Shanghai Film Festival: South Korean Guests Cancel Trip Amid MERS Scare

MERS South Korea H 2015

CJ Entertainment staff and filmmakers have canceled their travel arrangements after organizers asked them to reconsider attending.

Key South Korean guests invited to the Shanghai International Film Festival have decided not to attend the Chinese event that opens on Saturday, amid growing concern over the deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in East Asia.

The directors and producers of two Korean films competing in the festival, The Shameless and Salut d'Amour, have canceled their trips, while Busan International Film Festival organizers also called off their visit. Asian superstars Jang Dong-gun and So Ji-sub have also decided not to attend.

With nine deaths and 122 diagnosed cases as of Thursday, Korea has seen the biggest outbreak of the disease outside of Saudi Arabia, where it was discovered in 2012.

"We received an email notification from organizers asking us to consider canceling our visit, and CJ Entertainment staff as well as the filmmakers and producers have decided not to attend after further discussion," Kim Ha-won of CJ Entertainment, which handles international sales for both competition titles, tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that it "does not advise special procedures at points of entry, or travel or trade restrictions with regard to this [MERS] event," festival organizers sent out email notifications on Wednesday and Thursday suggesting that Korean guests consider staying home.

"With the consideration for all the guests' health, our festival organizing committee has also taken some protective measures. We have canceled some relevant activities. Furthermore, we seriously suggest you to consider cancelling your upcoming trip to Shanghai," said the letter signed by SIFF's organizing committee.

"We heard there was a confirmed case of MERS in Shanghai and it is being taken very seriously," Kim said.

"Busan Film Festival director Lee Yong-kwan had canceled his trip to Shanghai earlier due to other reasons, but the rest of the committee was advised not to come via email," said Busan Film Festival's PR manager Kim Jung-yoon.

Korea is one of the giants of Asian cinema and a move to stay away will have a big impact on the Shanghai festival, which this year has a particularly Asian focus.

Asia, and especially China and Hong Kong, is still haunted by the devastating impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, which brought economic growth to a standstill, emptied the streets and led to 774 deaths.

In China, which also had to deal with the fallout from SARS, schools have sent out notes to parents informing them about MERS and urging vigilance.

The MERS outbreak has put pressure on South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye, and many members of the country’s National Assembly want her to postpone a scheduled U.S. trip next week, and fear and resentment over the government’s response to MERS is growing. Park plans to visit Washington and Houston on a six-day trip that includes a summit with President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, several Korean films have rescheduled release dates and canceled promotional events as an increasing number of people are avoiding crowded places. Theater admissions have also been affected considerably.

June 11, 1:42 a.m. Updated with quotes from the Busan International Film Festival's spokesperson regarding the travel plans of organizing committee members.

June 12, 8:18 a.m. Updated with additional Korean guests, Jang Dong-gun and So Ji-sub, who canceled their visit to Shanghai.