If You Like This American Series… You’ll Love its K-drama Remake
If you’re loving the influx of fabulously inventive Korean programs streaming everywhere, you may latch on to some K-drama designer imposters – i.e., remakes – of popular US TV shows.
The storyline will be familiar, but check out how each series’ concept has been adapted with an Asian flavour and a Korean audience in mind. If you’re looking for something fun and easy on the brain for a summer watch, any of these could be the ticket. Choose your genre.
For the skim-readers out there, we’ve headlined drama points so you can get straight to watching. If you’re keen to know a little more, we’ve got links to full reviews where we’ve got ‘em.
Ready for more great Korean dramas? Let’s go!
18 Again (17 Again)
Romantic comedy | Family focus | Love triangle
Based on the Zac Efron-led film 17 Again (Netflix), 18 Again (Netflix, Viu) is about a marriage in crisis. Head-in-the-sand husband Hong Dae-young (Yoon Sang-hyun – Ms. Perfect, Shopping King Louie) wishes to go back in time and with a bit of shamanic magic, finds his clock turned back.
Trying to keep his now-younger self under the radar, he poses as a student in an effort to live his dream and stay close to his high-school aged twins. Lee Do-hyun (Sweet Home, Youth of May, Melancholia) plays the 18-year-old Dae-young and Kim Ha-neul (Kill Heel, The Wind Blows, On the Way to the Airport) is present day ex-wife and love interest.
Stretching a movie plot to a 16-episode series means there are quite a few additional plot-points and characters. But the series stays true to the story-line and Director Ha Byung-hoon does a great job maintaining continuity in this series that maintains the fun as it time-swaps its way through 16 episodes.
Legal drama | Buddy dynamic | Romantic sub-plot
Suits (Tubi) completely aligns to its predecessor, about a fake lawyer with a photographic memory. Having self-studied law but not taken the exam, he blags his way into a job at a prestigious law firm because he’s just that good.
The US series (Prime) that brought Meghan Markle to the fore, bases its action on the relationship between fake lawyer Go Yeon-woo (Park Hyung-sik – Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, Juror 8, Hwarang) and win-at-all-costs lawyer Choi Kang-seok (Jang Dong-gun – Arthdal Chronicles, A Gentleman’s Dignity, Rampant).
While the relationship between Harvey and Mike is wonderful in the US version, Kang-seok and Yeon-woo absolutely match it in charm, energy and chemistry. Bonus, there’s a Japanese Suits (2018) as well.
Woori the Virgin (Jane the Virgin/Juana la Virgen)
Romantic comedy | Less telenovela, more k-drama | Love triangle
True to the circumstances of the original, Woori the Virgin (Viki), follows Oh Woo-Ri (Im Soo-hyang – My ID is Gangnam Beauty, Doctor Lawyer, Graceful Family), an assistant drama series writer who is dating Detective Lee Gang-Jae (Shin Dong-wook – Now, We Are Breaking Up, Dr. Romantic 2).
Oh Woo-Ri, who intended to remain chaste until marriage, accidentally receives an insemination procedure instead of her scheduled medical exam. The biological father of the baby, Raphael, (Sung Hoon – Are We in Love?, Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce), Level Up, My Secret Romance) is a playboy turned business man who is very keen to keep his progeny.
Triangle set, let the romantic comedy begin. Especially fun as an imported script, it refreshingly doesn’t take the typical K-drama path. Jane the Virgin (Netflix) is, in turn, a remake of the Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen.
The Good Wife (The Good Wife)
Legal drama | Strong female lead | Romantic sub-plot
When prosecutor husband Yoo Ji-tae, (Lee Tae-joon – The Swindlers, Healer, Mad Dog, When My Love Blooms), falls from the top, he takes his family down with him in an affair/political scandal. Unassuming wife Jeon Do-yeon, (Kim Hye-kyung – Hostage: Missing Celebrity, Ashfall, Beasts Clawing at Straws), who studied law, must now resume her career after a 15-year hiatus to take on the responsibility of her family plus Ji-tae’s legal bills.
Former classmate with a crush, Yoon Kye-sang (Seo Jung-won – Spiritwalker, The Bacchus Lady) gets her a gig at his firm, keeping tabs and helping her just a bit. It’s a similar set up to the US The Good Wife (Prime), but dives in a bit faster, telling the tale in a mere 16 episodes. Lucky for us, if you like the set-up, it’s another one with a Japanese version, this one more recent from 2019.
Designated Survivor: 60 Days (Designated Survivor)
Political drama | Crime/disaster | Family sub-plot
Park Moo-jin (Ji Jin-hee – Move to Heaven, Undercover, Misty) is a former science professor, now raised to the role of Environment Minister. On the day he’s meant to be fired from the government, an explosion kills government officials, including the President. Park Moo-jin is the highest-ranking government officer left alive and now he must calm a country in panic as the acting president for the next 60 days.
