Korean Cinema Gearing up for the UHD Era by Digital Re-mastering
Korean cinema has recently been very active in the digital re-mastering field. At the center of this digital re-mastering trend is 4K, that offers wider perspective and image quality that is 4 times higher than the full HD. Among various 4K technologies, the one for TV is called UHD (Ultra High Definition Television), and as U-MAX, the first UHD channel station in the world, opens in Korea, the era of 4K is fast approaching.
The arrival of UHD channels is directly affecting Korean films' 4K conversion. With U-MAX in the lead, various UHD channel stations including Sky Life Satellite and KT IPTV’s 3 channels (SkyUHD 1, SkyUHD 2, UXN) are launching one after the other, making a new value-added copyrights market for Korean cinema.
New Source of Income, New Archive
In the Korean film industry, CJ E&M
is the most active force in 4K re-mastering. CJ E&M, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has invested in some 370 Korean films since 1993, and has recently launched a UHD channel for cinema, UXN. This company is busy collecting films for its 4K library, and has re-mastered a variety of films including Memories Of Murder
(2003) by BONG Joon-ho
, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
(2005) by PARK Chan-wook
, Die Bad
(2000) by RYOO Seung-wan
(2012), Roaring Currents
(2014) and Ode to My Father
(2014) in 4K.
PARK Beom-su, the in-house Post-production Supervisor at CJ E&M, explains: “As we have UXN, a specific distribution channel, it was easy for us to boost and expedite 4K re-mastering of our films.” Since airing CHOO Chang-min's Masquerade as the opening program of UXN, about 100 films have been re-mastered in 4K and are being aired, as of December 2015. “In order to decide which films to re-master, you need to consider many different factors overall: artistic values; admissions during theatrical release; and viewing rates on TV channels for films, etc,” PARK adds.
This re-mastering project is being carried out at CJ Powercast
's Post-production Center, a CJ affiliate. “This project began in April, 2015 and is expected to complete re-mastering for all the CJ E&M products by mid-2017. The project that scans original contents in film or digital format and turns them into the 4K UHD, 2K digital cinema, Blue-Ray contents or archive files for permanent preservation, can also be understood as a restoration project," explained Director OCK Im-shik at the Post-production Center. "For Memories Of Murder
, the film was scanned and restored, and then converted to 4K, which was finally confirmed by BONG Joon-ho," said OCK. "So it is not just the matter of expanding the size, but also carefully going through the details and restoring them, which has very much satisfied the directors."
These restored works meet the audience again through various channels including re-release, Blue-Ray distribution, UHD channel service, etc. OCK asserts, “If you look at the 4K re-mastering technology as just another way of value-added copyrights, it is rather negative since the profit is still low. However, if you take it as a contents archive or library, you will see a different picture.”
Korean Film Archive
is also getting ready for 4K re-mastering for archive. After collaborating with CJ E&M for 4K restoration of Crying Fist
(2005), KFA is planning on restoring Korean classic films in 4K from 2016 on, with a 4K scanner that they adopted upon the opening of Paju Conservation Center at the end of 2015. “The restoration works that we have conducted in 2K so far will be done in 4K only. In the list are Korean classic films, "100 Best Korean Films Chosen by KFA," and those films once screened in film in theaters but now only have negative films left and therefore are not available for screening any more. The former are well known films, but the latter would be those films that the public couldn't even watch. That is the true significance of this project,” explains SHON Ki-soo at Film Conservation Center.
Possibilities Lie ahead for 4K
Currently the most active players to consume 4K re-mastered contents are Korean IPTV companies. However, later on, viewers would have access to these products via more international channels. PARK took the example of Netflix. Netflix has officially announced to enter the Korean market and is currently talking with Korean contents providers. Netflix classifies VODs of SD, HD-class and UHD-class into basic, standard, and premium services respectively, and sets different prices for each of them. It is a very favorable condition for the 4K re-mastered early works of internationally renowned directors, such as BONG Joon-ho and PARK Chan-wook to enter the market.
"We are discussing terms and conditions with major VOD platforms including i-Tunes, Apple TV, Amazon and Netflix," said CHOI Yoon-hee, Manager at CJ E&M International Sales & Distribution. CHOI added that major VOD companies in many countries as well as UHD TV stations in Asia and Europe are also showing interest in the Korean film library of CJ E&M. "The deals are just about to happen. There are a few reasons why things can’t be further expedited, including the fact that contact periods have not yet expired for those previously sold VOD copyrights. Currently we are talking with several major platforms, and we are being careful in choosing the one that will be the best for us.”
There are also other players trying to produce 4K contents and create 4K-friendly environment, an example of which would be Korea University of Media Arts working with Media Log Ltd. to re-master The Whistleblower
(2014) and Wonderful Nightmare
(2015). Korean classic films and masterpieces will soon be meeting the global audience more easily, thanks to 4K technology.