Top Korean Directors Return Home After Working in Hollywood

Bong Joon-ho, Kim Ji-woon and Park Chan-wook are shooting again in their native language

handmaid Korean Film
Courtesy of Moho Film

Big, internationally known, Korean directors Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”), Kim Ji-woon (“The Last Stand”) and Park Chan-wook (“Stoker”) are back in action this year. All three have spent some time in Hollywood, making English-language films for a few years. It took three years for Bong, four years for Kim and six years for Park to return with their new Korean-language projects.

The first one to break the long-term hiatus is Park. “The Handmaiden,” his first Korean-language feature film after 2009’s “Thirst,” is a big-budget film adaptation of British historic lesbian crime novel “Fingersmith.” Park brought the Victorian-era-set story to Korea and Japan in 1930, a time when the peninusla was under Japanese occupation.

Shot in Korea and Japan, the erotic thriller is now in post-production. Handling the film’s local theatrical distribution and international sales, CJ Entertainment is selling the pic at the European Film Market. Sources close to the production say “Handmaiden” will be submitted to the Cannes Film Festival.

Kim’s new title, “Secret Agent (a.k.a. Mil-jeong)” is the first Korean production that Warner Bros. is financing and directly distributing. The Hollywood studio is known to have invested $8.3 million.

Set in Korea under Japanese imperialism in 1920, the movie stars top Korean actor Song Kang-ho, who played lead roles in Kim’s debut feature “Quiet Family,” “The Foul King” and Kimchi Western “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” and Gong Yoo. Kim styles the film as a noir spy pic. The Warner Bros. international production is set for theatrical release in the first half of the year.

Bong is the last one to make a real comeback, as “Okja,” his new title, is still in the pre-production stage. Initially “Okja” drew attention as an international film with an investment from Netflix, co-produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B and starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Bill Nighy and Kelly MacDonald. The film has been billed as starring a monster named Okja and a girl from a rural area in Korea.

“For ‘Okja,’ I needed a bigger budget than I had for ‘Snowpiercer’ and also complete creative freedom. Netflix offered me the two conditions that are difficult to have in hand simultaneously,” said Bong when he announced the production in November.

“Snowpiercer” was reportedly made on a budget of $40 million. Scheduled to start production in April, “Okja” is expected to receive a theatrical release in the first half of 2017.

Better known in Asian territories, Hur Jin-ho (“Dangerous Liaisons”) is also returning to the game this year with historical melodrama “The Last Princes,” which is shooting in South Korea. Lotte Entertainment is handling local distribution and international sales.