If you’ve watched Kiefer Sutherland’s Designated Survivor, you know there’s a lot in how this character is portrayed. Ji Jin-hee does not let us down and neither does the cliff-hanger filled plot and special effects. Son Seok-koo (DP, My Liberation Notes, Casino) stands out as his advisor. Both versions are available on Netflix.
Criminal Minds (Criminal Minds)
Police/crime drama | Strong female leads | Violent, rated 15+
An investigation team profiles the wanted in action, attempting to anticipate and thwart each criminal’s next move. The team is comprised of high-level specialists including characters played by Lee Joon-gi (Again My Life, Flower of Evil, Lawless Lawyer), Son Hyun-joo (The Good Detective, Tracer, Jesters: The Game Changers), Moon Chae-won (Flower of Evil, Floor, Good Doctor – see mini-review below), Yoo Sun (Eve, Good Morning, Our Gap Soon), Lee Sun-bin (Work Later, Drink Now; Sketch, Mission: Possible ) and Go Yoon (Love in Time, Farewell Restaurant, Love in Memory).
This one feels a lot like the quick pace and tone of the US Criminal Minds (Prime) and is based on Season 3.
Dramedy | Entertainment industry | Best friends
Comedy-drama about life in the entertainment industry. This is the story of an up-and-coming celebrity who depends on three friends plus agency boss who try to help him navigate the industry and his life.
Starring Seo Kang-joon (When the Weather is Fine, WATCHER, Cheese in the Trap) and Park Jung-min (Money Game, Hellbound, Start-Up movie) they’re best friends in an unbalanced work relationship in a tricky industry. Catch it on Disney+ and the US version on Prime.
Action/crime drama | mystery | strong female characters
Lee Dong-gun (Angel’s Last Mission: Love, Where Stars Land, Queen for Seven Days), plays a former insurance investigator who forms a team of con artists to target swindlers. But that’s not how they start. The up-til-now squeaky investigator’s career is thrown into the air as he tries to save his son who needs a test drug to survive, but finds himself the victim of a scam. He builds the team of familiar criminals who, because of his manner during previous run-ins, they respect him.
All fooled by the con, the death of their leader’s child ignites a fire in the team to stop criminals who manage to slip through legal cracks. Yeo Hoe-hyun (A Love So Beautiful, Secret Crushes, Solomon’s Perjury) is particularly delightful as the hacker. Find both versions on Prime.
Romance is a Bonus Book (Younger)
Romantic comedy | younger guy/older woman | love triangle
Dan-i’s (Lee Na-young – Beautiful Days, The Fugitive: Plan B) husband abandons her leaving her in debt and homeless. As she tries to get a job and rebuild her life, she finds the door slammed in her face because of her age, work gap and situation. She’s too worn down to even tell her super-successful childhood friend and instead builds a lie to catch a break.
But that friend (Lee Jong-suk – Hymn of Death, While You Were Sleeping, W) continues to stand by her, gently paving the way wherever he can. Based on the seven-season series Younger (Paramount+, Hulu) which was in-turn based on a novel of the same name, Romance is a Bonus Book can be found on Netflix.
Soon to come: Little Women (Aug 2022)
Family drama | sisterhood | female leads
A modernized Korean adaptation of the well-loved novel and more recent movies, Little Women, is coming to Netflix this year. It will feature a trio of sisters – Kim Go-eun (Yumi’s Cells, The Guardian, The King: Eternal Monarch), Nam Ji-hyun (Suspicious Partner, 100 Days My Prince) and Park Ji-hu (All of Us Are Dead) – who’ve grown up in poverty, each taking a different perspective and goal from the experience as they grow and make life choices.
Love interest and childhood friend – the Laurie character – is played by Wi Ha-joon (Squid Game, Romance is a Bonus Book, 18 Again). Tension is introduced through a ‘major incident,’ as if three sisters would need an incident. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. The 12-episode story is slated to land on 27 August through 2 October, so clear your calendar.
Meanwhile, Asian TV isn’t alone in spotting a great story idea and turning it into local viewing. Western drama The Good Doctor was ripped from a K-drama original, Good Doctor.
Good Doctor (The Good Doctor)
Hospital drama | autism/savant | romantic sub-plot
Park Si-on (Joo Won – Alice, My Sassy Girl, Naeil’s Cantabile) is a savant on the autism spectrum with genius-level memory and keen spatial skills. He becomes a paediatric surgery resident, where he faces conflict with peers and patients who tend to see him as robotic rather than empathetic when it comes to interactions. Yet medically his skills are exceptional.
The romantic sub-plot makes it sweet as well as enlightening. Catch Good Doctor on Viki or Netflix and the US version, The Good Doctor on Prime. There’s also the Japanese Good Doctor (2018) and Chinese Fantastic Doctors (2022) take-offs, proving both the appeal and an interest in tales of diversity.
What do you think of our list? Have we included your favourites? Care to hear about K-remakes of UK dramas? Give us a shout in the comments below!
For more stories on all sorts of content from this reviewer, click here: Kristen Lazur