With all the current woes in the industry, Korean companies really should be looking abroad more,” says Showbox production scout Chung Youngjoon. “I mean, both for overseas finance of our pictures and for foreign projects for Koreans to back.” Signs are that this is happening, albeit slowly.
For much of the 12 years since Korea took off as a moviemaking nation, it has been a shining beacon to other Asian countries. The country has encouraged technical and creative talent, seen government and private sectors put infrastructure and finance in place and has produced a diversity of genres — all of which kept auds spinning their way through the turnstiles.
But success at home also kept Korean companies heavily focused on their domestic market. And now that growth is slowing, firms and institutions are having to do more than just talk about Korea as a regional or international movie hub.
The Korean Film Council (Kofic) is going to unusual lengths to embrace foreign moviemakers through its English-language Film Development Labs. The labs provide financial workshops and cash support of $40,000. Other forms of Kofic support include co-production incentives of some $400,000 for movies of under $3 million.
In the last year the org has opened an outpost in L.A., and organized showcases in Japan — a fine contrast from the days when Korean sellers could expect Japanese distribs to buy their pics in bidding battles — and mini-festivals with the U.K. and France. There are grants for foreign students studying Korean film and a range of well-produced filmmaker monographs.
Helping the Korean industry leverage its generous domestic funding, Kofic has also signed a co-production treaty with France and has plans to sign another 10 or so.
Other orgs are also putting on a friendlier face and becoming easier to employ, notably the Pusan Film Commission and Seoul Film Commission (SFC). The SFC website boasts a welcome letter from Lee Myung-bak, who was the city’s innovative mayor and is now Korea’s president. (Lee’s hugely popular pet project, restoring a formerly polluted stream through the center of the city to its natural beauty, is now being used as the setting for the sequel to megahit “The Host.”)
Ultimately, however, success of the outreach program will depend on the interest of private-sector businesses. And here, too, there are signs of growing interest: Lee Jooick’s Boram Entertainment has teamed with Barrie Osborne and QED Entertainment to produce $45 million fantasy actioner “The Laundry Warrior” as a U.S.-set vehicle for Jang Dong-gun; Showbox is one of four principal equity investors in John Woo’s $80 million “Red Cliff”; and CJ Entertainment had a stake in $30 million grosser “August Rush.” Focus Features, meanwhile, is in development on $20 million biopic “The Julia Project,” about the Korean crown prince and his American wife.