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[Feature] Major movie projects link foreign directors, Korean actors to draw global audiences

Surging global demand for K-content drive international productions

A still from “Broker” starring, from left, IU, Kang Dong-won and Song Kang-ho (CJ ENM)
A still from “Broker” starring, from left, IU, Kang Dong-won and Song Kang-ho (CJ ENM)


Famous Korean stars Song Kang-ho, Kang Dong-won, IU and Lee Joo-young entered the theater to take part in a press event held at Yongsan CGV on May 10. Just like every other press event with Korean reporters, the stars introduced their roles in the new film, shared their experiences from the set and posed for photos.

However, there was one difference. Director Hirokazu Koreeda joined the event via video conference from Japan. There was also an interpreter for the director.

The situation was similar to the press conference for “Vanishing” held in March. The film’s director Denis Dercourt could not be present at the event, and took part via video conference with an interpreter.

One of the commonalities between the two films is that they are both directed by foreign directors and shot entirely in Korea with Korean staff and mostly Korean actors.

Japanese director Koreeda’s highly anticipated film, which is competing at the Cannes Film Festival running through May 28, centers around the relationships formed through a “baby box,” a unique drop box installed at churches or institutions in Korea for desperate parents who wish to anonymously leave their babies.

“Vanishing” depicts the story of Alice (played by Olga Kurylenko), a successful forensic scientist and a Korean police officer (Yoo Yeon-seok). While the two protagonists investigate a murder case in Korea together, they fall in love.

Local culture critics suggest that more films like these are being made due to the surging global demand for Korean content. The global success of films like “Minari” (2020) and “Parasite” (2019) and actors like Youn Yuh-jung and Jung Ho-yeon highlight this trend.

 
A still from “Broker” shows Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda directing Korean actors. (CJ ENM)
A still from “Broker” shows Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda directing Korean actors. (CJ ENM)


“These global projects are being made because K-content — ones with a Korean-style storyline or Korean movie stars — are demonstrating potential in the global market,” said film critic Jung Ji-wook. He added that in the case of Koreeda’s film, producers worked with Koreeda not because he is Japanese, but because he is a world-renowned director who can work on projects on a global scale.

Culture critic Kim Hern-sik shared a similar opinion.

“I would say there is a shift from a localization strategy to globalization. For example, previously global projects were organized to enter a certain market -- to Vietnam, Japan and so on,” Kim said. “As the scale of Korean content grows, I think we have started targeting global audiences rather than audiences of a specific country. I think global projects have evolved in a way.”

The critics also went on to explain how recent global projects are different from those from the past.

“Earlier global projects did not work well. It was usually like this. If it was a project between Korea and Japan, it had a Korean man and a Japanese woman as protagonists. It focused on attracting audiences from both Korea and Japan, but ended up being neither a Japanese- nor Korean-style movie -- and failed,” Jung said. “And then there were Korean directors working overseas. They were not there as ‘Korean directors’ though. They were there because they are globally renowned directors like Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho.”

Both Jung and Kim view the recent changes as progress.

“I see the changes as positive. Before, we only thought about global directors like Park Chan-wook working with European actors. Now it is different,” Kim said.

Jung also predicts that there will be more cases of foreign directors working with Korean actors and staff.

 
(From left) Actors Yoo Yeon-seok, Park Soi, Ye Ji-won and Choi Moo-sung pose with cardboard cutouts of French director Denis Dercourt and actor Olga Kurylenko after an online press conference held in Seoul in March. (Studio Santa Claus)
(From left) Actors Yoo Yeon-seok, Park Soi, Ye Ji-won and Choi Moo-sung pose with cardboard cutouts of French director Denis Dercourt and actor Olga Kurylenko after an online press conference held in Seoul in March. (Studio Santa Claus)


“I am not saying that there will be an instant change, because these movies aim big -- they aim for the world market,” Jung said. “For instance, if we are only talking about the Korean market, when a certain type of movie is successful, then similar films flood the market. We’ve seen this happen,” she said. This is not the case with global projects, because they usually take more time to start, according to Jung. However, she said such projects will continue to be made.

Meanwhile, culture critic Kim pointed out that now is a time for to think about what defines Korean movies.

“Some people say ‘Pachinko’ has nothing to do with Korea and is not relevant to us. But it was created by Korean Americans who were influenced by Korean content growing up,” Kim said. “I don’t think the content has to be made in Korea to become K-content. So now we need to start having a conversation about what defines K-content, as we expect to see more and more collaboration projects.”

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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