Korea: Small land, big biz

Film commissions from Seoul to Busan have nurtured production and post

Unlike Japan and China, South Korea has never been a location for major Hollywood productions. Yet this small, less well known country has developed a strong and remarkable film industry in the past 10 years, expanding production infrastructure and government investments as new talent has emerged.

To support this growth, local governments rushed to set up film commissions; there are now 11, and these commissions are now aiming to attract the global film industry. The most active are the Seoul, Busan and Gyeonggi commissions.

Seoul, the nation’s capital with a population of 15 million, is also the center of the film industry. About 95% of industry resources are based there, including investors, production companies, theaters, distributors and talent agencies.

Some 40% of Korean films are shot in Seoul. Recently, these have included Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host,” Na Hong-jin’s “The Chaser” and Jang Hoon’s “Secret Reunion.”

Launched in 2001, the Seoul Film Commission (SFC) has supported about a thousand productions over the past eight years, and that number is growing.

Since 2008, the commission has supported eligible foreign productions and co-productions to the tune of up to 25% of the total cost of location production — up to about $87,000 — as well as air fares and accommodations for up to two individuals.

Earlier this year, 80% of Thai romantic comedy “Hello Stranger” was shot on location in Seoul. It had a major domestic release in Thailand on more than 500 screens in August. Directed by horror helmer Banjong Pisanthanakun, the pic was co-produced by the Korea Thailand Communication Center (KTCC) and GMM Tai Hub (GTH), and it received SFC support.

Currently in post-production are Korea-U.S. 3D hip-hop movie “Hype Nation” and France-Belgium-Korea animated co-prod “Approved for Adoption.”

While the SFC grants may appear small, the $87,000 cap can be lifted for exceptional projects. For example, the limit does not apply to films that satisfy one of the following requirements: more than $1,291,000 spent in Seoul; more than 50% of the film shot in Seoul; or distribution agreements signed in at least five countries.

Grants would be significant “for a movie with a promising worldwide marketing effect for the city,” said Mark Sigmund of SFC’s international affairs division.

SFC also offers programs to lure international productions. They have included location scouting support and international co-production development cost support — although these are temporarily suspended.

SFC is also in charge of managing the Filmmaker’s Creative Zone — cheap but state-of-the-art facilities designed to incubate new projects — located in Sang-am Digital Media City.

The most active Korean film commission is the Busan Film Commission (BFC), the first in Korea. A decade ago, just one or two titles a year shot in the city of Busan due to poor production conditions. But more than 260 feature titles have now had location shoots in Busan, not to mention about 270 commercials, musicvideos and TV series.

Busan’s biggest attraction for filmmakers is its production infrastructure. Over the past decade, BFC has launched the Busan Cinema Studios, the Busan Cinema Venture Center and the Busan Post Production Facility.

BFC offers grant rebates to international co-productions and foreign features. There’s a maximum 30% rebate (up to $87,000 per production) on expenditures for shooting in Busan. The incentive for post-production is a maximum 10% rebate of post-production expenditures, up to $25,800 per project taking place at AZworks, the post-production company co-ventured by Busan city.

“A Better Tomorrow,” a Korean remake of John Woo’s action title — which was co-produced with Hong Kong, China, Japan and Thailand — received the grant this year. Other recipients include “The Yellow Sea,” a much-anticipated thriller from the helmer of “The Chaser” partly financed by 20th Century Fox, and “Camellia,” an omnibus movie by three Asian directors and the closing film of this year’s Pusan Film Festival.

“We’re providing location incentives based on relatively small budgets, not so different from other local film commissions,” says Oh Seok-geun, newly inaugurated as director of BFC. “But we want to differentiate the attraction of Busan.”

Elsewhere, Goyang, a city in Gyeonggi province, recently announced its master plan to support broadcasting and the film industry and signed deals with filmmakers Park Chan-wook, Lee Joon-ik and Bong Joon-ho. The city also lured local post-production companies such as vfx house Digital Idea and sound shingle Livetone.

A geographical shift in the base of Korea’s film industry is occurring as the Gyeonggi Performing & Film Commission (GGFC) accelerates its new policies on the film industry and assists with the production of content for broadcasting, telecommunications, video and online games — and even performing arts like theater musicals.

GGFC grants 10% of the expenditure within the province as a rebate, up to $87,000. Last year, a total of $435,000 was granted to 15 features including “Paju” (the opening film for the 2010 Rotterdam Film Festival) and “Zero Focus” (a Toho Pictures production).

This year’s recipient includes Cannes entry “The Housemaid,” although the budget for location incentives was decreased by half. Instead, GGFC changed its support plans toward more efforts to launch an investment fund to cultivate private-sector businesses.

