BUSAN — Warner Bros. is to finance and distribute its first ever Korean-language movie, “Secret Agent.”
The 1930s period drama is to be directed by top Korean director Kim Jee-woon and star acting icon Song Kang-ho, who previously shared the lead in Kim’s kinetic kimchi Western “The Good, The Bad, The Weird.” Song is also familiar to U.S. audiences from “Snowpiercer.”
Warner becomes the second Hollywood studio to greenlight a Korean-language movie, following Fox Korea’s “Intimate Enemies” and “Slow Video” and its involvement in “The Yellow Sea.”
South Korea has one of the most vibrant film industries in the world. Thanks to high rates of cinema-going, it is the world’s sixth largest box office territory, with a cumulative gross last year of $1.52 billion, that puts it far ahead of much larger countries including Russia and Germany. In most years recently local films have accounted for most of the box office, prompting Hollywood studios to examine co-production or investment strategies in Korean-made titles.
“Secret Agent,” which is also known as “Mil-jeong,” has a $8.62 million (KRW 10 billion) budget. That is currently being fully financed by the studio, though Warner may look to bring on other local partners. Warner is a direct distributor in the country, and will handle the Korean theatrical release.
The project was planned and developed by Lee Jin-sook, CEO of local production house Harbin. It was pitched to Warner at script stage by Lee, who was seeking a production partner. Currently the project is structured as a co-venture between Warner and director Kim’s Grimm Pictures.
Set in Korea during the 20th century Japanese colonial era, the film will star Song and Gong Yoo (“The Suspect”). Production is set to begin in October, with locations including Korea and China.
Kim, who also directed ultra-violent drama “I Saw the Devil,” and classic horror “A Tale of Two Sisters,” is considered one of the top three directors from Korea, and has been actively courted by Hollywood studios. His Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring English-language debut “The Last Stand” was produced by Di Bonaventura Pictures. Kim is also attached as director to the project “Coward” for Electric City Entertainment, and as screenwriter on the New Regency Pictures remake of his “A Bittersweet Life.”