How 'Yellow Sea' was Made

Na Hong-jin Film Shot Throughout China

Korean director Na Hong-jin’s The Yellow Sea faced a major challenge before shooting even it’s first frame of film — location.

The Chinese government disapproved of having the dark thriller film in the Chinese prefecture of Yanbian, where the film was originally set. Authorities worried the film might negatively impact the state’s already poor image, according to the film’s producer, Popcorn Film.

The film, made with investment from 20th Century Fox, which wrapped last week and is set for release in mid-December, was instead shot in “various spots throughout China.” 

“The idea of Yanbian in the film will be a symbolic place,” said Popcorn marketing chief Bae Yoon-hee. “The Chinese authorities refused to release the shooting permit aftering hearing about our film through other outlets.”

In the original script, scenes involving Yanbian took up about 30% of the film. 

Yanbian, the Korean Autonomous Prefecture in northeastern China that borders North Korea, is noted for its dark image, with many illegal workers, government spies and North Korean defectors who fled the country to enter South Korea.  

Yellow Sea follows an ethnic Korean living in China who travels to Korea for a contract killing, but ends up being hunted by a rival assassin. The film, with a budget of $10.7 million, is produced by Popcorn Film and funded by 20th Century Fox, Showbox and Wellmade StarM. 

Fox will handle the film’s U.S. distribution, although details of the distribution size or release date have not been announced. Showbox is selling the film internationally at TIFFCOM.

Na’s debut feature, The Chaser, scored 5.1 million admissions in Korea, competed at Cannes in 2008 and has seen its remake rights sold to Warner Bros. 

With Yellow, Na worked with some familiar names, casting the same main actors from his previous film for the male leads — Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok, who plays the hitman.

Popcorn Film remained careful when commenting on the location issue.

“All we can say for now is that we had a very difficult time shooting in China,” she said. “But we will leave it at that since it’s a continuing issue which could affect possible sales and distribution in China.”