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Given South Korea’s booming content industry, there is no shortage of eager collaborators from Asia and beyond. One regional partner that has seen a standout year in production tie-ups is Singapore.
In addition to He Shuming’s debut feature, Ajoomma, becoming the first-ever Singapore-Korea co-production (it was selected as Singapore’s entry for the Oscars), on the television front Singapore served as a prominent filming location for Seoul-based tvN’s Little Women (a modern version of the Louisa May Alcott novel that was picked up by Netflix), with local production house Ochre Pictures tapped to provide creative production support. The upcoming Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF) in Singapore has long recognized the influence of Korean content in the region. This year it will spotlight six pavilions and two content panels focused on Korea’s content business and production strategies, featuring two execs from Korean streamers — TVING’s CEO, Jay Yang, and Lee Tae-hyun, CEO of Wavve — as well as CJ ENM’s global content strategy head, Spencer Thomas.
Ties have been getting stronger between the content industries of Singapore and Korea for several years. In 2018, Singapore’s mm2 Entertainment struck a financing partnership with content heavyweight CJ ENM. Under the agreement, the two companies have produced six Southeast Asian titles together. In 2020, Korea’s Studio Dragon — which also helped back Little Women — and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) signed a three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) that sought to promote Singapore through the production of Korean dramas in the country. This was the first time that Studio Dragon entered into an MOU with a national tourism organization.
After an arduous, seven-year journey for He and producer Anthony Chen, Ajoomma — a drama about a middle-aged Singaporean widow vacationing in Korea — has gone on an impressive awards run, premiering at the Busan International Film Festival and receiving four nominations at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards.
Through the production, He came to understand why the Korean film industry has been so successful on the global stage. He shared that the entire ecosystem of production in Korea is very “well-oiled,” and pointed out that Korea has put in “decades of development” to reach this level. “Working in Korea as an outsider, you understand why the film industry in Korea is so revered,” He says. “They have a lot of things that they have done for years that work, and it makes shooting a film a lot easier. For my first film to be in that kind of environment, I’ve truly learned a lot.”
The filming of tvN’s Little Women in Singapore sparked major buzz back in July when Korean stars Kim Go-eun and Wi Ha-joon were spotted in the country. The series has entered Netflix’s global top 10 chart for non-English-language series for 11 consecutive weeks.
For Jean Yeo, creative director at Ochre Pictures, the 16-day shoot in Singapore for Little Women was a meaningful opportunity that came three years after she first met Studio Dragon executives. In late 2019, STB organized a networking session between Studio Dragon and more than 10 Singaporean production houses. “The Koreans were very respectful. For me, three things are very important in [collaborations:] flexibility, friendship and fairness,” Yeo says. “If there’s mutual respect, a lot of things can be done.”
In addition to Korean streamers, representatives from several Korean content agencies, including the Korea Creative Content Agency, the Korean Film Council and the Korea Radio Promotion Association will be present at ATF.
“The South Korean local streamers, like TVING and Wavve, are really well backed, not just financially, but also in terms of production capabilities. They are able to compete with global streamers, such as Netflix,” says Yeow Hui Leng, group project director of RX Global, ATF’s organizer. “These are case studies that will be really good conference topics for ATF’s attendees.”
This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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