Busan: Asian Film Market Positions Itself as Gateway to China

Hong Kong Filmart
'Miss Granny'

The South Korean event's newly launched entertainment intellectual property market and star casting market made promising debuts as more Asian filmmakers seek cross-border projects.

The 2015 Busan Asian Film Market has wrapped its  four-day run (Oct. 3-6) with record attendance, with the number of participating companies increasing from last year's 198 to 208.

Overall, observers said the 10th-anniversary edition helped solidify its role as the gateway to the world's fastest-growing film market, China.

This year's market was all about how Hollywood and other markets can learn from South Korea's know-how as one of China's veteran partners. CJ Entertainment, the country's No. 1 investor-distributor with giant K-pop music and food and beverage arms, had already set up shop in Beijing 10 years ago, well before most others. Last year, a pact signed between the two countries' cultural ministries allows co-productions to be exempt from quotas for foreign films.

"Many countries want to enter China," said Jacky Y.H. Liu, CEO of Huace Union Pictures. "The point of international co-productions is mostly sharing costs and foraying into a bigger market. But making the entry alone is not enough ... Korea has been successful because joint film projects have helped diversify the genre of Chinese films and revamped the quality of local films."

Liu previously worked for CJ Entertainment and was behind the record-breaking Korean-Chinese comedy 20, Once Again! and shared his experiences working with Chinese partners during a forum on Tuesday.

The forum invited other top producers behind some of China's highest-grossing films, including Du Yang (Breakup Buddies), Fang Li (Ever Since We Love) and Jiao Aimin (Somewhere Only We Know), to offer a comprehensive introduction to the state of the ever-evolving Chinese market.

"While it is important to continue pursuing traditional film sales, we must play the role as a gateway to China in a solid way using various methods, and the intellectual property and star casting events are designed to serve those purposes," said Busan market director Jay Jeon.

The inaugural edition of the Entertainment Intellectual Property (E-IP) Market featured top Korean portal Naver, among others, in a trading zone for the right to remake films or adapt literary works, web content (online "webtoon" comic strips as well as web dramas, novels and shows), mobile/online games and stage performances, all targeting China.

One-day passes for the E-IP pitching session were sold out as the demand for original Korean works is high in China since co-productions are excluded from China's import restrictions as highlighted through projects such as Huace-NEW's upcoming co-production The Witch (working title), based on the Korean webtoon of the same name by Kang Full.

In addition, the Star Casting Market shed light on how big Asian co-productions are pairing regional stars in a more organic manner, with Korean A-listers in the center of the action as they continue to be top-earning stars in China. 

The market made a promising debut with the aim to help regional producers cast promising talent, many of whom are bilingual. Among them were Taiwanese-Canadian Mark Chao, who is making waves at the Chinese box office with top-grossing films, such as Tsui Hark's Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (featuring VFX by Korea's Dexter Studios) and just wrapped shooting Luc Besson's China-French venture Warrior's Gate, Taiwanese-French actress Sandrine Pinna; and Kim Go-eun (A Muse, a.k.a. Eugyo), an award-winning Korean actress who was raised in China.

Also featured were Korea's Kim Woo-bin (Twenty), a pan-Asian superstar with a large fan base in China, Japanese actress Masami Nagasawa, who stars in John Woo's The Crossing and Cannes competition entry Our Little Sister, and Takeru Satoh of the Japanese box-office hit franchise Kamen Rider Den-O.

"Working with some of the Korean entertainment agencies was quite tough because of the lack of knowledge here about introducing local stars overseas, but for this reason the casting market can play an even more important role in the years to come," said Jeon. Observers have noted that there is also much to be learned. This year's showcase was marred by the far-from-smooth moderation, which focused more on the private gossip of the two Koreans rather than exploring the international potential of all six actors.

The market director emphasized that the Busan market may be small compared to Cannes, but is a different type of regional offer altogether that that can help industry folks stay on top of filmmaking trends in Asia.