Gov't looks to build Korean wave

Film incentive package will pour $521 mil into industry

South Korea's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, along with the ruling Uri Party, on Monday announced the Movie Industry Medium-Long-Term Development Plan, which will provide a 500 billion won ($521 million) package over five years to cement and continue gains made by the local film industry over the past several years.

"According to our goals, the ministry will institute six key programs to increase the country's share of the world film market to 3% from its current 1.6% by 2011 and to help stabilize the share of Korean films in the domestic market above the 50% level," Minister of Culture and Tourism Kim Myung-gon said.

Among the key goals an-nounced in the initiative are an increase in annual movie exports to $310 million from the current $78 million; the establishment of Korean-movie-only theaters around the world (beginning in Tokyo this year); an increase in the variety of local fare; the creation of a more stable investment environment; an improvement in the welfare and working conditions of film industry professionals; a balancing of the development of the local media industry; and improvements to laws and regulations.

To fund this package, 200 billion won ($207 million) will come from the government, 200 billion won ($207 million) will come from a 300-won tax on movie tickets and 100 billion won ($104 million) will come from the Korean Film Council's existing film promotion budget.

Despite Korean movies accounting for about 60% of the local boxoffice over the past three years, local films have been criticized for excessive commercialism and relying on the same formulas too often. To provide a counter, an unspecified amount of the announced investment will go to supporting art house and independent cinema as well as to the production of documentaries and alternative movies.

"The promotion plan that was announced today is significant in the sense that it was made through discussion among the Ministry, the Uri Party, the Film Council (KOFIC) and people from the film industry," said Kim Mee-hyun, director of the KOFIC research department. "I believe the plan will play an important role in making the Korean film industry sustainable in the future. Will it really work? That depends on how well KOFIC and the people from the film industry carry out the framework and implement the plans."

Though many of the details of how this funding will be used were not specified, the report did say that 150 billion won ($156 million) will go to 30 investment funds that specialize in Korean movies in order to create a more stable investment environment for the film industry.

In addition, the government pledged to improve and enforce copyrights, tax support and regulations against unfair competition and to set up a support center at the Korean Film Council and a permanent committee bringing together the Ministry of Culture, the Fair Trade Committee and the movie industry.

Though the plan calls for a quadrupling of the nation's movie exports (which are already at an all-time high), the government and local industry remain worried about being perceived as just another foreign intruder, like Hollywood. Indeed, China and other territories already have started making noise about restricting the number of imports they take in. So the Development Plan also calls for the establishment of the Asian Film Academy to co-produce with 10 countries around the world, including France, China and Australia.

When the government an-nounced it was lowering the screen quota in January, reducing the number of days each screen in Korea is required to show local movies to 73 from 106, it promised a large package of aid to help protect the domestic movie industry.