Film market fosters Asian industry networksRecently at the Cannes Film Festival, “Once in a Summer” ― a new film by Jo Geun-shik starring Lee Byung-heon ― sold to Japan for $400,000. That, however, was a rare case of success.
In order to foster more such cases, the Asian Film Market is an ambitious program launched by the Pusan International Film Festival this year to promote Asian filmmaking and open new markets for Asian actors.
The main part of the program introduced Asian actors, both established stars and newcomers, including Korea’s Hwang Jeong-min, China’s Guo Xiaodong and Yuu Aoi of Japan. Major management companies set up booths and held meetings with casting experts from other countries, to tout their contracted actors.
The central purpose of the event was for networking among film industry members in the Asian region as more and more local management companies seek to provide their actors with language expertise and set up branches overseas. In the long run, the Korean film market is geared toward one destination ― Hollywood.
As an indication of this, Variety magazine ran a feature article in their special edition on the festival of chances for Korean actors to debut in Hollywood, naming Jeon Ji-hyeon and Lee Byeong-heon as potential candidates.
Production companies are also heading to Hollywood, though they prefer to invest in smaller projects featuring Korean directors and actors, rather than giant co-productions such as “Julia Project” and “Christmas Cargo.”
CJ Entertainment, for example, has already gotten positive responses at the Sundance and Pusan film festivals for “West 32nd Avenue,” which it just completed filming in Los Angeles with Korean-American director Michael Kang. (The film stars John Jo from “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”)
Now Film is in pre-production on “Never Forever,” a collaboration with an American producer directed by Kim Jin-A, who is based in the States. The movie will star Ha Jeong-woo and Vera Farmiga (“The Departed”) in the lead roles.
IHQ, a local management company, recently signed Korean-American actors such as Karl Yun and Will Yun Lee.
Yet there are barriers to making a Hollywood debut, which many observers say throws up more complex obstacles than the Asian marketplace.
“If the market changes, the stars also need to change,” says Sung Kang, who starred in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” “There is a deep stereotype in Hollywood to give roles as villains to Asian actors.”
Language differences create another barrier for Korean actors trying to break into the U.S. market.
“When we see talented young actors, we give them language lessons first,” says Shin Yang-jung, a vice president of K & Entertainment. “Expatriate actors such as Choi Yeo-jin from Canada are a bonus.”
Ahn Jeong-suk, a director of the Korea Film Council, said it is critical to build a network of human resources in order to continue coproductions with the United States.
“In the past, foreign producers didn’t know the basic information about how to contact us even if they were interested in our actors,” says an aide at IHQ. “It’s an adequate accomplishment that we let them know who we are.”
by Lee Hoo-nam, Ju Jeong-wan