K-movie in the Wider World
in Category Culture
by HA Sung-tae
출처 Korean Cinema Today Vol.23 - BIFF Special Edition (Korean Film Council / www.koreanfilm.or.kr)
Various Cases of Global Co-productions in Korea
Though Korea is a small country, its movies are not so small. The Korean film industry is developing its love-in with the giant Chinese continent, Hollywood’s cultural empire, the rising Southeast Asian market, and with Estonia, whose name even sounds unfamiliar.
Korean Cinema Today took an in-depth look at the current state of the Korean film industry’s global co-production.
Hand in Hand with the Continent of 1.3 billion People
More Advanced Collaborations between Korea and China
For Chinese cinema, every day is a feast. As many as 15 screens are newly added each day. Currently, the box office revenue in China is CNY 29.6 billion, which is bigger than that of last year by 36.15%, and local films account for more than 54.5% of the total revenue. To boost it even further, the Chinese government promises ongoing support for the film industry. Hollywood studios keep sending proposals to the Chinese market for co-production, shooting on location and co-marketing. And this very Chinese cinema and filmmakers think highly of Korean cinema’s competitiveness and keep on trying for collaboration and co-production. Let us take a look at the brief history of Korea-China collaboration and see where it is headed for.
▶The Witness, A Wedding Invitation, Mr. Go
The Era of “Real” Collaboration
Previous Korea-China collaborations can be divided into three rough categories: first, where Korean directors, writers and actors participate in the Chinese domestic film production; secondly, where both cinemas conduct location-shooting in each other’s country and get support from the local institutions; and lastly, where both countries co-invest, co-produce and share the profit. Here, the full-scale collaboration would be the third case where the responsibilities are all shared in terms of investment, production and profit.
So far, Korean filmmakers often participated in Chinese films in the form of human resource exports. Helios would be a good example. It was released this year and collected CNY 200 million. It is a troika project directed by a Hong Kong filmmaker, made with Chinese investment and setting, and featuring two main Korean actors: JI Jin-hee and CHOI Siwon.
Directors have been active too. AN Byung-ki of Bunshinsaba (2012) pioneered the Chinese horror cinema market, and KWAK Jae-yong’s Meet Miss Anxiety (2014) made CNY 160 million. Likewise, the most common collaboration form is directors bringing in their own staff along with them. For early collaborations, shooting in China was common, as seen in The Anarchists (2000), Bichunmoo (2000) and Musa-The Warrior (2001).
The idea that the era of full-scale collaboration, which goes beyond sharing filming locations, arrived in 2013. The trigger was A Wedding Invitation. Directed by Korean director OH Ki-hwan, it featured Chinese actors like BAI Bai He and was co-produced by Korea’s CJ Entertainment and several production houses in China. It is considered to have pioneered the melodrama genre in China and earned CNY 192 million profit. KIM Yong-hwa’s 3D film Mr. Go (2013) is also based on a Korean scenario, co-invested by Korea and China, and targeted at the Chinese market. There have been five Korea-China co-invested projects as of the end of the first half of 2015, including CHANG Yoon-hyun’s Peaceful Island, which is gearing up for theatrical release. Finally, the era of real, substantial Korea-China collaboration has arrived.
▶Meet Miss Anxiety, Making Family
Case 1: Collaboration from Development Stages
Blind , which sold 2.36 million tickets in Korea in 2011 has been remade to The Witness in China and is set for an October release. Helmed by the original director AHN Sanghoon again, it features YANG Mi, the top Chinese actress who is famous for her works in Painted Skin 2 (2012), and Luhan, a former member of K-pop idol group EXO.
The Witness , which considered as an exemplary Korea-China collaboration, was from the beginning planned for both Korean and Chinese versions. Somehow Blind was first released in Korea, and while developing ideas for remakes, Chinese New Clues Film approached for a partnership and accelerated the progress: pre-production began in April, 2014.
Making Family, produced by Korea’s Hanmac Culture Corporation and Agrace, is set for a January, 2016 release.
Directed by CHO Jin-mo of Suspicious Customers (2011), it is a comic family drama following the journey of a boy, who is born from sperm donation, in search for his biological father.
It features KIM Ha-neul of Blind, Korean child actor MOON Mason, and Chinese actress LI Zhiting of Tales of Mystery.
This is the first co-production project since the Korea-Chinese Film Co-production Agreement that was signed in July, 2014. The story was developed in Korea, and the team found the Chinese partner. China’s Media Vision Entertainment Group invested 70% of the total budget while Korea’s Signal Entertainment Group and Daemyung Culture Entertainment also invested. In addition, Jonathan H. KIM, CEO of Hanmac Culture Corporation, is preparing some 12 Korea-China coproduction projects.
