The cinematic relationship between South Korea and China is flourishing, as evidenced by a series of Korean-Chinese co-productions including “20, Once Again!,” a Chinese-language remake of Korean smash hit “Miss Granny” (pictured) that has become a Sino B.O. hit.
As the film industry reaches saturation point at home, Korean talent has been exploring additional room for growth, most notably in China where the box office hit $4.76 billion in 2014 and became the world’s second-largest film market last year. Since China’s own production infrastructure is unable to keep up with the fast-growing demands of local filmmakers and audience, China has approached South Korea and started bringing in talent and intellectual properties.
The two countries collaborated first in 2001 on “Musa the Warrior” and “Failan,” for which acting talent and locations were shared. But since 2013, a dramatic shift has taken place in the form of Korean-Chinese co-productions, with South Korea-initiated productions starring Chinese talent finding box office success in China, such as “A Wedding Invitation.”
Co-produced by CJ Entertainment and four Chinese companies, “A Wedding Invitation” is based on 2001 Korean film “Last Present” and grossed $30.6 million at the Chinese box office. Initiated by CJ’s Beijing office, “Wedding Invitation” was directed in Chinese by “Last Present” director Oh Gi-hwan; it’s considered one of the earliest co-productions that has been specifically produced for the China market and has pioneered the melodrama genre in China. “Mr. Go,” a 2013 CGI-heavy big-budget Korean film with Chinese elements and investment, took the partnership to another level with Korean-Chinese collaboration on co-development and co-investment, hiring technicians and setting up joint ventures that co-handled the entire filmmaking and distribution duties.
One important motivation for South Korea to pursue such full-scale collaboration is that co-productions are considered local productions in China and exempt from the country’s revenue-sharing quota slots. These slots are mostly filled with Hollywood movies, largely shutting out other countries from the most profitable part of China’s theatrical market.
Still, while a growing number of Korean films have been styled and structured as co-prods by Korean companies seeking a piece of the vast Chinese market, and some are also incorporating popular Chinese ethnic K-pop talent, such films with minor involvement of China have rarely been acknowledged as co-prods.
Even if the road still seems bumpy, as the co-production treaty signed last year by China’s State Administration of Film Radio and Television and Korea’s ministry of culture focuses more on allowing Korean-made films to avoid China’s import quota system, the strong demand for more Korean-Chinese co-productions is more than a trend, with both countries’ cultural and financial motivations clear-cut.
While dozens of joint projects are being developed and produced, a handful of co-productions are set for upcoming release. These include Korean director Chang Yoon-hyun’s horror thriller, “The Peaceful Island,” with a Chinese cast; “My New Sassy Girl,” a sequel to Korean hit “My Sassy Girl,” starring Chinese K-pop star Victoria Song; and “The Witness,” a Chinese-language remake of Korean thriller “Blind.”
Latest examples of the advanced, substantial collaboration include Huace & New, the Beijing-based joint venture co-launched by South Korea’s New and China’s Huace. The deal is a further step in their relationship that started last year where Huace paid $52 million for a 15% stake in New, with which New listed its shares on the Korean stock market.
“The company is a 50-50 joint venture,” says Kim Woo-taek, New CEO. “On principle, we will be co-investing and co-producing in all Huace & New titles.”
Huace & New also announced the first three projects that have been developed for two separate films for two different countries from the beginning. The Korean version of high-concept romantic comedy “The Beauty Inside” has been completed, while the Chinese one is still in pre-production.