South Korean Director Kim Ki-duk Denied Work Visa for Chinese Co-Production

Kim Ki-duk - Getty - H 2016
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Kim Ki-duk

The 'Pieta' filmmaker may serve as artistic director after being denied a visa into China due to recent geopolitical tensions with South Korea.

Production for Kim Ki-duk's Chinese co-production Who Is God faces troubles ahead as the South Korean director was denied a work visa for China.

The U.S.-China-South Korea joint venture is scheduled to begin shooting in October, but recent geopolitical tensions appear to be getting in the way.

In recent months, Chinese state-backed media have criticized Seoul's decision to deploy THAAD, a U.S.-made missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula. Speculation arose that Beijing would retaliate by limiting the amount of South Korean media and stars it allows into China.

The two Asian countries have actively pursued joint ventures ever since a state-backed treaty was signed in 2013 allowing co-productions to be treated as local projects, thereby avoiding China's heavy restrictions on imports. K-pop, TV dramas and cosmetics are high in demand in China, while Korean filmmakers and actors are also widely sought after by Chinese productions.

According to media reports, Kim is looking into alternative plans for his giant project after being granted a one-month tourist visa instead of a three-month work visa. "We are currently working hard to resolve the visa issue, but did not receive any explanations for why the work visa was denied," a representative from Kim Ki-duk Films told Korea's Star News. Kim could not be directly reached due to his taking part in the Venice Film Festival for his recent film The Net.

The Venice Golden Lion-winning director told local film magazine Cine21 that he may have to serve as "executive artistic director" instead.

"Since last year I've been traveling back and forth [between China and Korea]. Production is supposed to begin in October, but I cannot go because of this sudden work visa problem," he said. "I don't know the exact reason for it but the visa approval process has simply become more difficult all of a sudden. I am entertaining the thought of serving as executive artistic director if this visa issue does not become resolved. It will most likely involve having a director on location while I provide executive directing for scenes and other details from Korea."

Who Is God (a.k.a. Musin in Korean) is by far Kim's largest production. The $37 million project will be co-produced by Hangzhou-based Film Carnival International and Dick Cook Studios. The latter, which is the production company of former Disney head Dick Cook, is assisting with preproduction, postproduction and international marketing.

Popular Chinese actress Liu Yifei had been in talks to play the lead role, while star martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and the special effects artists behind The Lord of the Rings were to be part of the crew.

In the meantime, Kim, who also penned the script for Who Is God, had to alter the narrative in order to comply with China's notoriously strict censorship regulations. The war story delves into religious themes along with elements of romance, and the writer-director had to switch the original Japanese god Asuka to a Chinese deity. The Pieta helmer also said he had to edit details about the way in which religion or Chinese ethnic minorities were portrayed. The final version of the script was nevertheless approved by censors.