A new 'mega-studio' in Korea looks to increase the country's international co-productions.
4 Nov 2011 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:09 PM

Artistic director of the Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA), Kieran Tully, believes the ambitious new plan to expand the size of the South Korean film industry by 25% by 2013 can only be good for his festival and for building bridges between the Australian and Korean industries, and between Korean films and Australian audiences.

“With a goal to be world class and to focus on supporting creative content, then this plan is surely a benefit for the films we can select for our film festival, film night or library database,” said Tully, who works out of the Korean Cultural Office in Sydney.

[Read KOFFIA 2011 preview/interview with Kieran Tully]

The Seoul-based Korean Film Council (KOFIC) aims to achieve growth by several means including building a “mega-studio”, enticing foreign producers to make films in Korea and undertake their post-production in Korea, making better films and expanding the number of films made locally through international co-production.

Tully said the ground is fertile for Australian/Korean co-production: several Korean Australians work in the Australian industry, some making Korean TV commercials, and several people who studied in Australia are now big stars in Korea.

“Knowing that Korea is looking outwards will motivate to those who may be pursuing such partnerships,” said Tully, who knows of one planned Australian/Korean co-production. “With the successful launch of KOFFIA, given that 2011 is the Australia Korea Year of Friendship, and given the state of Korean culture in Australia, an Australian/Korean co-production agreement is certainly more feasible now.”

Australia recently finalised a co-production deal with China and with plans afoot for a co-production deal between Korea and China, three-way joint ventures could be an option. Co-productions usually cost more to make but they open up more financing and multi-territory distribution opportunities.

Korean and Chinese films own a much bigger share of cinema revenues locally than Australian films do locally. In the last decade or so, South Korean local films have consistently matched or bettered the biggest Hollywood hits in terms of ticket sales in their own market. Examples include: Shiri, Joint Security Area, Friend, My Sassy Girl, Silmido and Taegukgi.

When KOFIC revealed its new plans at the end of last month it noted that Korean films had to be world class to compete globally. With that in mind it promised more support for project development and the creative talent behind films, in part via the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA).

Tully explains that KAFA is a film school that actually makes films – End of Animal was produced at KAFA and was in the 'freak me out' strand of the Sydney Film Festival this year, and another KAFA feature popular with festivals was Bleak Night – and some KAFA titles get a release in Korean cinemas thanks to major film company CJ Entertainment.

“It's amazing that four features from a film school are guaranteed a release every year and this (more support for KAFA) will surely lead to developing and nurturing future major talents,” he said. “This could possibly be an approach that Australian film schools, distributors or Screen Australia could adopt as the benefits for Korea are clearly evident.”

KOFFIA was held in Sydney in August and in Melbourne in September and Sydney screenings are currently being held each Thursday evening at the Korean Cultural Office. Apart from a few releases each year in such Korean community hubs as Rhodes and Stratfield, very few Korean films are released in Australian cinemas according to Tully. Since 2003, there have been around 60 titles released on DVD, he said, and it is heartening that the five or six released on DVD per year lately have come from a range of distributors.

The Oscar-nominated short Birthday Boy was made by Park Sejong, who was born and bred in Korea, while at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.