Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • Korea’s Leading Filmmakers Turned Producers
  • by KIM Hyung-seok / 05.02.2014
  • Star Directors Foster New Talent

    Recently, an interesting climate has been detected among some of Korea’s most noted filmmakers. Not as directors however, but as producers. For example, Snowpiercer,which PARK Chan-wook participated on as a producer, became the most expensive film in the history of Korean cinema. KIM Yong-hwa, the director of Mr. Go, is not only branching out to producing as he also opened ‘Dexter Studio’, which reaches into more technical areas of filmmaking such as VFX (Dexter Digital), 3D (Dexter Workshop) and sound engineering (Dexter Lab). Bong Joon Ho is currently producing Sea Fog, the feature debut film of SHIM Sung-bo who worked as a screenwriter on Bong’s 2003 film Memories of Murder. Bong’s ‘Open Screen’ and two other film production companies created a consortium under the name ‘Haemu Production,’ where Bong is the main producer, heading this USD 10 million project. Furthermore, LEE Chang-dong is credited as the producer of July JUNG’s A Girl at My Door while his production company ‘Pine House Film’ produced Hwayi: A Monster Boy, JANG Joon-hwan’s filmmaking comeback after a ten-year absence. ‘KIM KI-DUK Film’ has been constantly busy after it produced JUHN Jai-hong’s Poongsan in 2011. In addition to two features directed by KIM Ki-duk himself, including Pieta (2012) and Moebius , the company has produced LEE Ju-hyoung’s Red Family , SHIN Yeon-shick’s Rough Play and MOON Si-hyun’s Godsend. The company is currently producing Made in China.
    There’s nothing new about filmmakers taking on multiple hats in the industry. Regardless, if such multitasking is being recognized now more than before, then it is either a coincidence or something to be viewed in a relative light. During the ‘Korean cinema Renaissance,’ which spanned from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, it was the producers who were at the heart of Korea’s film industry. They were the skilled operators navigating between the creative sphere of film directors and the financial world of film capital, and through their network of human resources, they handled more than 5-6 projects at a time through their film companies. But a short-lived recession during the mid-2000s drastically downsized their power and replaced it with capital, with increasing distribution power and the establishment of theater chains from major companies. The Korean film industry has demonstrated a consistent rise since 2010, but the truth of the matter is that it was based on a new order that revolves around major companies. If one were to feel that these filmmakers/producers’ activities seem more rigorous, it may be due to the considerably reduced power of film producers compared to the past.
    Then, when did the filmmaker/producer system first appear in Korea’s film history? The actual beginning seems to track back to around 20 years ago. Its surprisingly short history can be attributed to the unique characteristics of Korean films. Although Korean cinema enjoyed its Golden Age during the 1960s, it can’t be said that the situation was the same for film producers during that particular era. Film production companies, which numbered 65, were forced to merge into 16 companies through the instruction of the Education Ministry shortly after a military coup in 1961. Despite slight changes, the resulting system, run by 20-odd film companies, continued for over 20 years, and the filmmakers who also produced were an extremely limited breed that included SHIN Sang-ok of ‘Shin Film’, LEE Byung-il of ‘Yeonah Film’ and JUNG Jin-woo of ‘Woojin Film’.
    To open a film company, the law was finally reformed from a licensing system to a registration system in 1985, and from this point on, several filmmakers began to expand their horizons to film producing. LEE Jang-ho, the most commercially successful filmmaker during the 80s, led the way when he founded ‘Pan Cinema’, followed by HAH Myung-joong’s ‘HMJ Films’ and LEE Doo-yong’s ‘Doosung Films’. During the early 1990s, major companies joined the film production race, completely shifting the nature of capital investment in the Korean film industry as well as inspiring noted filmmakers to open their own film production companies. Filmmakers’ names became credible brands, and with the likes of ‘BAE Chang-ho Production’, ‘SHIN Seoung-soo Production’ and ‘PARK Kwangsu Production’, the era of ‘independent film productions’ finally began. ‘KANG Woosuk Production’ was another key name in this trend of new star filmmakers brand production companies, but more notably, filmmaker KANG Woo-suk made his mark in Korean film history by founding ‘Cinema Service’ with filmmakers KIM Sung-hong and KIM Eui-suk in 1995. If other filmmakers created their own production companies for the sole purpose of making their own films, Cinema Service stepped up in scale by including self-financed investment, and funding and distribution within their business scheme. KANG’s scale and business-savvy skills were in the league of SHIN Sangok during the days of Shin Film.
