Productions Back on Track as Korean Film Return to Overseas Locations
- Writerby Pierce Conran
Shoots Resume as COVID Restrictions Lift and Optimism Returns to Industry
In late 2019 a flurry of major Korean productions all revealed plans to shoot overseas, and while these were far from the first Korean films to envision foreign productions, the size, scope and sheer number of this batch of productions setting their sights on shooting internationally appeared to signal a bold new phase for the local film industry.
Just a few months later, however, the COVID pandemic struck and all but ground global filmmaking to a halt. Foreign shoots were suspended, delayed or scrapped altogether, and suddenly a large number of pricey Korean tentpoles were up in the air. Meanwhile, theatrical admission slowed to a trickle, and local shoots were affected by minor outbreaks. It has been a long season since the health crisis began, but with some light finally emerging at the end of the tunnel, the industry is starting to recapture some of its pre-pandemic energy.
The luckiest among these projects aiming to shoot overseas was the first to go into production, Ryoo Seungwan’s Escape from Mogadishu, which managed to complete filming without incident in Morocco just as the pandemic was beginning to heat up. Like many other completed projects, the film had to wait longer than expected to find its way to theaters, but when it did this past summer, it was met with critical acclaim and became the most well-attended film of the year with 3.6 million admissions.
Technically audacious and presenting images heretofore not seen in Korean films, the project demonstrated the industry’s increased production capacities and potential, but all the other projects that might have built on its success were still stuck in COVID limbo until now.
Among the rest of the group, the most fortunate project was Yim Soonrye’s The Point Men, a Megabox Plus M-financed kidnap thriller starring Hwang Jungmin and Hyun Bin and based on the 2007 South Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan. The plan was for the film to shoot in Jordan, and while principal photography was briefly delayed owing to the start of the pandemic, production did ultimately get underway in April 2020, strictly following COVID protocols in the Middle Eastern nation, and was completed by September that same year. Currently in post-production, the film is expected to hit screens next year.
One of the more complicated cases was Kim Sungje’s Bogota (literal title), a 1990s-set crime drama featuring Song Joongki as a rising kingpin in Colombia. Production got underway in the South American nation in January last year and was suddenly halted in March when roughly half of the production had been completed.
At first, the production patiently waited for the situation to change in order to resume production, but as the pandemic dragged on, they were forced to change their plans. Ultimately filming continued in Korea in June of this year, with sets built and a large number of foreign extras cast to recreate the Colombian backdrop. Principal photography was finally completed in October, 21 months after it had begun on the other side of the world.
Also facing scheduling difficulties were Lee Sangyong’s The Round-Up and Lee Byoungheon’s Dream (literal title). The Round-Up, the highly anticipated sequel to the crime-action hit The Outlaws (2017), once again starring Don Lee (aka Ma Dongseok), was expected to partly shoot in Vietnam. Production got underway in Korea in April last year, and once it became clear that the restrictions in Vietnam were unlikely to change in the near term, the production opted to recreate the Southeast Asian nation through extensive digital backdrops. Filming was completed in Korea last summer, and the film is currently awaiting release.
More patient was the team behind Dream, the sports drama from Extreme Job (2018) director Lee featuring Park Seojoon and IU (aka Lee Ji Eun). The project embarked on production in May last year and completed the majority of filming locally. For a climactic final football match, the production wanted to shoot in an unspecified foreign country. To do so, they have waited for the situation to change and to sort out complicated scheduling, with most of its cast engaged in new projects. The production recently revealed that the foreign portion of their shoot will take place in February next year after Park Seojoon completes work on the Disney-Marvel comic book film The Marvels.
Two other major projects that were expected to shoot overseas early last year but delayed filming until it was possible to do so were Kim Seonghun’s Kidnapping (translated title) and Yoon Jongbin’s Netflix drama Suriname.
Yoon Jongbin’s big-budget crime drama Suriname, which features Ha Jungwoo, Hwang Jungmin, Yoo Yeonseok, Park Haesoo, and Jo Woojin, began production in the Dominican Republic, which is standing in for the titular South American nation, at the end of October. The project was initially expected to shoot entirely in the Caribbean nation from April of last year, but following a pandemic delay, the plan was changed, with production split between Korea, a shoot that took place earlier this year, and about two months in the Dominican Republic.
Production will continue in the Dominican Republic until December, at which point the cast will return to Korea, including Ha Jungwoo, who will only have a short break before leaving the country again for another international shoot.
Ha will be traveling to Morocco in January to take part in Kim’s Kidnapping alongside Ju Jihoon. Ha and Kim worked before on the hit disaster film Tunnel (2016), while Ha and Ju already collaborated before on the Along with the Gods films, both of which sold well in excess of ten million tickets. Director Kim has previously worked with Ju on the Netflix Original series Kingdom.
Kidnapping, which is based on a true story of a diplomat kidnapped in Lebanon in 1986, will employ some of the same crew from Escape from Mogadishu, who are already recent veterans of location photography in Morocco. However, while Ryoo’s film is said to have been shot largely in suburban areas, Kidnapping is expected to explore more central urban areas.
The pandemic has presented manifold challenges to the Korean film industry, from exhibition and production, all the way down to development and investment, but local filmmakers have always been quick to adapt to new circumstances, and through patience and perseverance, these ambitious foreign projects are getting back on track, paving the way for new challenges ahead.