K-drama Anna controversy: Coupang Play and director Lee Joo-young tussle over re-edited version of hit streaming series
- Anna director Lee Joo-young has clashed with Korean streaming service Coupang Play over what she says was its re-editing of the series without her consent
- Lee demanded an apology and claims to have received one. Coupang Play denies saying sorry, and says that what it did was within its contractual rights
Since the beginning of August an intense game of he-said, she-said has gripped the Korean drama industry.
Lee Joo-young, director of the drama Anna, starring Bae Suzy, accuses streaming service Coupang Play of significantly altering the show before its launch without her consent.
This week Siwoo, a law firm representing Lee, published a statement regarding an apology it said she had received from Coupang Play and it briefly appeared as though the storm had settled. However, the streaming service immediately fired back with a strong rebuttal, further complicating the already sensitive affair.
The show began streaming on June 24 in South Korea to strong reviews and Coupang credited it with boosting the service’s unique users during the month to a sizeable 3.73 million.
The problem was that six episodes were released when director Lee had in fact edited the series into eight instalments. On August 2, she went public with her grievance, accusing Coupang Play of editing the show without her consent.
Not only was the show significantly shortened, director Lee claimed that the narrative structure was changed, altering the show’s tone and her intentions. In a statement released through her lawyers, she called the released version “unrecognisable”.
She demanded an apology from Coupang Play, as well as the removal of her name from the streamed show’s credits. Editor Kim Jeong-hoon, who called the version Coupang showed “something he didn’t work on”, also requested that his name be removed from the credits.
A day after Lee’s statement, Coupang Play shot back, claiming that her version of what had happened differed from what the two parties had agreed on and that she had ignored multiple requests to edit the show in line with what was previously discussed.
It asserted that the re-edits were done with the consent of the show’s producer and in accordance with its contractual rights.
Nevertheless, in an effort to show respect for the director’s vision, Coupang announced that it would be releasing a director’s cut of Anna later in the month. Following a review by the Korea Media Ratings Board, the eight-part director’s cut was released on August 12.
Disputes between studios and directors about creative issues are common, but in South Korea it’s rare for these issues to spill out into the public forum and for lawyers to get involved.
In a Variety article last December, following the release of One Ordinary Day, the director of the series, Lee Myeong-woo, lauded Coupang Play for the amount of freedom he was given, while CEO Stephen Kim stated said the focus of the streaming platform was on quality, not quantity.
Coupang’s decision to re-edit Anna against its director’s wishes would appear to be in direct contravention of its stated ethos.
On August 22, Lee’s law firm issued a statement detailing the particulars of a private meeting between her, Coupang Play and a representative of the Directors’ Guild of Korea (DGK), which had waded into the fray on August 11 in support of Lee.
The statement claimed that Coupang had apologised for the editing controversy and would be removing the names of director Lee, editor Kim and six other staff from the six-part version of the series.
Lee thanked the DGK for its support, pointed out the importance of creators’ rights and expressed hope that the case of Anna would serve to build an environment where creators can be respected in a rapidly evolving content ecosystem.
Within a few hours, Coupang Play issued its rebuttal, denying it had made any apology and going so far as to accuse one of Lee’s lawyers of not being able to understand an agreement reached at a private meeting on August 19 because they were drunk.
Coupang Play said it does plan to remove the names from the credits as requested, but only because the director conceded that Coupang did not unilaterally re-edit the show. Coupang Play is expected to take legal action against Lee and her lawyers.
Lee’s law firm, Siwoo, says it has an audio recording of the apology being given, claims to be unaware that it was meant to be confidential, and denies any misunderstanding arose owing to drunkenness.
During what has been a complicated transitional phase for the Korean content industry, this dispute, which is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, could sow division between content creators and executives.
The irony of the affair is that Anna tells the story of a woman who begins to build an alter ego following what starts out as a simple lie, and steadily sees her life spiral out of control.
Both versions of Anna are streaming on Prime Video.