Craving local stories: Netflix focuses more on Southeast Asia with new releases


After its continued success in Asia, streaming giant Netflix has set its focus this year on highlighting works by creators from Southeast Asia through recent and upcoming projects on its over-the-top (OTT) platform.

Netflix held its first-ever presentation centring on Southeast Asian projects during its Asia-Pacific (APAC) showcase on June 13 at the Fairmont Jakarta Hotel in Central Jakarta. Three countries in particular were highlighted: Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

“This is an opportunity to shine a light on the content from [these countries], and we promise viewers that we are committed to bringing great stories from there,” Minyoung Kim, the vice president of APAC content on Netflix, said during the showcase.

Kim emphasized the streaming company’s decision to invest in local creative communities to bring out “authentic stories” from Southeast Asian countries, noting that Indonesia would see “some of the biggest shows” Netflix would introduce this year.

Some of the projects from Indonesia in 2024 include Borderless Fog by award-winning director Edwin, The Shadow Strays by action auteur Timo Tjahjanto, and two projects just released in the past week: Joko Anwar’s Nightmares and Daydreams and Mouly Surya’s Trigger Warning.

Fachri Albar’s character dangles from a clock tower’s minute hand in an episode of Joko Anwars Nightmares and Daydreams. PHOTO: NETFLIX/THE JAKARTA POST

Nightmares and Daydreams, released on June 14 following year-long anticipation, is the first Netflix original series by household filmmaker Joko. It is also fertile ground for the director to experiment with a new genre in the country: Supernatural sci-fi.

“In Indonesia, supernatural things are common, and while we usually tie them with a superstitious explanation, we’re now offering a different type of explanation, one that is more scientific,” Joko said.

Serving as the executive producer and one of the show’s directors, Joko said the project was made in two years and that the team was given ample creative freedom by Netflix, adding that there was “no ego” in the process.

“This is new territory, we had never done a project on this scale,” he added, noting the show’s feature-length seven episodes.

Meanwhile, Trigger Warning was released on June 21 following its red-carpet premiere in Los Angeles, the United States. Starring Jessica Alba, it serves as the English-language debut of Indonesia’s hailed director Mouly Surya of Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts fame.

“It feels familiar with Marlina because in a way it’s a Western with a strong female protagonist, […] so I thought that was an interesting approach for my first American film,” Mouly said through a Zoom call from the US during the showcase.

Since it entered Indonesia in 2016, Netflix has grown into one of the primary sources of Western entertainment for viewers. But it grew significantly when it finally produced local original films and series in 2021, according to its head of content in Indonesia, Rusli Eddy.

Last year’s Netflix original film The Big 4 by Timo and the documentary Ice Cold about a local murder case involving Jessica Wongso became two of the most watched titles in Indonesia among other Hollywood blockbusters, Statista reported.

Over 260 million people across the globe are subscribers to the streaming service, Netflix shared.

Netflix’s Asia Pacific vice president of content Minyoung Kim on June 13, 2024, explains the streaming giant’s bold plan to focus more on Southeast Asian original titles to bring up more local stories from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand during the APAC showcase at Fairmont Jakarta Hotel in Central Jakarta. PHOTO: NETFLIX/THE JAKARTA POST

SEA greatness

Southeast Asian films and series have fared consistently well on Netflix, with some even making it to the Global Top 10 List of what subscribers watch, including Indonesia’s Cigarette Girl and Thailand’s Hunger.

Last year’s report by Singapore analysis firm Media Partners Asia stated that Netflix’s revenue growth would benefit from more material contributions from parts of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

The streaming company appeared to continue the plan. In Thailand, which has seen success with the drama series The Believers this March, Netflix is increasing its original content from just six titles last year to 10 titles this year.

It includes a horror series Terror Tuesday: Extreme, a sci-fi anthology Tomorrow and I, and the 70s’ sex-centred Doctor Climax, the latter premiered on June 13.

“We want this series to allow sex to be treated as a normal topic and be talked more openly,” Doctor Climax writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee said at the showcase, adding that they aimed to challenge local audiences as well.

Separately, the Philippines is also set to expand its slate by dropping an original psychological thriller in October called Outside, which deals with a family in a zombie outbreak.

The show’s writer and director Carlo Ledesma aims for the film to be a “subversive” zombie story, taking inspiration from other similarly unorthodox zombie films like I Am Legend or World War Z where the infected people run fast toward their prey.

While gushing about South Korea’s successful horror films, Carlo also lauded the booming film industry in the Philippines and how Southeast Asian countries always appeared to inspire each other with their works.

“We in Southeast Asia have very similar stories, mythologies and folklore. How great would it be for all of us to collectively share that slowly but surely through [streaming platforms]?” Carlo said.

The only way Southeast Asia can do that, he believed, is to give more opportunities to local creators, thereby pushing more variety in their works and shining the light on what is happening this side of the world.

“Outside for me is about family, […] and it played out my worst fears as a father,” he added, noting it can be very relatable despite being his most personal project yet.

Radhiyya Indra

The Jakarta Post

Asia News Network