Busan: Asian Film Market Attracts Chinese Filmmakers in Spite of Geopolitical Tensions

2015 Busan Asian Film Market 2 - H 2015
Courtesy of Busan International Film Festival

Conflicts between Seoul and Beijing over a missile defense system may have hampered some cross-border interactions between the two Asian entertainment industries, but the Busan market continues to be a hot spot for Asian filmmakers.

Busan's Asian Film Market opened its doors over the weekend for over 1,300 participants from 47 countries, attracting continued attention from neighboring Chinese filmmakers and producers in spite of recent geopolitical tensions between South Korea and China.

In recent months, Chinese state-backed media have criticized Seoul's decision to deploy THAAD, a U.S.-made missile defense system, on the Korean Peninsula. Speculation arose that Beijing would retaliate by limiting the amount of South Korean media and stars it allows into China. Director Kim Ki-duk was denied a work visa for China, muddling production plans for his Chinese co-production Who Is God, while several K-pop superstars had to cancel promotional events in China.

Despite China's unofficial ban on Korean content, however, Chinese producers are still eager for Korean works.

"We were initially concerned that there wouldn't be so many participants from China, but Chinese filmmakers seem to recognize that Busan is the optimal place to pick up promising titles," said Susan Chae, a veteran member of the Asian Film Market's selection committee. Major Chinese investment, production and distribution companies are taking part in the market this year, including Wanda, Alibaba, Youku and Tencent Pictures. Delegates from the Beijing International Film Festival also arrived in Busan, while Chinese online media giant iQiyi took part in the market for the first time, making its debut at an Asian film trading event.

"This is our regional market debut in Busan and we are here with two new titles. Both have been getting a lot of attention from buyers and we expect to conclude some deals here," said iQiyi's sales rep Bryce Tsao about 10,000 Miles, from director Simon Hung, and Unexpected Love, which stars K-pop stars Krystal Soo Jung of f(x) and Zhang Yixing (a.k.a. Lay) of EXO.

"The political tension seems to be limited to the activities of individual artists. We don't see it as a long-term problem," said Andy Jiwoong Kim, CEO of TGCK Partners, a Seoul-based venture capital firm that is currently involved in several Korean-Chinese co-production projects.

The ban, moreover, does not affect Chinese films based on Korean intellectual properties (IP), says Kim. "IP" is a term largely used in the Asian entertainment industry for original works that are characterized as having a story format that is adaptable for the screen, such as literary works, stage productions and web/mobile content (web novels, web comic strips and games).

A pitching event on Saturday featured a considerable number of Chinese producers among prospective co-financiers of Korean intellectual properties. Having already become the market's signature program in its second edition, the Entertainment Intellectual Property (E-IP) Market is a trading zone where filmmakers can acquire rights to make and/or remake IPs.

"If Hollywood finds inspiration from Marvel and DC Comics, then South Korea has 'webtoons' (web comic strips), the Chinese have web novels and the Japanese have manga," said Chae. This year's E-IP pitching event introduced 10 original works hailing from Korea, ranging from an unproduced zombie script to romantic web cartoons seeking potential partners.

"Many participants came to Busan with contracts already drafted, having researched our featured intellectual properties after we announced the titles during the summer," said Chae. Last year, Beijing Alpha Transmedia acquired the IP rights to Kirin Productions' web drama, The Cravings, on the second day of the market, and E-IP Market saw half of its projects conclude deals.

The Asian Film Market continues through Tuesday in conjunction with the 21st Busan International Film Festival, which wraps Oct. 15.