The Constantly Evolving Korean Film Industry: Web Content
Sep 18, 2017
- Writerby SONG Soon-jin
Experimenting with Diverse Genres and Formats, the Current State of Korean Web Movies
As online and mobile platforms are becoming the norm, the Korean entertainment content industry is in the midst of expanding from web dramas to web movies. Mobile video is no longer simply about showcasing short films, with 10-20 min-long web movies specifically developed for mobile content users becoming the new trend. From Special Agent to various experiments that have followed the theatrical release of Close My Eyes, here are a few observations on the current state of Korean web movies.
Special Agent, a Full-Fledged Movie as a Testing Ground for Feature Filmmaking
The 4-part series Special Agent, first showcased in 2016 on Naver TV, was the first web movie by MoonWatcher, the film production company behind feature thriller film Blind (2011), Starring KIM Ha-neul and YOO Seung-ho. Special Agent revolves around agents fighting against mysterious life forms that have taken over Korea. Defining itself as a “Sci-Fi cat-and-mouse action blockbuster”, the film was directed by KIM Gun, director of the award-winning short film, KEEP GOING (2015), and features an impressive cast that includes KIM Sang-joong, KIM Gang-woo and JOO Won. The audience’s response to Special Agent was fierce with a whopping 25 million online views, also earning the film a slot on mainstream TV channel, SBS which further broadened its scope of public recognition.
An interesting note regarding Special Agent is that the project was originally developed as a webtoon and web movie with the objective to later be released theatrically as a feature film. It’s production company MoonWatcher produced and released both the 4-part web movie and weekly-released webtoon at the same time. The company head, Andy YOON stated in an interview, “Webtoons compared to any other form of media can be cheaply made, their characters and images can easily be used in other sources such as merchandising, while web movies can serve as a pilot film before being created into a full-fledge feature which can test the response from producers, investors and the audience”. Moonwatcher.co.kr is currently in the process of developing the script for the feature film version of Special Agent as well as the feature film version script of filmmaker KIM Gun’s short film KEEP GOING.
From the Web to Theater, Close My Eyes
Another web movie, Close My Eyes, has succeeded in grabbing a theatrical release. Close My Eyes, based on LEE Seung-hwan’s popular webtoon series of the same title, was released on the leading Korean social network service Kakao Page. The web movie version was created with Chocolate Pictures in collaboration with TiTAN Platform which is ran by WINVENTION. The 12-part mystery thriller tells the story of Hyun-woo, a blind but gifted listener, and high school girl Mi-rim who encounters a novelist assumed to be a serial killer. Directed by KIM Sol-mae, one of the producers on the popular TV drama series IRIS, the film stars member of boy idol kpop group, ‘B1A4’ and cast member of TV drama series Reply 1994 Baro, as well as newcomer SEOL In-a.
Close My Eyes is experimenting with various versions to find the best means of distribution. This April, a press conference was held to introduce the project, which is something of a rarity for a web movie. The 12-part web version was then made available on smart content platforms, WINVENTION and Kakao Page. The following May, the ‘R-rated’ Director’s Cut version was released on HD IPTV and VOD services such as ‘Olleh TV’ and ‘Naver N Store’. The Director’s Cut version was also theatrically released during the ‘MOLBBANG Web Drama Festival’ which was sponsored by CGV, Korea’s largest film distributor and exhibitor. Close My Eyes was awarded ‘Best Thriller’ at the 2017 Seoul Web Fest this August. In addition the film has subsequently been officially invited to world-renowned web series festivals such as Roma Web Fest and the Melbourne WebFest, posing the possibility of the film entering the international market.
Collaborating with Idol Pop Stars
Korean web movies are quite aggressive in casting pop idol stars in a variety of “experiments” in terms of subject matter and genre. Bora, a member of girl group, ‘Sistar’ starred in web drama, Suck Up and Flatterer as well as the 2-part web movie Irish Uppercut which was released this April. The film tells the story of a death angel and a rookie chef. Bora plays the death angel, who happens to also be a pushover and the lowest in rank among her death angel peers. Sound of a Footstep, another web movie that was released in late August, stars girl group ‘Kara’ member GOO Hara and attracted a lot of public attention. The movie tells a tale of young people overcoming their personal wounds and secrets.
This February, ‘YG KPLUS’, a subsidiary company of the Korean Wave leader, ‘YG Entertainment’ launched its web movie project, ‘Director’s TV’ which also raises expectations for a constantly expanding Korean web movie industry. Star producers of top Korean variety shows including MBC’s CHO Seo-yoon of Radio Star, JE Young-jae of Infinite Challenge and KIM Min-jong of Real Men, Mnet’s PARK Joon-soo of The God of Music and tvN’s YOO Sung-mo of SNL Korea, to name a few, have jumped on the web movie bandwagon. It now seems Korea is on the verge of a web movie renaissance.