Global art, individual imaginationDirector Bong Joon-ho’s latest film “Snowpiercer” is already a box office hit. It is almost certain to surpass 6 million admissions, thought to be the break-even point for such an expensive film. Bong’s 2006 blockbuster, “The Host,” had more than 10 million admissions, so you might expect another one of his movies to be successful at the box office. However, even the most successful director can have a flop. Moreover, box office success for a “global project” like “Snowpiercer” is very rare in the history of Korean movies.
“Global project” has been the buzzword for a while in our film industry. It began from desperation. In the 2000s, the production costs for Korean films went up rapidly. Producers had to invest more to compete with Hollywood movies. So they sought to make movies that could be consumed not only in Korea but also in foreign markets. There have been many attempts to integrate foreign staff, actors and capital in local movies, but these projects often did not lead to satisfactory results in Korea, let alone other countries. While each project had different reasons for failure, global projects are now associated with greater risks.
In fact, film is a product that is rarely distributed in foreign markets, with the exception of American movies. International co-productions are not easy either, due to language and differences in production methods. In Korea, for example, shooting for 10 hours straight is very common, but it is strictly forbidden in the United States and some other countries.
“Snowpiercer” was produced according to international standards. While most of the funds came from Korea, foreign actors are starring in major roles along with Korean actors. The film was shot in the Czech Republic, and Hollywood film crews were also involved. It is based on a French graphic novel.
However, even though Bong’s movie has been called a “global project,” the director has a different view. “I’ve never given a thought to how I needed to create a movie that is labeled as a ‘global project,’?” said Bong, in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “People of different ethnic backgrounds appear in the story, so I cast actors from other countries and made a film in English.”
It is widely known that Bong began planning “Snowpiercer” before “The Host” was released in 2006, after he discovered the Korean translation of the French comic. He used the basic setting of the original work, but wrote the script himself, adding various new characters and events. His imagination became the foundation of the film.
“Obviously, I did my best to describe the amazing ideas in the original comic series ‘Le Transperceneige,’?” Bong said.
To him, a global project is not a goal but an outcome. If the movie becomes a hit in foreign markets and is recorded as a successful case of a Korea-led global project, we need to contemplate his words. The chicken-versus-egg question actually makes a huge difference.
*The author is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by LEE HOO-NAM