Kim Ki-duk’s outsider victory highlights problems in Korean film business

Posted on : 2012-09-11 14:00 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Industry insiders say there is a long way to go to support non-corporate and independent projects
 causing a threefold increase in viewers and theaters showing the film since its opening on Sept. 6. (by Lee Jeong-ah
causing a threefold increase in viewers and theaters showing the film since its opening on Sept. 6. (by Lee Jeong-ah

By Song Ho-jin, staff reporter

The Korean film industry has every reason to celebrate the Golden Lion Award won by Kim Ki-duk for his film “Pieta.” The grand prize at the Venice Film Festival (one of the top three film festivals of the world) has uplifted the level of Korean films, but at the same time has put forward an agenda to improve the Korean film industry, an agenda that calls for efforts from all sectors.

Kim In-seok, Chairman of the Korea Film Commission said on Sept. 10 that the Golden Lion Award comes at a very important point for the film industry, with major directors and filmmakers actively promoting their talents overseas. Directors like Park Chan-wook and Kim Ji-un, for instance are in the United States while director Huh Jin-ho is in China.

“This award has advanced the competitiveness of Korean films,” Chairman Kim said.

Lee Yong-kwan, chairman of the Steering Committee of the Busan International Film Festival, said, “Back in 1987 when Kang Soo-yun won the best actress award in Venice, we said, ‘Wow, what’s happening?’ But since then, Korean films have continuously received positive attention from abroad, which ultimately led to the Gold Lion Award.” He added, “This award will elevate the recognition and confidence of Korean films in the film festival and global film markets.

It took three week for Kim Ki-duk to make the movie "Pieta" with a very small budget. This fact only will add diversity in the film market where commercial films will coexist with low-budget productions.

Jun Yoon-chan, a producer at Kim Ki-duk Films said, "The film industry has to be structured so that small companies like us who can break even with 200 to 400 thousand viewers can survive. But the reality is that the movie theaters won’t even bother putting our films up." "Pieta" was made with a total production amount of 150 million won (US$ 130 thousand), drawn from money that the production company made from "Poongsan Dog" which opened last year. Naturally, with such a small budget the production could not even pay for the main actors or most of the staff. Everyone in the production including the youngest staff agreed to share by percentage, should the film make a profit.

Choi Young-bae a representative of Chungeoram Productions, which is currently filming the movie "26 Years," said "If we look at the movies that were acknowledged overseas with the exception for “Bat” by director Park Chan-wook, none of them had commercial investment." He added that the Kim’s Gold Lion Award not only displayed the energy of the small film productions that create great movies on a low budget but also showed the need for commercial investment to join small but good film productions.

The money and the theaters cluster around movies that are being produced and distributed by the big corporations and the small films must struggle to find a place to show their work. Kim Ki-duk’s voice for the underdogs in the film industry, people hope, will also draw attention from the government to change this unfair system.

Film critic Jun Chan-il expressed bitterly that even a film like "Pieta," which has won a major global award, may find it difficult to be fully available for the public. "Even if people want to see it, it may be shown outside prime time hours or irregularly, and many people will miss the chance to enjoy this good movie. It makes no sense," Jun said.

He added that the government’s Fair Trade Commission must ensure that the film market is fair so that there is opportunity for everyone. Jun criticized the current system of film distribution, as big films either monopolize the screens or theaters that are owned by the big corporations set the programs so that films that they sponsored or produced are given sole priority. He said, "Already in 1948, the Supreme Court in the United States ruled that it was not only unfair but illegal to have this vertical system where the big corporations own the movie productions and the theaters, and use this to solely distribute their films."

The critic expressed his expectation that "the serious gap between the haves and the have nots in the film industry will begin to narrow and that this will foster a second and third Kim Ki-duk in the future", adding, “it is time for the government to think seriously about this situation.”

Kim Eu-seok, chairman of the Korean Film Commission said that 400 million of the 700 million won (US$347 thousand of US$608 thousand) invested in marketing “Pieta” was provided by the Diversity Fund of the Commission. Kim said that the Diversity Fund has a pool of 10 billion won (over US$86 million) and it will continue to focus on providing support for films with a budget of less than 1-2 billion won (between US$8.6 million and US$16 million)

Lee Yong-kwan, Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Busan Film Festival said “I hope that ‘Pieta’ will open doors so that the public will be able to enjoy and be more receptive to artistic films and ‘auterisme’ films in the future.”


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