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Quest for survival

Korean filmers reaffirm pix quota support

HONG KONG — Urged on by their European counterparts, South Korean filmmakers are fighting pressure from the U.S. to drop the quota system limiting imports of foreign films.

“No country has won the battle against the U.S.,” said Kang Je Gyu, director of Korea’s box office champ “Shiri,” which outgrossed “Titanic.”

Kang and other filmmakers have staged rallies and all-night vigils in Seoul and even shaved their heads to bring attention to their cause, which they promoted at the Hong Kong Intl. Film & Television Market, known as Filmart.

The current system maintains that Korean films must be screened for a minimum of 106 days a year.

“The quota system is the only reason we survive,” added Moon Sung Keun of the newly formed Korean Film Commission, who argued for quotas everywhere as a way to fight the U.S. insistence on open markets.

“We need a solidarity alliance to put pressure on the USA,” Moon said.

The Koreans were supported by impassioned proclamations from European representatives at the market, which runs through today.

“I can’t tell you the pressure we get from the U.S. government,” said Luciana Castellina, president of the Italian Cinema Promotion Agency.

Castellina said that while European rules mandate that 51% of films on television have to be European, proponents were not able to push through similar quotas for cinemas. But she vehemently denied that such moves are merely attempts to protect failing local industries.

“They say this is protectionism, but European cultural identity is threatened,” she argued. “We need rules if we want to preserve our identities. We call it the McDonaldization of culture.”

Michel Reilhac of Videotheque de Paris acknowledged that there is a difficult balance between exposing local industries to healthy competition and coddling them too much.

“If we overprotect, then we make it weaker,” he said.

Because of the quota system or despite it, the South Korea film industry appears to be in good shape after some rough economic times.

Paul Yi, director of the film-financing workshops at Filmart, said government and private sources are injecting funds into South Korean projects. He attributed it in part to the runaway success of “Shiri” and a lot of nationalism after the Intl. Monetary Fund led a bailout a year and a half ago.

“There is more money than film projects,” Yi said.

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