Korea Cinema’s Growing International Profile
Aug 19, 2019
- Writerby Pierce Conran
Bilateral Industry Ties on the Rise
News stories of Korean films being adapted abroad, of Korean stars going to Hollywood, or even of Hollywood trying to break into Korea have become so common over the years that they scarcely elicit the surprise they may have in the past. However, of late Korea’s international ties have begun to grow even more complex as the industry begins to enter an even more sophisticated era of global productions.
Below is a brief overview of some of Korean cinema's international links, from the well-documented (Netflix, Marvel casting of Korean stars), to some of the less obvious ties being established around the world.
Netflix Establishes Itself in Korea
Starting with the acquisition of global rights of major Korean films such as Pandora (2016), Netflix very quickly entered Korea, a market it considers essential as it becomes a global content provider. The streaming giant financed and released BONG Joon-ho’s Okja, which debuted in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, and not long after that announced its first Korean Netflix Original Series, the period zombie drama Kingdom with RYU Seung-ryong (Extreme Job), JU Ji-hoon (Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, 2017) and BAE Doo-na (The Host, 2006), from Tunnel (2016) KIM Seong-hun.
Now armed with an office in the Gwanghwamun neighborhood in Central Seoul and its own local team, the company has ramped up its Korean production slate, which includes the second season of Kingdom, the romantic webtoon adaptation Love Alarm, due out in August, and the supernatural high school novel adaptation School Nurse, from The Truth Beneath (2016) director LEE Kyoung-mi and with JUNG Yu-mi (TRAIN TO BUSAN, 2016) and NAM Joo-hyuk (The Great Battle, 2018), scheduled for release next year.
New Wave of Korean Actors Set to Conquer Hollywood
Following in the footsteps of global Korean stars LEE Byung-hun (G.I. Joe, RED 2) and BAE Doo-na (Cloud Atlas, Sense8), a new wave of Korean acting talent is descending upon Hollywood.
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) and THE OUTLAWS (2017) star Don LEE (aka MA Dong-seok) made waves earlier this year with his thriller The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, which was invited to the midnight section of the Cannes Film Festival and was also optioned for a Hollywood remake by Sylvester STALLONE’s Balbao Productions, with LEE set to reprise his leading role. LEE hit the headlines again when he appeared at Comic Con in San Diego alongside Angelina JOLIE and the rest of his co-stars in the upcoming Marvel Phase 4 film The Eternals.
Also making the jump to Hollywood is JUN Jong-seo, who was discovered by LEE Chang-dong when he cast her in his acclaimed Cannes Film Festival competition entry BURNING (2018), alongside YOO Ah-in (Veteran, 2015) and Steven YEUN (Okja). JUN will feature in the upcoming fantasy film Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night director Ana Lily AMIRPOUR.
Speaking of Steven YEUN, Korean actresses YOUN Yuh-jung (The Taste of Money, 2012) and HAN Ye-ri (Worst Woman, 2016) will appear in the upcoming Korean-American drama Minari from director Isaac CHUNG, which YEUN is executive producing.
Korean Technical Talent Going Overseas
For years, Korean animators have been working in Hollywood, while Korean VFX personal has been active in China, but these days we’re seeing other major below-the-line Korean film talent establishing themselves overseas.
PARK Chan-wook’s longtime director of photography CHUNG Chung-hoon debuted in America with director PARK on Stoker (2013). It didn’t take long for Hollywood to take notice and CHUNG was quickly hired to shoot Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. Since then, in addition to working with PARK on The Handmaiden (2016), he’s become one of Hollywood’s top cinematographers, shooting the horror smash IT, and currently on set for Edgar WRIGHT new film Last Night in Soho.
Also connected to PARK is director of photography KIM Wu-hyeong, who recently shot the director’s BBC miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, which earned him the Photography & Lighting: Fiction prize from the BAFTA TV Awards.
Korea Looks to Foreign Screenwriters
YOO Ah-in and PARK Shin-hye (Miracle in Cell No.7, 2013) will co-star for the first time in the upcoming infection thriller #ALONE, from first time director CHO Il-hyeong. What sets this thriller apart from others in Korea is that it is actually drawn from an unproduced Hollywood script penned by Matt NAYLOR, who previously directed the documentary series Small Business Revolution: Main Street. Director CHO has worked on the US production side of notable Korean works such as The Suspect (2013), No Tears for the Dead (2014) and C’est Si Bon (2015).
Korean Filmmakers in Demand Overseas
Following his US debut Stoker, director PARK Chan-wook went back overseas to make the recent BBC miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, adapted from the novel of the same name by John LE CARRÉ and starring Florence PUGH, Alexander SKARSGÅRD and Michael SHANNON. Reports also suggest that his next English language project may be the S. Craig ZAHLER-penned western The Brigands of Rattlecreek with the backing of Amazon Studios.
Another director who has already worked overseas with his 2013 Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER action vehicle The Last Stand, KIM Jee-woon is currently in pre-production on the major French-Korean miniseries Clause 47. Extreme Job star LEE Ha-nee is currently considering an offer to star in the project.
The Villainess (2017) director JUNG Byung-gil is also taking his talents overseas, as he was announced as the director of the upcoming Gerald BUTLER vehicle Afterburn, which launched presales at the European Film Market in Berlin last year, but has yet to go into production.
Singapore’s Spackman Entertainment Grows Korean Portfolio
Over the course of the last few year, the Singapore stock exchange-listed Spackman Entertainment Group has become one of the major players in the local film production scene. With a majority stake in the Korean production house ZIP CINEMA, it has delivered hits such as Cold Eyes (2013) and Master (2016).