A growing number of Chinese film studios are casting influential South Korean stars in what appears to be an effort to reach out to a wider Asian audience who love Korean pop culture.
Several South Korean movie stars have recently been chosen for lead and supporting roles in Chinese films, a departure from the past when their roles were largely limited to television dramas.
Industry insiders said this is a sign that the Chinese film industry began to pay attention to ticket selling powers of South Korean stars amid the Asia-wide popularity of Korean soap operas, films and pop music, a phenomenon known as hallyu.
Leading the pack is Song Hye-kyo, who debuted in the global market with the Chinese film "Legend of Yip Man" directed by Wang Gawi in 2013. Co-starring Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, the film opened that year's Berlin International Film Festival.
Song later joined the cast of director John Woo's "The Crossing" with Chang Chen and Zhang Ziyi. The 3-D epic drama film is set to open in China this winter.
Based on the successes in working with two of China's most renowned filmmakers, Song was recently cast as a lead actress for "I Am the Queen," a film adaptation of a best-selling Chinese book by the same name.
Actresses Son Tae-young and Im Soo-hyang have followed in Song's footsteps, as they have been selected by Chinese filmmakers seeking new faces.
Son recently finished filming "Love War," a romantic comedy, as the lead actress. She was invited to the closing ceremony of the Shanghai International Film Festival last month to promote the film.
Im is scheduled to attend a news conference in eastern China's Shandong Province next week to promote a 3-D Chinese fantasy film in which she played a lead role.
Among male stars, Kwon Sang-woo starred in a 2012 Hong Kong-Chinese action film, written and directed by Jackie Chan who also stars in the movie. Choi Si-won, a member of popular South Korean boy band Super Junior, and actors Ji Jin-hee and Park Si-hoo have been recently cast for Chinese films.
Industry watchers said Chinese studios' recent rush to court Korean stars can be understood in the same context as Hollywood studios' hiring of influential hallyu stars like actor Lee Byung-hun and singer Rain to garner more sales in the Asian movie markets.
In addition, Chinese producers want to use the polished image of Korean stars, especially actresses, for their films as Korean clothing, hair and makeup styles are in such a boom in China riding the Korean Wave, as hallyu is sometimes called, they said.
"The Chinese film industry is paying great attention to Korean stars these days," Kim Gwan-min, head of Im's management agency, InHouse Entertainment, told Yonhap News Agency. "We think Im was able to be cast for a lead role in a Chinese film because the Chinese side wanted to see a synergistic effect through the use of Korean stars."
South Korean stars also have reasons to advance to the Chinese movie market, they said. One is higher pay than in South Korea and the other is an expectation that the Chinese market can become a path to reach out to a wider audience in the world.
According to sources in the local entertainment industry, South Korean stars receive at least double the amount they are paid at home for appearing in Chinese movies.
"The appearance fee for Chinese films and television dramas is more than twice the amount in South Korea. That's why the rush of South Korean stars advancing to the Chinese market continues," a manager of a Korean star said, requesting not to be named.
Money, however, is not the only factor behind the move for those who look further down the road.
"Hollywood has long had their eyes on Chinese stars before they began to cast Korean stars. That's because the Chinese-language speaking markets around the world are so big," a Korean actor said on condition of anonymity.
"This means Chinese films target a very wide audience in the world. So I expect Korean players can, through Chinese movies, advance to ethnic-Chinese markets throughout the world, as well as China, and even farther into Hollywood, using their successes there as a stepping stone," he added. (Yonhap)