When the first two episodes of the K-drama Business Proposal dropped on Netflix, I scream-texted my friend, “PLEASE WATCH BUSINESS PROPOSAL EVERYONE IS HOT I’VE LAUGHED OUT LOUD FIVE TIMES IN 10 MINUTES.” What even my unhinged, unpunctuated message could not have predicted was how charming each following episode would be.
The story of a young woman who unknowingly goes on a blind date with her boss to save her friend from an arranged marriage, Business Proposal is currently ranked in the top 10 dramas in 27 countries, including India. It is also ranked number one in 13 countries, including Bangladesh, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the UAE and Vietnam.
On his recent trip to India, Hyunwoo Thomas Kim, co-founder and president of Kross Pictures that produced Business Proposal and who runs operations in Los Angeles, Seoul, and Mumbai, spoke to Femina at length about what made him bet on the show, which was adapted from a superhit webtoon. “The story of Business Proposal is not something you’ve never heard before,” he says. “It’s a guy-falling-in-love-with-a-girl in this typical office setting. However, because it had been executed really well, we were very sure that we could make a good show. Not to this extent, this we had never expected. But we knew that we could make a good romcom, and what really worked is the actors. The chemistry was amazing not just between the leads Ahn Hyo-seop and Kim Se-jeong, but also between Se-jeong and Seol In-ah, who plays her friend. They became best friends after the show. I hear that they are so close now.”
It took three years for the show to be made, and a substantial amount of that time was spent trying to lock down the perfect cast. Casting for already popular webtoons can prove to be quite a challenging task, because how do you go about finding a man with a jawline that can cut glass but with the eyes of a puppy who can also act well? Thomas explains, “The title character in Business Proposal, Tae-moo, is the perfect man – lean, muscular, he went to the best schools. He is also rich and a workaholic. In reality, who is like that, you know? It’s almost impossible. But, we understand what the readers expect, so we try our best to pick the best possible actors. In this case, he had to be handsome, he had to be tall, he had to look good in suits. His jawline had to be super sharp. So, we began by compiling a list and we started reaching out to actors. Now, popular actors in Korea are very busy because K-dramas are picking up, so their calendar for the next year or so is already booked. No matter how much interest an actor might have in a show, he might not be able to do this within the next year. On the other hand, I have my own calendar and my investors expect me to do certain things in a certain time frame, so I cannot always accommodate that. In such cases, I move on to the next actor, so there’s a lot of trial and error.”
Ahn Hyo-seop – bless him and his jawline – had heard of this story, so, when he was offered the project, he was on board. “We had to wait for over six months for him to join our production, but it was absolutely worth it,” says Thomas.
Hyunwoo Thomas Kim
It’s clear that Thomas doesn’t just consider the business aspect of the stories he produces, he’s equally invested in the art, and that’s because he grew up watching K-dramas and films. Even though he studied business in college and was working in finance for a few years, it was never exciting enough for him to want to do it long term. When one of his business school professors advised him to follow his passion, it was clear that there was only one way to go. He took the leap and started working in entertainment at the age of 29, and, 20 years later, he’s still at it, telling stories in as many formats and languages as possible.
Take webtoons, for instance, another Korean pop culture phenomenon taking over the world. Founded in May 2019 by Thomas, Kross Komics started its India operations in December of the same year, and offers webtoons in English, Telugu and Hindi. A Business Proposal, the webtoon, was onboarded on Kross Komics in July 2021, and it has kept its place in the top three titles with the highest revenue since.
Thomas explains the pull of webtoons, which are designed especially with the smartphone user in mind. “Webtoons have been popular since the early 2000s in Korea. The main reason they’re gaining popularity in different countries is that they are created for an audience who is on the go. Usually, a popular webtoon in Korea is 50 to 100 episodes long. For each episode, the author is compelled to think about how to retain their reader when they only have a couple minutes of their attention. Millennials and Gen-Z are always attached to their smartphones, so this is perfect for them. So, compared to paperback comic books, webtoons have an advantage.”
Since the launch of Business Proposal, the show, the webtoon has seen a 30% increase in views on Kross Komics. This gives more momentum to Thomas’s short-term goal for the app, which is to bring all the best titles from Korea and Japan to India. His mid- to long-term goal is to get into Indian originals and work with local artists.
The Indian market is something he’s quite familiar with anyway, since his company has produced films like Te3n (Hindi) and Oh! Baby (Telugu). He currently has several Hindi and Telugu adaptations of South Korean films coming up, but also a couple of very interesting South Korean remakes of Hindi films such as Kahaani and Queen.
He says, “I’m excited about all of my babies; they’re all equally important and compelling. However, when it comes to timing, one of the most urgent projects for me right now seems to be the Hindi remake of Oh! Baby (the Telugu film has been adapted from the South Korean film Miss Granny). We are talking to several actors and a couple of directors to finalise the project. We are hoping to start shooting by early next year. I am also remaking Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani in Korea. He has become one of my best friends in India.”
Given the diversity of genres on his plate, Thomas has one big rule for the stories that he greenlights. He explains, “I look at the universality of a story. For me, that’s very important and perhaps what distinguishes my company from the rest of the entertainment industry. Growing up, I moved around a lot. I lived in different places like the US and Japan. I’m married to a Japanese woman, so finding this compatibility among different cultures is the fun part. Bringing an Indian story to Korea or bringing a Japanese story to India, I mean we are called Kross Pictures, so that cross factor is very important to me.”
Speaking of the cross factor, is there a possibility of a Bollywood remake of Business Proposal? Thomas laughs before saying, “Many companies have already approached me, so it will be announced soon. Perhaps the first one might come out in Telugu and I think Hindi will follow. So already there are a lot of talks, a lot of propositions. So, yes, that’s something that I’m already working on.”
If done well, Business Proposal has the potential to be an Indian romcom for the ages. But localising the story to Indian sensibilities while keeping the charm intact – not to mention finding four actors who will do justice to these iconic characters – will be a challenge, but one that Thomas seems uniquely qualified to conquer.
Also Read: On The Hallyu High: Decoding Soaring Popularity Of Korean Classes In India
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