With Korean media focused heavily on April’s Sewol ferry disaster, the weak showing of Korean films in the Cannes official selection did not resonate as loudly as it did last year.
No Korean film was included in the competition selections of Cannes, Berlin and Venice last year, and this year’s Cannes is no different. Only two Korean films are in the official selection: “A Girl at My Door,” helmed by July Jung, in Un Certain Regard; and “The Target,” a remake of the French “Point Blank” by helmer Chang is a midnight screening selection. Actress Jeon do-yeon is on the competition jury.
“More and more Koreans are watching Korean films but they’re watching formulaic blockbusters. We don’t have a good environment for the growth of good, meaningful arthouse films,” says film critic Min Byong-sun. “We can no longer rely on household veteran names such as Kim Ki-duk, Hong Sang-soo and Im Kwon-taek to win awards at major film events.” He adds that Korea needs to create an environment where new talent can go on to make more good films for the arthouse circuit.
The lack of onscreen diversity is seen as one of the reasons for the relatively few Korean films in this year’s Cannes festival selection. Indeed, Korean films have not been doing well on the major festival circuit for some time.
But there’s hope. Last year, two hits came from unexpected sources. “The Terror Live,” which collected $36 million at the box office, and started as a pitch at the Network of Asian Fantastic Films genre film project market in 2010 before being picked up by giant local distrib Lotte Entertainment; and thriller “Hide and Seek,” which was made by Huh Jung, a director with four shorts to his credit, and distribbed by NEW. Latter pic has made $36 million so far.
Finding newcomers and backing have been deliberate strategies by NEW, which last year ranked as the country’s No. 2 distributor.
“Eighty percent of (NEW) films are by first-time directors,” says Suh Young-joo, head of sales agency Finecut. “They want to work with budgets of $3 million-$4 million.”
However, mainstream blockbusters are never far out of reach. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was partly filmed in the bustling streets of the capital recently, with the liberal assistance of the city of Seoul, the Gyeonggi Film Commission and the Korean Film Council.
— Patrick Frater contributed to this report