South Korean director Kim Ki-duk, who is in Venice for “The Net,” has been denied a visa to shoot his magnum opus “Who Is God” in China. Kim and the film look to be high-profile victims of the ongoing geopolitical dispute between South Korea and China over missiles.
“Kim Ki-duk has been only granted a tourist visa for one month, while we applied for a work visa for three months,” producer Julia Zhang told Variety by email. “We haven’t been given any official explanation for this yet. We suspect that this has to do with the situation faced by many Korean artists who work with China at this moment. If this situation won’t change within short term, this means indeed that Mr. Kim won’t able to work as director of ‘Who Is God.'”
At Venice, Kim Ki-duk confirmed the news.
“The work visa for China has not been given to me. All activities of work on this next film has been stopped,” Kim said when questioned by Variety, adding that the issue of the visa now had to be sorted out by the Korean and Chinese governments. “I can’t resolve this myself,” Kim said.
The South Korean and Chinese governments have been embroiled in a war of words for the past month since South Korea said that it would install THAAD, a U.S.-made missile system. Reprisals appear to have been taken against two of South Korea’s biggest export industries, entertainment and cosmetics, which have large markets in China. In the past weeks, a growing number of film and TV productions have either had permits denied or delayed. The ban is now understood to operate against South Korean talent, South Korea-China co-productions and Korean finance in Chinese entertainment products.
Kim recently said that he has no more Korean movies to make. He commented at his Venice press conference that he had other projects, apart from “Who Is God,” that he could work on, and whose shoot location still had to be decided.
“Who Is God” is a large-canvas treatise on war and peace and the Buddhist religion that the South Korean maverick has been trying to mount for most of the past decade. It would have been by far Kim’s biggest-budget movie, with a production cost three times greater than the combined budget of all his films to date. It is set to be produced by Hangzhou-based Film Carnival Intl., with Dick Cook Studios, the film arm of former Disney boss Dick Cook, assisting in pre-production, post-production, and international marketing.
Kim is now openly discussing radical contingency plans. “I’ve recently been flying back and forth since last year. I am to start shooting in October, but suddenly there’s a work visa problem. I don’t know the definite reason. The approval process seems to have become more complicated,” Kim told Korean-language film publication Cine 21. “If it doesn’t work out, I may make the film as ‘executive artistic director,’ meaning that I may have a person in China and direct that person in detail from Korea.”
Zhang confirmed: “(Kim) will remain the screenwriter and be the executive artistic director of the film. We are looking for solutions with our partners in Hollywood to start the shooting as planned.”
Producers had been in advanced negotiations with Liu Yifei to star, and with Yuen Woo-ping (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) to oversee action sequences. An October start date has been scheduled.
John Hopewell contributed to this report