Case 2: Investment for Corporation
Recently, Emperor Entertainment Group, the biggest entertainment company in Hong Kong signed a KRW 10 billon (USD 8.4 million) investment deal with Group Eight, the production house in charge of LEE Young-ae and SONG Seung-heon starring TV drama Saimdang The Herstory, through its subsidiary Emperor Entertainment Korea (EEK). Listed among the 10 richest corporations in Hong Kong, Emperor Entertainment Group has announced its plan to invest USD 100 million in Korean entertainment business, again through EEK.
Likewise, owing much to Korean wave, there are a handful of Chinese enterprises investing in and/or entering the Korean entertainment industry. The biggest beneficiary in the film industry is Next Entertainment World: it obtained a KRW 53.5 billion (USD 45 million) investment from China’s Zhejiang Huace Film & TV in 2014, for the first time for a Korean company. With Huace’s investment, N.E.W. listed its shares on the Korean stock market (KOSDAQ). It is expanding its business realm to music (MUSIC&N.E.W.), stage performance (SHOW&N.E.W.), value added copyrights circulation (Contents Panda), and TV (DRAMA&N.E.W.), in addition to its film distribution major.
On the other hand, Wanda Group that owns Wanda Cinema and Wanda Media invested USD 10 million in Korean director KIM Yong-hwa’s VFX studio, Dexter Digital in May this year. Dexter also signed another USD 10 million equity investment pact with Legend Capital of Legend Holdings Group, the majority shareholder in Lenovo.
Case 3: Pioneering the Technology and Animation Business
Starting from Dexter, which has secured the Chinese investment earlier, many Korean post-production companies are participating in Chinese films with their VFX or 3D converting expertise. It is already well known that Korean VFX companies have contributed to the development of Chinese SF marshal art movies such as Young Detective Dee (2013) and The Monkey King (2014). Dexter, the top runner, established Dexter China this year.
Macrograph (Roaring Currents , 2014) is one of those companies: Macrograph started its business in China with CHOW Sing Chi’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) and is currently handling the VFX for his newest film The Mermaid (2015) and a Bruce Willis-starrer, The Bombing . Also, Real D Square and Next Media, the top two 3D convergence companies in Korea, have already made their ways to the 3D convergence market in China.
In addition, the animation sector is currently knocking on the Chinese market with TV series. MoonWatcher Co., Ltd’s Legend Heroes is a special shooting work for children made with Korean technology and Chinese investment from China Film Group, the country’s biggest state-owned entertainment company. It aims to be on China’s brown screen within this year. MoonWatcher is also preparing a theatrical animation based on Fly, Superboard , targeting at the Chinese market.
Funnyflux Entertainment co-produces Superwings Season 2 , children’s TV animation aired by EBS, with China. For Superwings , Funnyflux Entertainment signed a USD 7 million biz partnership MOU with Guangdong Alpha Animation & Culture. As there is a clear increase in the demand of theater animations in China, Korean animation companies are expected to have more presence in China.
Tips from Korean, Chinese, American Global Go-production Experts
Producer YOON Chang-up of The Witness
Find a good partner. The most important thing to do is to develop a trust-based relationship with a good partner. However, you must first be a good partner yourself. Don’t just demand what you need, but also consider whether you have what they need.
Producer Tim KWOK of The Medallion
If you are planning a collaboration with China, you must visit China. Stay for a few weeks first, and then for a few months again.
You must understand China and its culture to write a good scenario.
Animation Director at Walt Disney Television, Jamie Mitchell
I’ve worked with people from many countries for the last 25 years. According to my experience, the person who actually practices his/her idea is the most important one. Also the crew is important. You must work with good, creative people, and people with work ethics.
“We prefer Korea because of less gap”
Chiense Producer Clatyton CAO Interview
Film producer Clayton CAO who visited Korea early September to attend the 4th KOFIC Global Forum is one of the Chinese film professionals who are actively promoting exchanges with the Korean film industry. As a partner of Tianjin Century Media, he was in charge of film development and management in 2013 and has continued to collaborate with Korean filmmakers, participating in development and production of films such as 20 Once Again , the remake of Korean film Miss Granny.
Stating that he is envious of “Korean cinema’s genre diversity,” Clayton CAO tipped us that despite China’s strict censorship system, Chinese filmmakers are challenging the various genres such as thriller. He also added this would open us prospects for favorable opportunities to collaborate with Korea. His expertise spans a wide spectrum with a background in the Chinese indie film scene, and working with Hong Kong’s Emperor Entertainment Group. We had the opportunity to hear his thoughts on the current state of Chinese cinema and his future predictions for Korean-Chinese co-production projects.
A popular topic in the film industry worldwide seems to be the growth of the Chinese film market. In reality, how much do you actually feel it?
First of all, the Chinese market has grown very active in general, inspiring more film companies to work together. Not much has really changed in terms of attitude or mentality, but everyone seems to be more satisfied and enthusiastic.
