Busan: Matching Demands Bring Korea and China Closer on Film Projects

Despite complicated political relations between Korea and mainland China, a growing number of showbiz collaborations are bridging the divide and may be easing high level-term tension. China’s premier claims to be a fan of Korean TV soaps.

The two countries’ movie industry collaboration started a decade ago with location and talent loans (“Musa the Warrior,” “Failan”) and a sprinkling of co-investment (“One Fine Spring Day”).

More recently, following “Mr. Go,” a big-budget Korean film with Chinese elements and investment, made a fair showing in 2013, collaborations have appeared in more diverse formats. These have included co-production, loans of technical crews and post-production services and joint ventures. “A Wedding Invitation,” the CJ Entertainment-initiated Chinese drama, and “20! Once Again,” a Chinese-language remake of Korean hit “Miss Granny,” are examples of the new forms of collaboration.

Last year, Chinese box office hit $4.76 billion, representing an impressive year-on-year growth of over 36%. Since the country’s production infrastructure is unable to keep up with the demands of local film makers and audience, the Chinese film industry has turned to neighboring Korea and wooed opportunity-seeking Korean experts and talent — directors, cross-over K-pop stars and VFX technicians in particular, so as to create new genres and transplant production systems in their market.

As the trend appears to be creating mutual benefit for the industries of both countries, a growing number of co-productions in various forms have been set up this year. Gearing up for theatrical release are thriller drama “Peaceful Island” and “The Witness,” a Chinese remake of 2011 Korean thriller “Blind,” both of which are directed by Korean film makers and star Chinese talents. There are many more currently being shaped. “Bad Guys Always Die,” a full-scale co-production jointly executive-produced by the two countries’ most prominent directors — Kang Je-gyu and Feng Xiaogang — and starring talents from both countries, shows this week at the Busan Intl. Film Festival.

Also, Korean VFX studios have worked closely with China’s as providing reasonably-priced yet high-quality services: most notably, director Kim Yong-hwa’s Dexter was involved in Chinese films including Tsui Hark’s China-Hong Kong co-production “Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon.” China’s Wanda Group recently went one step further and bought an equity stake in Dexter.

With the recent South Korea-China co-production treaty easing the process of collaboration, more projects are being readied: “The Attorney” is one. Director Yang Woo-suk’s first Chinese-language film will star top Hong Kong actor Andy Lau and be produced by Wanda Media.

“China surely has a lot to learn from Korea,” Wanda Media VP Cary Cheng Kim Fung told Variety. “Korea is the most advanced country in Asia in terms of film industrialization and production systems … I hope that the two countries’ cooperation will further expand in the future.”

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