China and South Korea Sign Co-Production and Import Deal

Deal reflects existing swell of cross-border Korean-Chinese film-making

China and South Korea Sign Co-Production
Getty Images / Chung Sung Jung

HONG KONG – China and South Korea have signed a film co-production agreement that was described as a “landmark” by officials.

The deal was signed by China’s Cai Fuchao, director of the State Administration of Film Radio and television (SARFT), and South Korea’s minister of culture Yoon Rin-ryong following a two-day visit to South Korea by China’s president Xi Jinping.

The agreement follows a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries in June last year. But it may fall short of a full scale co-production treaty, which both China and South Korea have with other countries.

Instead the new pact appears to focus on allowing South Korean films to avoid China’s import quota system.

“South Korea-China co-productions, once recognized as China’s home-grown films, can bypass China’s limitations on foreign movie imports, so the pact would facilitate the South Korean film industry’s advance into the Chinese film market,” Seoul’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said in a statement.

China has similar quota-free approaches to films from Hong Kong and Taiwan, while imposing a limit of 34 other foreign films per year that are allowed revenue sharing distribution in China, and a further 30-40 foreign films per year that can be released in China after distributors pay a flat fee for the rights.

China also operates its own, multiple definitions of what constitutes a co-production. These are based on the number of and percentage of screen time given to Chinese actors, shooting locations, and ownership of the film’s copyright.

South Korea does not have limits on the number of film imports, but does still operate a diminished version of the ‘Screen Quotas’ regime, according to which theatre operators are required to show local films for a minimum of 93 days per year. In current practice, the regime has little relevance as South Korean films are hugely popular in their home market and enjoy more than 50% of ticket sales. Chinese films typically account for less than 1% of South Korea’s box office.

A growing number of South Korean films have been structured as Chinese-Korean co-ventures by Korean companies seeking a piece of China’s vast and expanding market, and those making use of Korean on-screen and music talent many of which are very popular in China. While the new co-production agreement may help more Korean-made films enter China, it seems unlikely to greatly change those films currently being made as cultural co-productions or the straightforward Chinese remakes of Korean hit movies.

Recent co-ventures include “Mr Go,” “The Wedding Invitation” and “Snow Flower And the Secret Fan,” which starred Gianna Jun, the Korean superstar who was recently revealed to be ethnically Chinese. Other in the pipeline include horror “Bunshinsaba III,” “Wedding Bible,” and Leste Chen’s now in production remake of Korean smash hit “Miss Granny.”

The ministries said that – apart from the changes to the import rules – the new deal may increase Sino-South Korean co-operation in special effects and craft exchanges.

Serendipitously, perhaps, the deal fell on the same day as another piece of cross border co-operation. It was announced that Chinese actress Tang Wei (“Lust, Caution”), who endorses major Korean brands including Samsung televisions and the SKII cosmetics line, is to marry South Korea film director Kim Tae-yong (“Memento Mori”). They met on the set of Kim’s “Late Autumn.”