Give us an introduction of your work with Korea
I worked on 20 Once Again , and Peaceful Island is about to be released soon. Also, though we haven’t fixed the film’s title yet, an action thriller starring Korean actor LEE Joon-gi is scheduled to start shooting this October 20th. Another project is a Chinese film about the South Pole that is scheduled to start shooting in November.
We also have a film by KWAK Jae-yong that we are planning to start shooting in September. We actually bought a number of remake rights for Korean films; among them is A Hard Day.
From your honest point-of-view, what makes Korean films attractive?
I think Korean films are at least a couple of decades ahead of those of China. The level of industrialization, the technique and the staff’s expertise are quite high. Furthermore, Korean films have proven their competitiveness in all genres. On the other hand, Chinese films are now in the process of diversifying into more specific genres and accumulating expertise as they do.
The view that prevails is that the Chinese government’s strict censorship is an obstacle to the competitiveness you’re longing to achieve
Censorship becomes more complicated when it comes to films about police force. The police cannot be portrayed as villains, and lead characters cannot be criminals either. Regardless, Chinese filmmakers are continuing attempts at making films about the police.
In this sense, we can’t help but be envious of Hollywood or the Korean film industry as you can explore various subject matters and tell your stories in an easy and entertaining way. Despite all the restrictions the Chinese film industry must deal with, we’re continuing our efforts to slowly tackle diverse genres and subjects.
Were there any difficulties collaborating with Korean filmmakers?
Conflicts during collaborations are’t just an issue pertaining to the Korean film industry. This can happen even among fellow Chinese filmmakers. Such disagreements and conflicts often break out during the early scriptwriting stage.
Then in spite of such possible conflicts occurring, what makes you want to collaborate with Korean filmmakers?
Every film company may have their own opinion, but in our case, we put emphasis on the fact that working with foreign film industries can bring new, different kind of films and help us be aware of unconventional methods of filmmaking. With the incredible growth of the productivity in the Chinese film market, comes a shortage in manpower. The reason why we prefer a country like Korea is because it is located in Asia and has cultural similarity that there’s less of a gap that we feel with countries like the US or Europe.
The Chinese market is on the rise. Regarding this point, what satisfies you the most as a producer?
Primarily the influx of more money makes it easier for producers like me to develop projects. Before it used to take a long time persuading investors, but now, lack of money no longer discourages filmmakers from making films. This in turn has reinforced the importance of development. The Chinese audience is also becoming more sophisticated and diverse in terms of what they want. But working with a highly skilled film crew has become more difficult as well. Overall, I am quite optimistic.
The Chinese film industry in general is maturing and improving not only in the field of production but also distribution and marketing.
What kind of films do you personally like?
I personally like thrillers and crime films. I’m also interested in fantasy. Even thaugh I produced 20 once Again , I don’t watch much melodramas, but being in the business, I cannot help but watch them, and believe me, I watched a lot (laughs).
How are the filmmakers from Hong Kong doing in China?
A few Hong Kong filmmakers, have established themselves in a more mature way by making “Chinese films.” In other words, they have succeeded in localizing their work. Since TSUI Hark and Peter CHAN have experienced failures, they are now being accepted by the Chinese audience with Chinese films. On the other hand, a few Hong Kong filmmakers are struggling to find a direction and thus hovering on the fringes, unable to penetrate the industry. Regardless, they are still exerting significant influence in the Chinese film industry, especially having the upper hand with films such as action thrillers or blockbuster films.
They say the core of the Chinese film industry’s problems comes from acting talents’ power and difficulties in casting. Is there a solution?
It is a serious problem. Investors and producers are running around in a desperate struggle to cast acting talents.
Casting famous stars has become a big issue. When the industry’s spotlight focuses on a few famous stars, it raises production costs while the money to grab them tends to soar astronomically. Their demand for profit shares is even changing the structure of investment and profit sharing. And the stars’ preference towards the blockbuster genre is raising the general production budget. A few acting talents have already become a moving personal enterprise on their own. The Hollywood system has raised the price and power of actors, but this kind of phenomenon we’re seeing here is a special case that only occurs in China. With the great influx of capital, the existing rules are disintegrating. And in the next 2-3 years, the problem of actorpower will become a major topic in the industry.
20 Once Again which earned CNY 300 million is considered a success case for Korean-Chinese co-productions
When CJ came to us 2 years ago with the translated version of the original script, I considered it a fantasy melodrama with potential. Lately we haven’t seen this kind of genre in China.
But I wasn’t sure whether it would be so successful in the Chinese market. Looking back, 20 Once Again was a really great project with a script that didn’t need much touchup.
If you have any advice for Korean filmmakers seeking an opportunity to enter the Chinese market, what would it be?
I have something to say to Korean producers, writers and directors: do not write a script specifically intended for the Chinese audience or the Chinese market. It is difficult for them to know the actual market circumstances in China. A good script, good for the universal market instead of just the Chinese one, must be the priority. Localizing it with Chinese staff is the next step. I hope Korean filmmakers can focus on their duty of making creative work.