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Ko-pick: A New Generation of Producers

Apr 26, 2024
  • Writer by KoBiz
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Producers in Korean cinema have played a crucial role in the building of the industry. While directors are usually the focus of attention, the hidden heroes and heroines of Korea’s film industry are the film producers. This was indeed true of the 1990s and 2000s when producers including Shim Jae-myung (JSA), Shin Chul (My Sassy Girl), Cha Seoung-jae (Barking Dogs Never Bite) and Oh Jung-wan (The Foul King) made it possible for directors such as Bong Joon Ho and Kim Jee-woon to make their early films. 

 

In fact, the young studios (CJ ENM, Lotte and Showbox) that would go on to be instrumental in the rise of Korean cinema were heavily reliant on them as they brought together financing, planning and the talent.

 

Producers are responsible for the whole production: from scenario development to production management. The role is essentially split two ways: planning and production. Producers during their career can often be involved in both roles as they work their way up the chain of command as the film’s main producer(s) will be overseeing the entire film.   

 

The strength of Korean cinema going forward is as much dependent on the producers as it is on the directors. Fortunately, as last week’s KO-Pick article illustrated there is a no shortage of young professionals working behind the scenes to ensure Korean cinema remains strong. This is also true for producers. This week we focus on a younger generation of producers born in the 1980s and entered the film industry in the mid-to-late 2000s who will be instrumental to the growth of the industry over the coming years.

 

 

 

Mo Il-Young

 

Born in the early 1980s, Mo Il-young began his career in film on Bong Joon Ho’s The Host (2006) working on the prop team. But he soon turned his focus on producing as he was involved in the production management team on the comedy Swindler in My Mom’s House and Won Shin-yun’s crime thriller 7 Days starring Kim Yunjin – both released in 2007.  He also worked on Park Chan-wook’s Thirst (2009), The Man Next Door (2009) and Café Noir (2009), this time as head of the production division.

 

His first collaboration with director Lee Won-suk came in the early 2010s when he worked as a line producer on his feature debut How to Use Guys with Secret Tips. He also took on the same role for Lee’s next feature, The Royal Tailor (2014) before embarking on The Accidental Detective films.

 

He was a line producer on the first film, The Accidental Detective (2015), which was directed and written by Kim Jeong-hoon that sold 2.6 million tickets during the Chuseok (Korea’s thanksgiving) season in 2015. It stars Kwon Sang-woo as a cold-case blogger who teams up with a demoted veteran detective (Sung Dong-il) to help a friend who has been framed for murder.

 

With its blend of comedy and crime mystery elements, it proved popular with audiences leading to a sequel, The Accidental Detective 2: In Action featuring the same pair that was released in June 2018 by director Lee Eon-hee. This time, Mo was credited as producer thereby overseeing the film’s production. The film sees the pair team up to solve a new case when a woman requests their assistance to solve the mystery behind the death of her fiancé. It was also a hit accumulating more than 3 million tickets.

 

In the same role as producer, he would play a leading role behind the scenes in Kim Do-young’s adaptation of Cho Nam-joo’s famous novel Kim Ji-young, Born 1982. Featuring Jung Yu-mi as the titular character, a woman in her 30s struggling with mental health difficulties as she continues to face rampant sexism in contemporary society, it sparked much discussion both on and offline upon release in 2019. Given the sensitivities, it was a risky project illustrated by some of the initial reaction online, but it ultimately proved to be very successful selling close to 3.7 million tickets underscoring Mo’s talent as a producer undeterred by projects that might be deemed as challenging for some audiences.

 

More difficult to market was Lee Won-suk’s Killing Romance that Mo produced about a woman (Lee Hanee) who seeks to escape from an insufferable marriage to an egotistical wealthy man (Lee Sun-kyun). While it wasn’t a box office hit, it did attract an immensely passionate following soon after release in April 2023 with fans of the film selling out guests visits wearing some of the film’s now iconic memorabilia.

 

Like many of his contemporaries, Mo has also been involved in streaming projects. He was a producer on Byun Sung-hyun’s Kill Boksoon that follows a female assassin played by Jeon Do-yeon, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2023 and clocked up 19.6 million hours viewed in its first three days on the platform.