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Ko - production in Busan
  • THE PAINTER Conjures New Avenues of Co-Production
  • by Pierce Conran /  Aug 01, 2013
  • New JEON Kyu-hwan Film Marks First Estonia-Korea Collaboration
     
    A new film project marking the first official collaboration between South Korea and Estonia is preparing to go into production with 14-day shoots scheduled in both countries starting next month. The feature, titled The Painter, will be the eighth work from acclaimed independent filmmaker JEON Kyu-hwan. His longtime producer CHOI Miae is on board while Sten Saluveer and Pille Rünk of Allfilm will be representing Estonia as executive producers.
     
    The project is a result of a long relationship between JEON and the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (POFF), for which Saluveer is Industry Director and Programmer of Asian cinema. It began in 2008 when JEON’s debut film Mozart Town was invited into competition for the first time at the Estonian festival. Since then he has been a frequent guest, as Animal Town (2009), Dance Town (2009) and last year’s The Weight all subsequently appeared, with the latter earning the cineaste the prize for Best Director.
     
    JEON stated that ”with The Painter I want to create a different type of mise-en-scene within the frame of genre – a unique and highly stylized film with the vision I have become known for.” The project will star YOO Joon-sang, who is known for his performance in HONG Sangsoo’s films such as Hahaha (2009), The Day He Arrives (2011) and In Another Country (2012), as a painter with supernatural characteristics. In his spare time, the artist kills criminals and takes their organs as a form of retribution. One day he crosses paths with a woman working in a hostess club and after learning of her sister in Estonia, he travels to Eastern Europe with his sights set on the sex trade. The film is set to feature Estonian thespian Tambet Tuisk, who has previously worked on I Was Here (2008) and The Poll Diaries (2010), and will co-star an Estonian actress whose identity has yet to be revealed.
     
    Given the difficulty of raising financing for independent films in Korea, one of the key draws of a co-production is the funding opportunities that come with it and the chance for exposure in new markets. According to producer CHOI ”Sten was the first to propose that we work with Estonia. He mentioned that the Estonian Film Institute has possibilities to support film projects and directors such as JEON.” She pointed out that as a result of this bilateral production, the director and his production staff ”feel relatively free from the control of film investors, investment companies and distributors.”
     
    Having already made seven films, with the two most recent The Silent Man and My Boy currently in post-production, both the director and producer are keen to expand JEON’s reach beyond a niche festival crowd. ”A global project can find a bigger market and attract a more varied audience” said CHOI, who would like for The Painter to ”explore a wider film market through new international sales.”
     
    A year ago, the Estonian government launched Film Estonia, a promotion platform for the local film industry that is supported by Enterprise Estonia. Its members span the breadth of the production chain, such as the festival, the film commission and the national film institution, as well as production and post-production companies. Saluveer, a film producer and programmer for POFF who is based in Japan, suggested that the outfit point their focus towards Asia. He listed the benefits of filming in Estonia: ”shooting here is much cheaper than in Western Europe or Scandinavia, we can double for a variety of locations and there is almost no bureaucracy. Also short travel times from Asia via Helsinki and availability of Asian language translators is a plus”. Saluveer went to filmmakers that he knew, which included JEON, a filmmaker whose work he has admired over the years.
     
    Estonia is one of the most important platforms for Asian cinema in Eastern and Northern Europe. But there is, according to Saluveer, a particularly strong Estonian-Korean connection. Having been conquered three times in 100 years and occupied for 50 years, Estonia has a lot in common with Korea’s difficult history. As a result of a similar mindset and level of energy – not to mention the lack of unions – film shoots can extend depending on production requirements, just as they commonly do in Korea. Directors such as PARK Chan-wook and KIM Jee-woon have pointed out the difficulty of transitioning to a unionized film set with strict work hours following their recent Hollywood forays Stoker and The Last Stand. Furthermore, there is a  Korean community in Eastern Europe and many Estonians have worked in Busan. ”The Scandinavian-Korean connection is already there so why not exploit it?” said Saluveer.
     
    With a completed script and cast and crew (predominantly Korean save for an Estonian composer) set, the production of The Painter will begin with a 14-day shoot in Korea before moving to Estonia for another two weeks. Post-production is expected to wrap before the end of the year. Says CHOI: ”for writer-directors in Korea, the filmmaker’s style and vision are very important, unlike commercial film directors.” Due to the nature of cross-cultural co-production with Estonia, JEON’s vision can remain uncompromised while still attracting adequate funding. She foresees that the advent of co-productions will lead to positive changes in the Korean film industry. The Painter is being produced by CHOI’s Treefilm and the Estonian production company Allfilm.
     
    By Pierce Conran
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