Governments urged to support co-productions

Incentives, completion bonds needed, directors say

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Governments around Asia are being urged to do more for cross-border co-productions in the region.

Korean producer Yi Chi-yun, who was one of a half-dozen producers on “Red Cliff,” called for governments to establish local “completion bond” companies that would help films be produced by Asian companies.

Yi made the call Saturday as he spoke with his Chinese and Taiwanese colleagues from “Red Cliff” at the Korea and China partnership forum. The panelists used the blockbuster as a case study for collaborations between the two countries as well as those across the region.

The $80 million epic, directed by John Woo, was financed by Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and American funds, and secured insurance in the U.S. to guarantee its completion. The insurance policy offered the filmmakers some hope during a massively complicated and over-budget production that was described as “catastrophic” by one of its own second unit directors, counted one stuntman fatality and serious injuries on set.

“Other Asian co-productions have little chance of obtaining completion bonds in the U.S., so it would encourage more big-budget co-productions if Asian governments would work together to provide similar bonds,” Yi told The Hollywood Reporter.

Asia does not have any completion bond companies of its own and few are active in the U.S. CineFinance, which underwrote “Red Cliff” and opened a Hong Kong outpost, has now stopped writing new policies.

Yi said “Red Cliff” was proof that Asian co-productions can rival Hollywood blockbusters in the Asian marketplace, and urged Asian filmmakers to collaborate on films that treat the region as a single market. The literary adaptation, presented as a two-parter within Asia, set boxoffice records in China ($85 million), South Korea ($23 million), and Japan ($108 million).

The Chinese-Korean partnership was particularly and mutually beneficial the filmmakers said, citing China’s huge landmass, distinctive landscapes, moderate climate and lower cost of employment and price of commodities and services as the country’s advantages as a shooting location. South Korea offers world-class special effects, stunts, and special effects makeup.

“The special effects-heavy ‘Haeundae’ could only have been made in Korea,” said Taiwan producer Yeh Ju-feng, who is now developing “Seediq Bale,” a transnational co-production by 2008 Taiwan smash hit “Cape No. 7” director Wei Te-sheng. “Red Cliff” lead producer Terence Chang is also on board.

The filmmakers also discussed the challenges of cross-border co-productions and their solutions, citing communications and language barriers as the biggest obstacles.

“Working through translators led to a series of misunderstandings, which complicated a shoot that was already demanding, sometimes involving thousands of extras, explosions and fires,” said Zhang Jin-zhan, second unit director on “Red Cliff.”

Zhang previously had worked on the Beijing production of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill I & II” and saw instructions passed via series of "Chinese whispers" through three translators for a crew that consisted of personnel from seven different countries. “Time was constantly wasted. One task became three different tasks, it took three times the time to do anything,” Zhang said.

But crews are now becoming more knowledgeable of foreign languages after taking part in more co-productions, Zhang said. Similarly, other technical glitches such as the difference in production processes were also gradually smoothed over when co-productions are more commonplace.

“Such technical problems haunted the production of 'Red Cliff,' but they all worked out in the end,” said Yang Dong, the film’s line producer. “We had a better understanding of the machinery of co-productions the more we worked together.”

“The success of a co-production depends on a common vision of all those involved,” Yi said.