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Pan-Asian funding, stars boosting biz

Shochiku tries on 'Ruby Shoes'

SEOUL — South Korean filmmakers are reaching out to other parts of Asia for funding and stars to combat the twin problems of rising budgets and exportability.

“Korea is just now beginning to take advantage of the kind of trade between foreign industries that the European market has systematically enjoyed for years,” Korean Film Critics Society president Chung Yong-tak says. “If practiced carefully, this could bring about all kinds of benefits to the local market, including higher quality films and better overseas business.”

For instance, “Asako in Ruby Shoes,” Korea’s maiden co-venture with Japan, stars popular Japanese actress Tachibana Misato in a love story between a Korean man and a Japanese woman. Japanese partner Shochiku Co. chipped in 40% of the $2 million budget and guaranteed the film would play theatrically in Japan, a market which hadn’t been receptive to Korean imports until the breakthrough Korean hit “Shiri.”

“Asako” sold a respectable 90,000 tickets during a two-week run in Korea last December and is due to preem in Tokyo theaters in August.

Other films testing the waters of strategic alliances and crossover stars include the recently released “Failan” (directed by Song Hye-sung) from Tube Entertainment, which headlines one of Hong Kong’s biggest actresses, Cecilia Cheung as a Chinese woman who goes to Korea for a fake marriage and is duped into becoming a prostitute.

Pic is already contracted to open in major Asian markets including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, China and Singapore.

Director Kim Sung-su’s “The Warrior,” due out July 14, also has a leading actress from China, Ziyi Zhang, whose popularity soared after her role in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Upcoming co-productions also aiming for similar synergies include the Korea-Japan project “2009 Lost Memories,” a sci-fier starring Japanese actor Toru Nakamura; Korea-Hong Kong’s “Venus,” a high-tech spy movie featuring Hong Kong actress Wu Chien Lien; and Korea-China venture “Sickle,” a mystery thriller with Chinese actor Yang Li-ching.