Kang Han-sup battles downturn in Korean biz

In June, Seoul Art Institute film department professor Kang Han-sup was named chairman of the Korean Film Council (Kofic), with a term that runs three years.

It’s a big job given the downturn of the Korean film industry, but Kang’s goal “is to be a major player in the global film industry,” and he looks to the growth of the Korean auto industry as an example of what the film biz can achieve.

“Korea’s automotive industry has a 6% worldwide market share,” says Kang. “This is an amazing performance that nobody expected when the industry was launched in the 1950s, with poor products and business models in a very humble situation. Likewise, we would like to outstrip more advanced countries in culture content, though we plunged into the industry later than those countries.”

His plans are big: “Our aim is to become the hub of culture content in Asia. Here I mean ‘hub’ in terms of human resources, ideas and money.”

Also on the domestic film front, Kofic is hard at work inking film agreements with other countries, especially ones that offer government subsidies.

It’s close to inking a pact with New Zealand.

“We will try to sign the agreements with Australia and European countries as well,” says Kang. He sees more for the U.S. market as well, since “D-War” was a good experience; that film was a wide release in America, with an opening weekend of $5 million and a total gross of $10 million.

The sector suffers from a lack of capital, and Kang believes money for the film biz should come from “all the business sectors concerned, including broadcasting, Internet and telecommunication companies.”

He’s working on what he calls “a grand blueprint in order to restore Korean film industry” for the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism as well as to Korea Communications Commission. “I will definitely persuade all the companies and institutions concerned to participate in raising the film funds. The 21st century is the age of cultural content, and also because the king of all cultural content is film.”

The ancillary market is dead in Korea, and Kang is counting on Blu-ray to boost that sector. Indeed, Kofic is planning on backing a local Netflix-type online rental company with $1.5 million financing but doesn’t perceive “any stable and healthy model for the online distribution.”

Kang praises Korean talent and sees that as the industry’s greatest strength, but also sees weakness in the sector’s lack of strong connections. “Each part of the market is detached, and each promotion body of each content is in an isolated environment. I think Kofic has to take up the kind of integrating role the CNC in France or British Film Council in the U.K. are doing,” Kang says.

Kang sees the film biz as not only creating a commodity but also as one of establishing diplomacy. “I’m planning various diplomatic events in exchanging films and culture with Japan and China next year,” Kang notes. Kofic is planning on transforming the Korean Acad of Film Arts into the Asian Academy of Film Arts in 2010, with classes both in English and Korean, and it’s going after “a world-class director” as dean, although no names have been revealed.

“In time, international students might direct films in Seoul with money from all over Asia, instead of going back to their home countries. Imagine that someday in the future, a film about the Silk Road that’s written by a Central Asian student, with a Korean student directing and (which) a Japanese student shooting, and then it is screened as the opening film at PIFF. Isn’t it exciting?”

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