Asian cinema
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A still from Ghost Lab. Netflix has almost doubled its Southeast Asian content catalogue every year since 2016. Photo: Netflix

Netflix raises its bet on films and shows from Southeast Asia, having seen their global appeal

  • Thai mystery thriller Girl From Nowhere and Malaysian horror film Roh are among the Southeast Asian films on Netflix to earn global acclaim
  • ‘We believe great stories can come from anywhere and more people deserve to see their lives reflected on screen,’ says regional director for streaming giant
Asian cinema

Netflix is investing more than ever in its Southeast Asian content, reflecting the region’s importance in the company’s global programming strategy. The online streaming giant has almost doubled its content catalogue from the fast growing region every year since 2016, when it launched its first Southeast Asian title.

The impact of this has been felt far beyond the region’s borders of over 650 million. For example, the second season of Thai mystery thriller Girl From Nowhere has gained international acclaim, while the Malaysian horror film Roh has been praised globally for how it successfully conveyed a sense of ominous, creeping dread without resorting to jump scares.

Malobika Banerji, the content director for Netflix in Southeast Asia, says cultural diversity plays an important role in this success.

“Variety, diversity and quality are what we look for all over the world. To do that, we hire great local teams, partner with the best filmmakers, support new voices, and produce and license great stories,” she says.

A still from Girl From Nowhere. Photo: Netflix
A still from Roh. Photo: Netflix

Stories from the 11 countries of Southeast Asia have inherent potential for diverse perspectives and experiences, and recently released titles cover a variety of genres from horror to anime and comedy to drama.

Horror films in particular are seeing a resurgence in Southeast Asia but, given how films of the genre can often rehash the same old tropes, how do horror films from the region stand out?

A still from Krasue: Inhuman Kiss. Photo: Netflix

“Many horror stories are rooted in Southeast Asian folklore, which is animist [the belief that every material thing has a soul] and has themes of moral justice and revenge,” Banerji says. “But in recent times, we have seen a fresh perspective on this genre, especially in Thailand with the success of the supernatural thriller series Girl From Nowhere and the film Ghost Lab, which explores what happens after death.

“We also see horror blending with other genres. In Krasue: Inhuman Kiss, also from Thailand, we see an innovative blend of horror, romance and comedy.

“We believe great stories can come from anywhere and more people deserve to see their lives reflected on screen. That certainly includes the people of Southeast Asia. With a rich and diverse heritage, the region has many stories yet to be told and presented on the global stage, so the future looks very promising.”

A still from The Night Comes For Us. Photo: Netflix

The growing number of Southeast Asian titles on Netflix means there is a greater awareness of the region’s various cultures among its global audience, which Banerji says has traditionally been low. One such example would be the action-thriller The Night Comes For Us, a Netflix original from Indonesia. 

“The director, Timo Tjahjanto, is famous in film circles internationally, as are its action stars Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim. The film showcases the Indonesian martial art called pencak silat, which later gained an even wider audience in John Wick 3 which featured Yayan Ruhian, another famous Indonesian martial artist,” Banerji says.

Judging by the popularity of a number of shows produced in Asia, Netflix does not believe that a production needs a storyline that targets a global audience for it to be an international success. A unique story with a clear, authentic point of view will resonate with viewers around the world, not just those from the country it is set or produced in.

A still from Sacred Games. Photo: Netflix
Banerji points to Kingdom in South Korea, The Naked Director in Japan, and Sacred Games in India as examples of shows with broad appeal.

“The creators didn’t set out to make ‘international’ shows. Instead, they told stories that were authentic to their countries and experiences,” says Banerji.

The streaming platform is releasing a slew of new shows from filmmakers in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam this month.