes that are brutal or have stabbing are blurred.
“For all these reasons, it was almost impossible to create a zombie drama set in a historical period.
A film might have been different, but I think it would have been difficult for a zombie drama series to be made without a media company like Netflix. I would like to express my gratitude to the Netflix executives who worked hard together until the work we know as ‘Kingdom’ was created.”
What do you consider as your core skills: creative ideas? cartoon? team working?
“My family says I became a good writer because my butt is heavy. Once I sit in front of my laptop, I rarely get up. I wasn’t born a genius, but I think my persistence in trying to write a more interesting story somehow was the key to getting here. Also, I try to read a lot of books. This is because I can indirectly experience a country that I have never been to, a life and an era that I have only experienced superficially. My favorite books are humanities books that deal with history.”
How has the Korean entertainment scene changed as it has become more globally successful, and as production budgets have increased?
“It’s an opportunity to create works across diverse genres. In the past, a drama like ‘Kingdom’ or the sci-fi movie ‘Space Sweepers’ released on Netflix, would’ve been hard to get made. Also, I think it has provided an environment where creators can make choices not limited to their genres. I hope that a new path can be opened for creators who dream of non-mainstream material that traditional investors do not favor.”
Which woman in the entertainment industry (talent, executive, etc.) might you describe as a personal hero or role model?
“My concern these days is how long I’ll be able to do creative work. I want to write until I die, but that’s not entirely up to me. I sometimes get anxious about whether I can keep thinking of new things or if my mind is slowing. When I feel that way, I look at (“Minari” actor) Yoon Yeo-jung. She is a Korean actress who is still walking an unrivaled path. It is always admirable to see someone challenge and expand their boundaries, with their unique color, regardless of age.”