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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Disney+ thriller series ‘Connect’ connects Korean producer, Japanese director

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Song Jin-sun, chief producer at Studio Dragon [JOONGANG ILBO]
Song Jin-sun, chief producer at Studio Dragon [JOONGANG ILBO]

“We’re in a generation of streaming services, and it’s all about portrayal. We needed someone who would be able to express this matter by pushing boundaries, which is why we asked to work with Takashi Miike, and he positively responded three days later. He asked us how we knew that he’d be the best man for the job.”

This is what Song Jin-sun, chief producer at Studio Dragon, said regarding the upcoming Disney+ original series “Connect,” which is the first Korean drama to be directed by a Japanese filmmaker.

Known for creating works that cover genres of horror, thriller, and comedy all at the same time, Miike is considered a genius when it comes to depicting bizarre mutilations. This is his first time directing a drama series.

“Connect” is based on a webtoon of the same name, which was published between 2019 and 2020 by cartoonist Shin Dae-sung.

The protagonist, who was assassinated, mysteriously comes back to life but with one eye missing. He then finds he has the ability to “connect” with the person who received his eye transplant and uses that source of information to seek revenge on his assassin.

The series adaptation produced by Studio Dragon will star actors Jung Hae-in, Ko Kyoung-pyo, and Kim Hye-jun.

“Connect,” which consists of six episodes, premiered its first and second episodes at the Busan International Film Festival last month.

The fact that a Korean production has been created hand in hand with a foreign director is meaningful in that Korean culture continues to spread overseas.

This follows in the footsteps of the Korean film “Broker” (2022), which was directed by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda.

From left, Japanese director Takashi Miike, actors Jung Hae-in, Kim Hye-jun and Ko Kyoung-pyo, during a screening of the Disney+ original series ″Connect″ at the Busan International Film Festival on Oct. 7. [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]
From left, Japanese director Takashi Miike, actors Jung Hae-in, Kim Hye-jun and Ko Kyoung-pyo, during a screening of the Disney+ original series ″Connect″ at the Busan International Film Festival on Oct. 7. [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]

Producer Song told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, last month that “there is more and more Korean content being made in collaboration with foreign directors.”

“Since its planning stage, ‘Connect’ initially intended to illustrate ‘Asia Extreme,’” Song added.

Asia Extreme refers to a collective label created by a British distributor in the early 2000s, used to introduce Asian movies to the European market. At the time, it was mainly comprised of explicit horror and thrillers from directors like Park Chan-wook, Kim Ki-duk, Kim Jee-woon, and Miike.

“Connect” hopes to garner international fans of Asian films and dramas, to prepare its place in the overseas market, Song said.

Even before “Connect,” Song participated in producing drama series that were webtoon adaptations, like tvN’s “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim” (2018), “True Beauty” (2020-21) and “Avengers Social Club” (2017). Song said that she continues to choose these webtoon-based series in order to expand each webtoon piece’s universe.

“It’s not only a matter of transplanting an organ [in the plot for ‘Connect’], but contemplating how we can actually convey the character’s connection ability,” Song said. “While working on Season 1, Miike and I discussed the possibility of season two. We talked about the fundamental questions; like why this ability of connection came to be and continued to expand the storyline.”

Actor Jung Hae-in stars in the upcoming Disney+ original series ″Connect,″ set to premiere on the streaming platform in December. [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]
Actor Jung Hae-in stars in the upcoming Disney+ original series ″Connect,″ set to premiere on the streaming platform in December. [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]

Miike made his debut in the film scene as Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura’s (1926-2006) assistant director. He later found stardom through the anthology horror film “Three… Extremes” (2004), which he worked on with Hong Kong director Fruit Chan and director Park.

Miike’s films, which often depict bloody killings, tend to elicit questions regarding the foundation of humanity. Song said that she especially liked Miike’s 2012 horror film “Lesson of the Evil,” which is an adaptation of a 2010 Japanese novel of the same name.

It centers on a teacher who tries to murder her entire class of students in a high school that frequently deals with problems of bullying and sexual harassment.

“I felt like it would be interesting and fresh if ‘Connect’ could be portrayed in a tone similar to that of ‘Lesson of the Evil,’” Song said.

For “Connect,” it took Song, along with the screenwriter, about a year and a half to develop the scenario. Miike, with another Japanese screenwriter, sent over a rough draft of their scenario to Song, and the pair then worked together to finalize it. There were a few problems in communication as Song is fluent in Japanese.

Asked if there were any conflicts while working together, Song mentioned one instance. When Song was trying to broaden the webtoon’s plot, Miike had been reluctant to break away from the cliché elements of Korean dramas.

“I told him, ‘The reason I want to work with you is that you’ve done low-budget movies that proved to be entertaining through its goriness,’” Song said. “’Please tell us what you’re thinking right on the spot, instead of worrying about the typical format of Korean or Japanese dramas.’”

Overcoming the communication hiccup, toward the end of the production process, Song and Miike were able to ping-pong opinions to each other easily, Song added. “This is a piece that helped me, as a producer, churn out creativity while working with Miike.

“I think we were able to finish this show because Miike was always open; he never said ‘no,’” Song continued. “Also, I want to share my gratitude toward cinematographer Kim Ji-yong and the other production crew members.”

BY NA WON-JEONG [kjdculture@joongang.co.kr]