Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • Korea-Japan Co-Productions Bear Fruit
  • by Pierce Conran / 12.04.2013
  • Lotte’s GENOME HAZARD Marks Sophisticated Cultural Exchange

    A man loses his identity in a tale of intrigue that unravels in the hearts of Seoul and Tokyo, the two largest metropolises in Asia. Featuring major stars from both national industries, not to mention a mix of key talent behind the scenes, Genome Hazard marks a new level of sophistication and cinematic exchange between South Korea and Japan.
    It’s not secret that the shared history between both countries is a tense one. From 1910 to 1945, the entire Korean peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule and many of the wounds inflicted during that time have endured over the decades. In the film sector, just as in other areas of business, it took a long time to shake off the sting of recent history. It wasn’t until 1998 that Japanese films were allowed in the country for distribution, albeit in limited form. The first was KITANO Takeshi’s Hana-bi (1997) but the following years, when restriction were somewhat relaxed, Korea allowed in its first real Japanese hit, the romance film Love Letter (1995). Following this watershed moment, ties developed quickly between the nation’s filmmakers.
    In 2000, both countries engaged in their first full co-production when E J-yong directed Asako in Ruby Shoes. Starring a young LEE Jung-jae and KIM Min-hee alongside Japanese performers MISATO Tachibana and URAWA Awata in a tale of loneliness and alienation. Korean company Koo & Film supplied 60% of the production’s funds while Japan’s Shochiku kicked in the remaining 40%. Though in many ways a subtle and sometimes biting allegory of the political reconciliation between the two nations, E’s film was nonetheless viewed as the product of a healthy cultural exchange in this early stage of bilateral cooperation.

    Since then, the corridors of exchange between both industries have become more fluent and abundant. Over the years these co-productions have become more frequent and these days a number are produced each year. During the first decade of the millennium, as many as 70 Japan-Korean co-productions were made, accounting for approximately 30% of all co-productions with Korean involvement. After 2006, when the local industry took a nosedive, some producers looked to the more stable Japanese market as a way of mitigating risks on mid-level projects. Among these producers was Juno LEE of Kraze Pictures, who initiated the co-produced thriller Boat (2009), starring with HA Jung-woo and TSUMABUKI Satoshi.
    Other co-productions from the last few years include One Missed Call Final (2006), Virgin Snow (2007), Like a Dragon (2007), Black House (2007), Don't Look Back (2006), Dream (2008) and Higanjima (2011). Korean directors or film technicians also frequently take part in Japanese projects, such as 2008’s Cyborg She, directed by KWAK Jae-yong of My Sassy Girl (2001) fame, or 2010’s Sayonara Itsuka, from LEE John H, the director of A Moment to Remember (2004).
    Also popular have been Koreans film featuring large Japanese plot points and casts. Among these have been 2009 Lost Memories (2002), Fighter in the Wind (2004), Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary (2004) and Unstoppable Family (2011), the fourth installment of the Marrying the Mafia franchise. On the other hand, Japanese films have also come to Korea to shoot, to capitalize on, among other things, cheaper production costs. One such film was last year’s Hakuji No Hito, the first film to avail of the Korean Film Council’s Foreign Audio-Visual Works Production Grant, which provides a 25% cashback incentive to foreign films or TV shows shooting in Korea. Hakuji No Hito, which starred YOSHIZAWA Hisashi and BAE Soo-bin, shot for 25 days in locations such as Seodaemun Prision History Hall, Hapchon, Buan and Gunsan.

    Genome Hazard is the latest film from director KIM Sung-soo, the director of Running Wild (2006), not to be confused with the director of Beat (1997), Musa-The Warrior (2001), Please Teach Me English (2003) and recent epidemic thriller The Flu. The film features NISHIJIMA Hidetoshi, the star of KITANO’s Dolls (2002) and Amir NADERI’s Cut (2011), and Korean actres KIM Hyo-jin, star of IM Sang-soo’s The Taste of Money and currently in theaters with Marriage Blue. The film had its world premiere at the 18th Busan International Film Festival last month, as part of its Korean Cinema Today: Panorama section.
    Based on a Japanese sci-fi novel by TSUKASAKI Shiro, Genome Hazard  tells the story of a man who becomes confused when he discovers his wife’s corpse at home and then promptly receives a phone call from her. He soon begins to doubt his memory and then even his identity. As he tries to unravel the riddle of his life and escape from some dangerous men, he discovers that he is not who he thought he was. In fact he isn’t even Japanese, he is actually a Korean biochemist who was involved in the development of a special new drug at a pharmaceuticals company.
    Produced by Lotte Entertainment, Genome Hazard is a co-production with a high level of sophistication. Shot in both Seoul and Tokyo and featuring an even mix of personnel from both countries, it’s hard to say which country the production favors more. Perhaps that has something to do with the studio behind it, as Lotte is a large conglomerate active in Korea and Japan. Originally founded by SHIN Kyuk-ho, a Japanese of Korean descent, and headquartered in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, the company has thrived in both countries and thus a co-production between the nations led by its film division Lotte Entertainment seems only natural. Genome Hazard will be released in Japanese theaters on January 24th next year. A Korean release date has yet to be settled on.
    Among other upcoming Japanese-Korean co-productions is All About Love, the third feature from Eighteen (2010) and Sleepless Night director JANG Kun-jae. Following an invitation to the Nara International Film Festival in Japan, JANG was asked by the festival’s director, renowned filmmaker KAWASE Naomi (The Mourning Forest, 2007) to direct their next commissioned project. JANG recently completed photography in Japan and is planning to shoot for a few more days in Korea this winter.
    Though many co-productions from these Far Eastern neighbors have come to pass, to date none have reached significant commercial success. However striking the right balance takes time and we have already seen successful Korean co-productions earlier this year, such as CJ Entertainment’s China-set Wedding Invitation. In light of growing Asian film markets and the increasingly globalized nature of the film industry, Korea and Japan seem poised to activate many more co-productions in the years to come. Genome Hazard, a tale of common history and confused national identity, demonstrates how easily Korea and Japan can align to make a feature film. Considering the technical advancements and the economic strength of both countries, not to mention their 13 years of shared filmmaking experience to date, it should only be a matter of time before that correct balance is struck.
    By Pierce Conran
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