Koreans laying out welcome mat

Producers form shingle at Barunson to attract pics

South Korean producers including Park Bong-soo, whose hit "The Host" has traveled well, have teamed up in a new production services unit at Barunson Co.'s film division to attract co-productions from Hollywood and elsewhere.

Lewis Kim, Barunson producer and a line producer on "Host," said Thursday that the new division of the film arm of Korea's biggest stationery company hopes to give producers such as Park and Lee Sung-hoon, whose war epic "Taegukgi" sold more than 13 million tickets in Korea, a chance to work with international partners.

"We're forming a two-way clearinghouse for the next generation of Korean filmmakers, producers whose expertise can make sure that co-productions coming into Korea come out looking really, really good," he said.

The new production service division, formed in April, is in talks with three American film producers, including one whose independent film project would need to be shot almost entirely in Seoul.

"Our main target is Hollywood," Kim said, adding that he's also looking for production services partners elsewhere in Asia.

The idea for advising overseas producers who wish to cast or shoot films in Korea has the support of the Seoul Film Commission and the Korean Film Council, according to Kim, who added that Barunson has at least one potential competitor in the space: MK Pictures.

Will the Film Commission and KOFIC subsidize what Barunson is doing?

"They're government agencies, and they're not changing what they do," which is, in part, to advise overseas filmmakers on government incentives, Kim said. "But they happened to have a few projects going when I went to them for advice about this idea, and they really liked what they heard."

Also among the group of all under-40 producers — freelancers who've worked closely with Barunson on a few projects since its start in 2005 — are Lim Hee-chul, producer of "Antarctic Journal," which was shot in New Zealand, and Han Jae-duk, the producer of the hit "Old Boy."

"Each of these producers has an expertise," Kim said. "It's not about just selling and buying. The next generation of Korean film producers should be more aggressive and real about working with international partners."

Kim said that his three years working on "The Host" — sourcing overseas help with its computer-generated animation from the Orphanage in San Francisco and getting other technical assistance from Richard Taylor's WETA Workshop in New Zealand — taught him how to work in the global economy.

"I was up and on a live video conference before 9 a.m. all the time," he said.

Kim admitted that he was hard-pressed to name an overseas film production company that recently had chosen Korea as a location. But he's sure that the quality of Korea's producers will spark interest in the country as a filmmaking destination because more Korean films are making a splash overseas.

"Taeguki" was shot on a budget of about $13 million but looks a lot bigger, and "The Host" got rave reviews around the world, Kim said.

Elsewhere in the East, co-productions in New Zealand and China are popular for their locations, a fact Barunson will take advantage of when director Kim Jee-woon begins to shoot his Korean spaghetti Western "The Good the Bad and the Weird" in China in July. Korea's got beautiful locations, too, Kim added, noting that producer Lim's "Hansel & Gretel" is now shooting on Cheju, the volcanic resort island that is a one-hour flight from Seoul.