Will Korea-China film collaborations save or break the Korean film industry?

Chinese actress Tang Wei (photographed here at the BIFF 2014) recently became a popular figure in Korea after marrying Korean film director Kim Tae Yong

Anyone paying close attention to this year’s Busan Film Festival would have noticed a much larger Chinese presence than in recent years. Of the six biggest slots the festival  offers, four were filled by Chinese language films and the Asian Film Market (one of the biggest events at the festival for people working in the Asian film industries) hosted a Chinese delegation for the first time.

This is just one example of how the Korean film industry is becoming more and more focussed on doing business with China. Earlier this year Korean and Chinese government officials signed an co-production agreement which was viewed as an attempt by the Korean film industry to bypass China’s strict quota which allows only 34 foreign-language films to be screened each year.

Given that it is expected that China will have the world’s largest film market by 2020, it’s not surprising that the Korean film industry wants the chance to gain access to a bigger slice of that rapidly growing pie. And as Chinese film-goers have already shown an appreciation of Korean film with various big hits such as My Sassy Girl and The Thieves throughout the years, it would be crazy for Korea not to try to expand their influence in the Chinese market.

During the Busan Film Festival, Arirang News interviewed Seoul-based film critic Pierce Conran who brought up a number of important points about the developments in the industry. (HT tofupost)

Conran makes a number of good points throughout the interview about the nature of the relationship between China and Korea and points out that there are other big players also eyeing up the Chinese market:

Hollywood can sense the powers of the global market shifting East and has responded by attempting to align itself with China, or at least various companies within that industry. China has a quota on foreign films which stands at 34. Co-productions get past that quota and film with Chinese elements go down very well with local viewers so increasingly were seeing US films shot in China, such as IRON MAN 3 and TRANSFORMERS 4, which is currently the highest growing film of all time in China, with $300 million, significantly more than it made in the US.

That Hallyu and Hollywood can now compete like for Chinese attention like this shows how far the Korean industry has come in a short period of time but more than anything it also raises questions about what the global film market will look like in a few years time once the Chinese establishes themselves as the world’s largest film consumers. Korea can make good money now from collaborating with Chinese producers and teaching them all their production skills but what happens once China becomes an established and advanced film-producing superpower?

Wendy over at tofupost had this to say on the issue:

In my opinion, the way to look at these project announcements shouldn’t be something like “The Hallyu wave is so powerful, Korean companies are even working in China!” but it should be looked in a way similar to “China is working with some amazing Korean talent!” The protagonist in this situation isn’t Korea, it’s China. Yes, be happy that there are bilateral collaborations between acting, singing and film talents, but there shouldn’t be any doubt as to which country actually wears the pants in the relationship.

In a few years time will all the fuss about Korea’s film industry seem quaint as China starts to dominate the Asian market? Will China and Korea’s close working relationships be the thing that finally manages to unseat Hollywood of its culturally imperialist throne? Will the rise of the influence of China’s film consumers have a lasting impact on the kinds of faces and stories we see in films across the globe? In the end, will China be the force that propels Korean cinema to the next level or will it dominate the market and halt its growth?

We can only wait and see.

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