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Monday, July 9, 2007

South Korean Filmmakers Looking to Expand Global Reach

'They are the Brad and Angelina of Asia,' E! Entertainment Asia Pacific managing director Christine Fellowes says.

South Korean Actress Park,Eun-Hye

South Korean Actress Park,Eun-Hye

Not long ago, the idea of inviting South Korean celebrities to a high-profile Hong Kong event might have been met with derision. These days, though, Park and Shin - not to mention other popular South Korean television actors including Cha Tae-hyun, Kim Tai-hei and heartthrob Bae Yong-jun - possess enough cross-border appeal to bring out paparazzi from Hong Kong to Hanoi.

But star power hasn`t quite been able to work the same magic for South Korea`s film industry, which has struggled to increase its presence on the world cinema stage.

From an artistic standpoint, South Korean cinema has been enjoying a renaissance for nearly five years - but for some reason, even the best locally produced fare has garnered limited attention abroad.

In fact, only 202 South Korean films were released in foreign territories last year.

'Although (South) Korean feature films have done well in Korea, they haven`t traveled as well as the locally produced TV series,' says Richard Samuels, senior vp and managing director of 20th Century Fox Television Distribution Asia.

Local industry officials are well aware of that discrepancy and are doing their best to make South Korean features more attractive to an international audience - namely by shooting at locations around the globe, hiring international talent and entering into partnerships with North American and European companies, including the major U.S. studios and their subsidiaries.

While developing stronger ties to Hollywood remains something of a thorny issue, a Korean Film Council spokesman says that market expansion, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, 'represents the most important aspect of creating a positive-feedback structure for the Korean film industry.'

Producer In-Ah Lee has noticed a difference in the way South Korean production companies evaluate projects.

'Because of the limited commercial success Korean-language films have abroad, a lot of Korean companies are looking for international projects,' says Lee, whose Los Angeles-based company Lee Lee Films is moving forward with Grace Lee`s low-budget horror-comedy 'American Zombie' with funding from South Korean firm iHQ. 'It gives producers like me a whole new perspective on raising funds for projects.'

One of the biggest players in the South Korean market, LJ Film made headlines recently with its decision to partner with Focus Features for its most ambitious project to date: the $25 million production 'The Julia Project,' based on the life of American Julia Mullock and her marriage to the last crown prince of Korea`s Lee dynasty.

'Julia,' in pre-production, will be shot primarily in English, underscoring LJ`s desire to produce titles with strong worldwide appeal.

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