Busan: South Korean Filmmakers Look for Growth in China

Roaring Currents Still - H 2014
Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

Roaring Currents Still - H 2014

Producers behind Korea's top blockbusters discuss the outlook for Asian film collaborations

South Korean cinema has enjoyed unprecedented growth in recent years, with local moviegoers watching more movies than ever, in particular homegrown ones. The country's local filmmakers are now looking to neighboring China to make the next leap.

In the past decade, 10 homegrown blockbusters have crossed 10 million admissions, reaching roughly a fifth of the local population. On Wednesday, the 19th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) invited the producers behind these films, from Kang Woo-suk, the first to reach the milestone with Silmido in 2003, to Kim Han-min, who wrote/produced/directed this year's record-breaking The Admiral: Roaring Currents, to discuss the growth outlook of the Korean film industry.

"I believe it's the audacity [of Korean filmmakers that make Korean films so successful]," said Kang. "When I went to China, many people asked how I was ever able to make movies with such daring subject matters and said that it must have been difficult to produce them. Korean films are new and...manage to strike a different emotional chord [with viewers]. I believe Korean filmmakers will continue to make films that make you question, 'what is this'?"

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Cheongeoram CEO Choi Yong-bae and JK Films CEO J.K. Youn both said they initially faced difficulty attracting investment for their films, the monster actioner The Host and tsunami disaster film Haeundae, respectively, because there was doubt about the genre films that would require heavy amounts of visual effects. Both films went on to break box-office records in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

With the growth of the local market, Korean filmmakers are now looking outward. "The Korean film market seems to have grown as much as it possibly could, and it's now time to expand overseas," said REALies Pictures CEO Won Dong-yeon (Masquerade).

"An increasing number of Korean filmmakers are making inroads into China, especially through co-productions," said Choi. "The Chinese film industry is growing fast to become like Hollywood, but they lack manpower and are reaching out to filmmakers around Asia. We are working to open The Host 2 in China and have been getting a lot of offers for a Chinese remake."

Won, however, believes Korean filmmakers should have a more strategic approach to entering the Chinese industry.

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Said Won, who is currently working on Chinese version of hit rom-com 200 Pounds Beauty: "We need to consider ways to build long-term partnerships based on trust, so that these collaborations won't be just short-lived. Perhaps we can present Korean talent in some kind of sellable package. If not, Korean filmmakers could just end up fighting amongst themselves to foray into China."