Relations between South Korea and Mainland China have long been uneasy, but showbiz has gradually eased the tension.
The two countries’ range of collaboration has evolved a lot from location and talent loans, such as Zhang Ziyi starring in 2001 Korean film “Musa the Warrior,” which was the earliest and most common way of co-production, to investment and special effects service.
Recent joint productions include CGI-heavy sports drama “Mr. Go,” a Korean film conceived with Chinese elements and involving Chinese investment, and CJ Entertainment-initiated Chinese hits “A Wedding Invitation” (pictured) and “20 Once Again” that are set in China, directed in Chinese either by Korean or Chinese directors and star Chinese talent.
Korean dramas and K-pop music are enjoying huge popularity in China and are affecting every part of its entertainment industry. Producers from both countries are keen to make the best use of the cultural wave. Almost all K-pop bands boast at least one Chinese member, or a Korean one with a good command of Mandarin, who act in co-productions. Among the latest is Victoria Song, a Chinese member of K-pop girl group f(x), the lead of the upcoming Korean-Chinese co-production “My New Sassy Girl.”
As Chinese films become more and more commercial, it is not only actors but also technicians and, more importantly, directors that China is absorbing from South Korea. Korean vfx studios have provided service for Chinese films including Feng Xiaogang’s “Assembly” and Tsui Hark’s “Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon,” while experienced Korean directors have been more extensively involved in directing Chinese films: Hur Jin-ho (“Dangerous Liaisons”), Ahn Byeong-ki (“Bunshinsaba”) and Kwak Jae-yong (“My Girlfriend Is Sick”).
For South Korea, where the film industry has plateaued, it is natural for film professionals to search for outside opportunities, and the ever-expanding Chinese film industry is the perfect market for Koreans. Even the South Korea-China co-production treaty signed last summer seems to encourage the drive, as the treaty loosens the quota restrictions for co-productions once they are recognized as homegrown Chinese films.
The matching demands have tightened the bond, and a handful of co-ventures are already under way. Korean director Chang Youn-hyun’s Chinese thriller “Peaceful Island” is set for release in the second half of this year, and Korean mystery drama “Blind” is being remade in China, with Lu Han, an ex-member of K-pop boy band EXO, as male lead.
So far the collaboration has been win-win for both countries, but given the overheated expectations of the Chinese market, filmmakers from both sides of the border approach the future with caution.