The love-in between the Chinese and Korean film and TV industries that has fueled dozens of remakes and the inclusion of a token K-pop idol in multiple Chinese shows, may be taking a time an enforced relationship break. Once again, international politics and nationalistic tendencies appear to be pouring cold water on a cultural industry romance.
A growing number of Korean producer sources have told Variety that their Chinese partners have received written notices from China’s Film Bureau, warning that any Korean-Chinese films produced this way would not be approved.
Others are reporting that Korean stars will not be allowed to appear in Chinese films and series.
Local TV stations in Guangdong province have been told by China’s media regulator that they will no longer receive approval for shows that include Korean pop stars, according to a report in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
Multiple sources point to the action as a Chinese reprisal against South Korea for agreeing to the deployment of the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. Korea and its military ally, the U.S., say THAAD is only for defensive purposes and is needed to deter or fend off a military attack from North Korea. However, the South’s neighbors in Russia, China and North Korea have all expressed their dismay, suggesting that the U.S. and South Korea are stoking a new ‘Cold War.’
Another possible reason for the new chill is that Korean films and TV shows are having too much success. Chinese regulators have previously reined in all sorts of content that they deem to be unhealthy or overshadowing Chinese efforts. Chinese politicians have previously warned against viewing of wildly popular Korean TV series “My Love From The Stars,” and “Descendants of the Sun.”
Were joint venture productions to be denied the dual nationality that an official co-production obtains, these productions would lose their entitlement to a theatrical release in China. Instead they would be considered as an import and subject to quota restrictions.
If a ban were confirmed, it would seem to halt one of the busiest production avenues that China currently enjoys. For the past three or four years, Chinese producers have been actively remaking high concept Korean movie titles (“My New Sassy Girl,” “20 Once Again”), borrowing Korean directors and heads of department, or sexing up their titles with the employment of a succession of Korean pop stars (Lee Min-ho, Sandara Park.)
And in order to have priority access to Korean content Chinese companies including Huace, Huayi-Tencent, Fosun and Wanda have all bought stakes in Korean production houses or talent groups. Similarly, sensing an export opportunity, Korean companies, led by CJ Entertainment, have been growing their corporate and production branches in China.
However, the action is unlikely to ever be formally confirmed at official levels. If a Korean content ban were announced, it would in turn create diplomatic problems. Only two years ago China and Korea signed a bilateral co-production treaty. More likely, censorship and other administrative procedures could be used to gum up previously humdrum operations. For that reason, others are not referring to the new action as a ban, but rather as a restriction.
While a growing nationalistic mood in China is not new it has recently been stirred by the ruling against China in The Hague over its economic and territorial claims in the South China Sea. Korea’s agreement to the THAAD deployment is portrayed in Chinese political circles as another step in a U.S. plan to surround and contain China.
Nationalistic sentiment has repeatedly been stirred in state-owned media and on social media against anyone that appears to hurt Chinese sentiments and deny the massive nation its rightful place in the world.
That ire was last month turned against Taiwanese actor Leon Dai, for not being unequivocal enough in his stance on Taiwan and independence. As a result he was cut from Chinese-made film
In a different sector, Korean cosmetics companies have also reported that the approval process for their beauty and health products has become harder since the THAAD decision.
New Chinese restrictions – if they are real – would appear to be news to some practitioners. Barely ten days ago film makers and Chinese officials had been promoting the strengthening bilateral trend at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in Seoul. Zhang Xun, former head of the China Film Coproduction Corporation was among the speakers talking up the opportunities for Korean intellectual property in the Middle Kingdom.