“We suffered in Seoul after the industry’s downturn,” says Ralph-Taeyoung Choi, a sound supervisor at Livetone. “Signing deals with Goyang city gave us momentum to broaden business opportunities with international production companies.”

Another film office of note is the Jeonju Film Commission. Established in 2001, the JFC started its business in assisting location shoots of Korean productions with mid-size budgets.

Located in the Jeollabuk province of Southwest Korea, the city is surrounded by beautiful mountains, sea and a vast plain. It is also famous for its food and cultural heritage and has long been favored by local filmmakers for location shoots.

This year, Korean master director Im Kwon-taek’s 101st movie, “Hanji,” and helmer Ryoo Seung-wan’s upcoming title “The Unjust,” were supported by the JFC.

Along with incentive programs for titles shot in Jeonju Film Studios, the JFC runs programs focusing on local film production. The budget for location incentives has been slightly increased by local government this year. The city hopes to develop more collaborations with foreign productions as well, as well as additional location shoots.



“Hello Stranger”
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Production companies: GMM Tai Hub Co., JorKwang Films Co., Korea Thailand Communication Center Co.
Producers: Jira Maligool, Chenchonnee Soonthornsaratul
Cast: Chantavit Dhanasevi, Nuengthida Sophon

“A Better Tomorrow”
Director: Song Hae-sung
Production company: Fingerprint
Producers: John Woo, Terence Chang, Park Hyung-joon
Cast: Joo Jin-mo, Song Seung-hun, Kim Gang-woo, Jo Han-sun

“Approved for Adoption”
Directors: Jung and Laurent Boileau
Production companies: Mosaique Films, Artemis, Panda Media
Producers: Patrick Quinet, Thomas Schmitt
Cast: Jung

“Hype Nation”
Directors: Alan Calzatti, Christian A. Strickland
Production company: Hype Nation Korea
Producers: Jason Lee, Han Sang-bum
Cast: Park Jae-bum, Dennis Oh
Budget: $25 million

Directors: Jang Joon-hwan, Wisit Sasanatieng, Yukisada Isao
Production company: Balcon
Producers: Kim Dong-ho, Oh Seok-gun
Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Song Hye-kyo, Kang Dong-won

“The Kick”
Director: Prachya Pincaew
Production companies: The Kick Co., Bangkok Film Studio
Producer: Kang Sung-kyu
Cast: Cho Jae-hyun, Yea Ji-won
Budget: $3.5 million


Director: Kim Min-suk
Production company: Zip Cinema
Producers: Eugene Lee, Song Dae-chan
Cast: Kang Don-won, Goh Soo

“The Showdown”
Director: Park Hoon-jung
Producer: Kim Su-jin
Cast: Jin Goo, Park Hee-soon

“Looking for Kim Jong-wook”
Director: Jang Yoo-jung
Production company: Soo Film
Producers: Min Jin-soo, Park Joon-ho
Cast: Gong Yoo, Im Soo-jung

“The Unjust”
Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Production company: Filmtrain
Producer: Han Jae-duk
Cast: Ryoo Seung-bum, Hwang Jung-min, Yu Hae-jin

Director: Im Kwon-taek
Production company: Jeonju Intl. Film Festival Organizing Committee
Producer: Lee Hee-won
Cast: Park Joong-hoon, Kang Soo-yeon


“The Yellow Sea”
Director: Na Hong-jin
Production company: Pop Corn Film
Producer: Jung Dae-woon
Cast: Kim Yoon-suk, Ha Jung-woo

“My Way” (working title)
Director: Kang Je-kyu
Production company: Directors
Producer: Song Min-kyu
Cast: Jang Dong-gun, Son Ye-jin, Odagiri Joe

Director: Lee Joon-ik
Production companies: Achim, Tiger Pictures
Producers: Cho Chul-hyun, Oh Seung-hyun
Cast: Jung Jin-young, Lee Moon-sik

“Blue Salt” (working title)
Director: Lee Hyun-seung
Production company: Studio Blue
Producer: Ahn Soo-hyun
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Shin Se-kyung

“The Seventh Sector”
Director: Kim Ji-hoon
Production companies: CJ Entertainment, JK Film
Producers: Katharine Kim, JK Yoon, Kim Min-kyung
Cast: Ha Ji-won, Ahn Sung-ki, Oh Ji-ho

“The Lord of the Field”
Director: Jang Hoon
Production company: TPS
Producer: Kim Joo-kyung
Cast: Shin Ha-kyun, Goh Soo, Kim Okvin

Director: Kang Woo-suk
Production companies: Cinemaservice, KnJ Entertainment
Producers: Katharine Kim, Kang Woo-suk, Jung Sun-young
Cast: Jung Jae-young, Yoo Sun

— Han Sunhee