A Film Update - 2/14/2022
Love, Leashes, and Longevity
This week saw the worldwide Netflix release of Love and Leashes, a romantic comedy that’s more-or-less a primer on BDSM culture presented in as wholesome and family-friendly a way as possible. I review the movie in more aesthetic detail here, although in this newsletter I’m more interested in a different question. Namely, why isn’t Love and Leashes more popular, when the ongoing success of the zombie high school series All of Us Are Dead on Netflix seems to suggest there’s a big international demand for South Korean cultural content?
Well, probably the biggest, most blatant reason is that serial TV style shows in general tend to do much better on Netflix than movies do. We can probably thank the site structure for this. Netflix tends to make it easier to continue programs a person has already started watching than to try and find new ones. TV shows also have more useful data for the viewing algorithms than movies do, just because the extended length results in the creation of more data by definition. Then there’s the whole expectation that movies should be serious big-budget affairs. The goofy Michael Bay Benghazi dramatization 13 Hours has been all over the international leaderboards this week despite being five years old just because it’s available on the platform at all.
13 Hours has been especially popular in the South Korean market, which somewhat obliquely gives a hint as to why South Korean movies aren’t doing so great on Netflix. They just don’t have the right energy. The South Korean film market, much like South Korean culture in general, has been taking more cues from American culture completely oblivious to the fact that people like South Korean cultural content precisely because its radically different from comparable American products.
To this day I remain baffled at the disaster that is the original Netflix film Space Sweepers, from the director of End of Animal and A Werewolf Boy. These were fresh, understated takes on the post-apocalyptic and supernatural romance genres that still hold up. Yet Space Sweepers is a bloated sci-fi epic with a needlessly complicated story that detracts from the characterization. It’s the exact same issue that’s infected similar American stories in recent years. Other Netflix Korea movies like Night in Paradise have the exact opposite problem- appealing so hard to yesterday’s film festival crowd of South Korean culture aficionados that the gangster noir didn’t have much of an audience anywhere else.
#ALIVE remains the most popular South Korean Netflix film to date, though that zombie flick movie is somewhat hilariously technically a remake of the almost completely forgotten American film Alone. #ALIVE had the subtle advantage of actually being designed for the domestic South Korean box office, and its appeal in that market translated into Netflix success in a way original Netflix films haven’t. But as I’ve written before, the South Korean box office didn’t really produce any winners at all last year- so it’s hardly Netflix’s fault they haven’t been able to poach any new ones. Really, as mediocre as the results may be, Netflix is probably producing more influential South Korean film right now than the South Korean box office. But that’s much more an indictment of the latter than praise of the former.