A new door has opened for CJ ENM's 2019 scripted drama "Trap", which is being adapted for the international market in a move that shines another light on Korean stories that "look around corners that we don't normally look at in American television". Starlings Television president, Chris Philip, spoke to ContentAsia about the latest Asian title making its way onto the global stage.
When L.A.-based indie production house Starlings Television partnered with Korean-American action star Don Lee and his Korean production house Gorilla 8 Productions on an English-language international version of CJ ENM's scripted drama "Trap", yet another step was taken into a class of global filmmaking unafraid of the dark, unencumbered by traditional funding or thinking, unconcerned with specific geographies.
"Trap", says Starlings Television president Chris Philip, was the right format at the right time that could be packaged in the right way.
The international version, "The Club", stars Lee as a veteran detective investigating a mysterious group of hunters who have attacked a famous news anchor and his family while on a camping trip. The detective, who lost his own son in a hit-and-run, finds himself mired in a twisted mystery orchestrated by an elite and powerful group with disturbing appetites. He slowly learns that, in this case, nothing is as it seems and killers are hiding in plain sight.
The series is being pitched to platforms around the world with Jack LoGiudice ("Sons of Anarchy", "The Walking Dead", "Narcos", "House of Cards") on board as writer/showrunner and Philip, along with Starlings Entertainment chief executive Karine Martin, as executive producers.
Like the model used for "Departure" (2019), production will go ahead without many of the above-the-line commitments that passed as normal in the past, Philip says.
“Our plan is to consider options across the globe...There are ways to make every show with an independent model,” he adds.
Of all the scripted shows in the world Starlings could have chosen to adapt, Philip says he chose "Trap" because "it has all the elements of what we think is trending now", including a compelling central character. “We don't quite know what's going on in the detective's head, we don't know the investigator's motives. There's a dark past but there's clearly an objective”.
In "Trap", he found a "different kind of investigator... a detective with a personal agenda and an inner rage that is controlled until it can't be controlled anymore. He knows in advance of us what he has uncovered but we don't know what he's thinking. That's the beauty of the format”.
The series "really keeps you guessing... it peels the onion slowly". And, like many of its fellow Korean dramas, "it looks around corners that we don't normally look at in American television... shines a light on things that you just don't normally shine a light on".
Philip, who in the show announcement on 20 April described Korean drama as "delightfully shocking", is betting on robust viewer appetite for the guessing game and says darker serialised drama has found a successful home on global streaming services. “This is not a trend that will end anytime soon," he says. “Viewers want to see things they haven't see before, and this show delivers that."
Don Lee – who plays Eternal Gilgamesh in Marvel's "Eternals" – was the first and only choice for the lead role, Philip says. “We never really considered anyone else. He's the right guy for it regardless of where he is from.”
Speaking about forging “the path to creating more meaningful, cross-cultural storytelling opportunities", Chris S. Lee, Gorilla 8 Productions' head of production and CEO of talent management and production agency B&C Content, says the adaptation will provide a "nuanced, fresh take on the original Korean format for a global audience". Don Lee and Chris Lee are partners in Gorilla 8 Productions.
The most significant adjustment to the original script is the pacing, Philip says. Whatever other plot changes (and he's not saying there were any) remain under wraps for now, along with the forecast production timeline.
Starlings envisions "The Club" as a multi-season property. "It has a collection of individuals who are incredibly dark and incredibly powerful ... each season will continue with the same investigator but a different case," Philip says.
And therein lies any show's biggest challenge. "The first season is pretty clear... the challenge – as for all shows – will be in sustaining success across multiple seasons," he adds.
The original Korean version ran for a single season. Philip says he was not influenced in the slightest by the ratings in Korea. The seven-episode original Korean series, produced by Film Monster, aired on Korea’s OCN channel in February/March 2019, with Sung Dong-il as the veteran detective with uncanny instincts and Lee Seo-jin as the successful anchorman with a perfect family life. The series ended with unimpressive average ratings of 3.294% across the full seven-part series, with the highest of 3.992% for the final episode. (nationwide, AGB Nielsen).
Rather, he says, "the format spoke to me".
Published in ContentAsia May 2021 magazine