    It may be natural for a filmmaker to own his or her film production company, and there actually is a practical rationale to this. Establishing a corporation is cost-effective while giving the company an advantage when it comes to determining equity shares with the investor. On the other hand, the filmmaker/producer system cannot just be explained by practical and humble reasons like these. If a filmmaker is extremely competent both commercially and as a producer, he or she will want to realize their desire to make various kinds of films even without directing themselves. KANG Woo-suk is a typical example of this socalled ‘active filmmaker/producer’. He has been a very influential force in the local film industry since the 1990s and inspired a number of successors to follow in his footsteps, one of them being filmmaker KANG Je-kyu. KANG Je-gyu had in fact made a few attempts since the early 1990s to open his own independent film production house, but it was not until he released his blockbuster hit Swiri in 1999 that he finally made this dream come true. ‘Kang Je-kyu Films’ opened opportunities for many of KANG’s university juniors and assistants, who had shared his aspirations to make films. KANG subsequently established a film production company with his university friend and filmmaker, KIM Yong-hwa, under the name ‘Directors co., Ltd’. Filmmaker JANG Jin, who created ‘KnJ Entertainment’ with KANG Woo-suk, can be seen as a unique case. His own company ‘Film It Suda’, which included a talent management company for numerous film and theater actors, inspired many ‘JANG Jin troupe’ brand films. Filmmaker LEE Joon-ik became a film director after going through a career in film marketing, purchase and distribution of foreign film, and film production. He headed ‘Cineworld Entertainment’ and has continued to co-produce films with ‘Tiger Pictures’ and ‘Achim Pictures’.
    Filmmaker YOUN Je-kyun’s ‘JK Film’ is another name that cannot be overlooked. Probably the most commercially successful filmmaker since 2000, he has been putting out a variety of films from comedy to action, and small-scale to blockbuster size that he has either directed or produced. AN Byung-ki, who used to be known as the quintessential name in horror cinema, stormed the box office with filmmaker KANG Hyoung-chul’s Scandal Makers in 2008 and Sunny in 2011, which he produced through his company Toilet Pictures. He also participated in the USD 10 million film The Flu in 2013.
    Among the more auteurist and internationally acclaimed filmmakers, there are those who have rolled up their sleeves to support young and upcoming filmmakers who may have a short track record, but have shown promise. Filmmaker PARK Chanwook produced his former Sympathy for Lady Vengence (2005) assistant director, LEE Kyoung-mi, with her debut feature Crush and Blush in 2008 through his company ‘Moho Film’. Meanwhile, filmmaker LEE Chang-dong assisted in the production of Gina KIM’s Never Forever (2007) and Ounie LECOMTE’s A Brand New Life (2009). Filmmaker KIM Ki-duk’s prolific streak not only as a director but also as a producer was mentioned before, but what is interesting about his company is the kind of ‘family business-like’ system it inspired. LEE Chang-dong is working on projects as a co-producer with his younger brother LEE Joon-dong’s film production company ‘Now Film’. ‘Filmmaker R&K’ is a husbandand-wife film production outfit run by filmmaker RYOO Seung-wan and producer KANG Hae-jung which presented works like Troubleshooter (2010), from RYOO’s former assistant director KWON Hyeok-jae. ‘Caper Film’ is another husband-and-wife film production company run by filmmaker CHOI Dong-hoon and producer AHN Soohyun. Filmmaker CHUNG Ji-young and his son CHUNG Sang-min own ‘Aura Pictures’, which releases works such as CHUNG’s Unbowed (2012) as well as produced titles such as Ari Ari The Korean Cinema (2012) and Project Cheoan Ship. ‘Soo Film’ is run by filmmaker MIN Kyu-dong and his younger brother MIN Jin-soo, who specializes in melodramas. MIN’s wife and filmmaker HONG Ji-young is also directing works through Soo Film.
    Perhaps the most ideal system is when a producer is responsible for the overall production process and the film director looks after the creative aspect of a film. In this light, it may be less desirable for a filmmaker to do double duty, no matter how capable he or she is at multitasking as a producer. This may be hinting at a lack of diversity within the industry’s system. However, just like Steven Spielberg, who opened the age of blockbusters in Hollywood, there is no doubt that it was the balance between filmmaker-driven film production, studio genre films and auteur works that heightened the status of Korean cinema after the 1990s. If the ever-increasing number of filmmakers/producers can step up and create more dynamic genre titles, this phenomenon is certain to become more ‘desirable’ in the future.
    By KIM Hyung-seok(Film Critic)
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