Warner Bros. to Increase Local Film Production in South Korea

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
'Age of Shadows'

Korean-language films 'The Bad Lieutenant' and 'A Single Rider,' starring Lee Byung-hun, are in preproduction stages, as part of a slate of up to four local productions for 2017.

Warner Bros. will release two South Korean films in the country this year and up to four in 2017 as part of its long-term commitment to making Korean-language films for the Asian market.

A Single Rider, by first-time writer-director Lee Zoo-young and starring Asian superstar Lee Byung-hun (RED 2) and actress Gong Hyo-jin, is in the works, while casting is in progress for 2017 title Bad Lieutenant.

The projects will follow the Hollywood studio's first Korean project, The Age of Shadows by Kim Jee-woon (The Good the Bad the Weird). The 10 billion won (about $9 million) actioner hits Korean theaters nationwide on Sept. 7, around the same time it bows at the Toronto Film Festival.

"We have two titles, The Age of Shadows and A Single Rider, lined up for this year, and possibly two to four for next year," said Jay Choi, a seasoned Korean producer and former executive of several local investment/distribution firms, who has stepped in as head of local productions.

The sum of 10 billion won is considered a blockbuster budget in Korea, and the budgets for Warner's other projects are expected to match local standards as expenses are expected to be recouped from the local market.

Choi's appointment in 2015 has been followed by that of Monique Esclavissat as Warner's executive vp international production and acquisition, and that of Marc Gareton as executive vp international production.

The execs on Wednesday in Seoul emphasized that local productions are ensured full creative freedom, and the appointment of a local veteran such as Choi reflects Warner's vision to create local films for local audiences.

"We are aiming to make Korean movies for Korean audiences," said Choi. "There was a lot of creative freedom, and all we had to do was translate the script [from Korean to English]. For Age of Shadows we went into production last year and are releasing it this year, which is very efficient for any industry standard. In fact, there was actually a lot more creative freedom compared to Korean studios, because Warner Bros. has less [in terms of] stereotypes about the local market and [less pressure to export films to neighboring markets like China]."

Adds Gareton: "Korea is a valuable market and local box office is one of the largest in the world. It is important for us to be in this market and support Jay's endeavors telling the best stories."

The studio also hopes to help encourage younger filmmakers to make films.

"Warner Bros. is well known for having established relationships with filmmakers on the long-term even at the studio level, and we replicate the same thing at the local level," said Esclavissat. "We want to be the home for filmmakers, but we also want to be the home for new talented filmmakers, and be an additional option in the Korean market."

The execs hope local productions will create synergy with the studio's distribution business, which has been operating for a long time. "We've been in Korea for 27 years releasing Hollywood movies. We have a lot of knowledge," says Gareton. Adds Esclavissat, "Korea has been a very successful market for Warner Bros.' studio films and has been among the top 5-10 markets. But we're also conscious of the fact that local productions dominate half or more of the share. It's fun and exciting to have local films in addition to the studio films."

March 17, 8:33 p.m. Director Lee Zoo-young's name has been corrected. It was previously spelled as "Lee Ju-yeong" in accordance with the official Korean language romanization system.