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NYT Syndicate
we mostly get our foreign films through a filter: the filter of art. The movies of Philippe Garrel, for instance, are far outside the mainstream of contemporary French cinema, but festivals and the efforts of boutique distributors likely will make you more conscious of his (very excellent) oeuvre than you will be about the Ast`rix and Ob`lix movies many French families eat up.
Streaming video services are beginning to change that. I spent some time recently looking into the sites DramaFever, Kocowa and Viki, all of which specialise in entertainment from Asia, notably South Korea, and got a hefty sampling of movies, TV dramas and variety shows. (DramaFever and Viki have content from China as well.)
All three sites offer some of their content free with commercials; premium plans, which yield ad-free content, go for $49.99 a year or $4.99 a month on DramaFever and Viki; and 99 cents a day, $6.99 a month, or $69.99 a year for Kocowa, which includes fresh shows a few hours after they are broadcast in South Korea. The movies you can find at these sites are for the most part genuine pop, as in popular, products that often are not exported.
The main draw of DramaFever and Kocowa is South Korean television fare. DramaFever, as its name implies, concentrates on serial dramas, many of them romances that often are like high-end soap operas with eccentric (by Western standards) plots and vivaciously slick production values. They're strangely addictive. I have more than one acquaintance who has dived into binge-inspiring series such as 'Boys Over Flowers', about a female scholarship student at an elite Korean high school who is taken under the wings, sort of, of the academy's four most privileged male students. ('Boys Over Flowers' is approaching its 10th anniversary, so there are a lot of episodes for the watching.)
DramaFever began in 2009 and was recently acquired by Warner Bros. Kocowa, which started in the United States in July, is a joint venture of the South Korean broadcasters KBS (the national broadcasting company), MBC (which owns the most popular variety/game show in South Korea,"Infinite Challenge") and SBS, which specialises in youth-oriented programming.
Viki, which is owned by Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant, is certainly the most dizzyingly eclectic. On an iOS device, it lists more than 300 movies under the"popular" designation alone, and quite a variety of them. The late-period John Wayne Western McClintock is listed next to the 2016 Chinese comedy Crazy Nurse, while John Ford's 1934 Judge Priest, starring Will Rogers, sits next to the Bengali movie Naughty Professor. The site is robustly interactive, featuring a live comment function on screen while you're watching a movie.
There are close to 200 movies now on DramaFever, not many of which were American art-house items, the director Hong Sang-soo's 2009 Woman on the Beach being a notable exception. A few days before getting into the site, I had read a newspaper article about Tang Wei, the Chinese actress who starred in Ang Lee's 2007 drama, Lust, Caution, which earned her a two-year state-ordered hiatus from filmmaking. The article addressed her gradual comeback, and I was able to find one of the films discussed, the 2010 romantic drama Late Autumn, on DramaFever.
Kocowa's chief executive, Jeongsik Kim, explained an unusual feature of South Korean productions: why there was so much more segregation between TV and film talent, at least behind the camera. Speaking through an interpreter, he said in a phone interview that it had to do with differences in production practices. Most of the directors of TV shows are employees of the broadcast companies, which have their own production facilities, separate studios where there's no back-and-forth between film and television.
Kocowa does not feature movies yet, as it concentrates on programmes, but you can find American celebrities on some of its game and variety shows. For instance, Jack Black appeared as an impish ringmaster of a fake-film audition segment of 'Infinity Challenge'. Such cross-pop-cultural currents are, like the serials on DramaFever, unusually gripping and potentially harmful to one's personal productivity.
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