Four films, “Decision to leave,” “Broker,” “The Hunt” and “No Return,” which were selected for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, shed hope for a positive spread in the Korean film industry, which has been hit hard by the COVID pandemic. Combined with a fruitful streak in 2019, the year Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” won the Palme d’Or, a massive slowdown in the industry has led to slump in box office sales, a huge contraction in business, shutdowns of theaters and a backlog of unreleased films.
Veteran director Park Chan-wook, veteran film director Park Chan-wook, said at the Busan Film Festival last year that the release date of the “decision to leave” was uncertain, and since no one was in a hurry, the team was constantly working on refining parts of the film. Now with a paradigm shift in consumer habits, what does the road to recovery look like?
Park Jeong, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Korean Film Council (KOVIC), says, “The model in which moviegoers watch movies on schedule at cinemas has collapsed. The COVID era has changed habits in such a way that people are now watching anywhere, anytime.”
He adds that while the losses are greater for traditional players who have stuck to traditional business models, the clear winners are the platforms and the creators.
“I think it was more important to consistently create good content without giving up despite market conditions,” says Eugene Kim, co-executive producer of “The Hunt.”
The productions proved daunting globally, but the Korean producers remained resilient in the challenging scene.
Since the pandemic, KOFIC has set up special support funds for COVID-19 in an effort to revive the film industry. Resources were distributed to independent theaters, theaters, and film distributors. Recently, salary and training support has been provided to the film’s crew and less experienced staff. The funds were set at 30 billion won ($23.6 million) in 2020, but increased to $45 million in 2022 after PIC specialists requested more financial aid. Cofique has requested new urgent funding to resume the film’s circulation.
There are more than a hundred unreleased films since the circulation of Korean films has blatantly ceased. “Filmmakers were afraid that movie screenings during the pandemic were expected to fail and chose to wait until it was over,” Park says.
Because of the slow releases, South Korea lost its market dominance to Hollywood for the first time in more than a decade. On the flip side, evolving platforms have become a convenient option for content consumers and shifted the focus of filmmakers into profitable TV series.
“Most movie production companies are shifting their focus to TV series rather than feature-length films,” says independent film writer and director Noh Doyeon. “Producers turn their eyes to webtoons to secure IP. They are not looking for new directors but only new source material and scenarios that can easily be turned into profitable TV series.”
As filmmakers switch between creating movies and TV series using OTT platforms in the mix, Noh says feature film and production budgets will remain the same, but that independent art cinema may gradually disappear.
“The style of cinema and storytelling will change,” he says. “The cuts will be faster and the audience will pay less attention to detail. Instead of going to theaters and sitting there for two hours, people will watch the content in their living room or their cell phones.”
Jérémy Segay, a Korean cinema expert and former Fortnight programmer for Cannes directors, offers an alternative perspective, “Having four Korean-made or Korean-speaking films at Official Selection in Cannes this year is big business as usual for Korean cinema. It’s also not surprising to see Korean directors They compete in Cannes in the same year.”
Segay takes a look at the festival before the pandemic, “After the historic breakthrough in the year 2000, it has become almost as usual to find a Korean film in competition in Cannes. One could argue that Korean cinema has a slot dedicated to Cannes midnight screenings with a continuous presence since a year ago.” 2014. “
Strong interests in cooperation on the peninsula proved to be an after-effect of the cascade of Korean content around the world. Segay adds, “With the current footprint of Korean culture and its achievements over the past two decades, it is only natural for filmmakers from all over the world to seek collaborations with talent from the peninsula or wish to tell Korean stories. [as with Davy Chou’s “No Return”].
Pretty much the same fare as it was yesterday when any filmmaker had the desire to make an “American” movie at some point in their career. “
Besides seasoned actors making directorial debuts like Lee Jung-jae’s “The Hunt,” international co-production and cultural mixing between directors, actors, and crew will likely continue, although it’s not a new concept. The Korean film industry is on the way to recovery.
A recent vivid example is Chinese actor Tang Wei, who stars in “Decision to leave” and “Broker” by Japanese director Hirokazu Kor-eeda, by Japanese director Hirokazu Kor-eeda with a Korean cast.
“These creators are brave to make these films and I look forward to seeing the reactions of the international audience,” says KOFIC’s Park.
Selected films are expected to be shown in the summer. More details have yet to be confirmed.
Park also anticipates that it will take the film industry another two years to adapt to new content consumption behaviors, navigate this “post-COVID” ecosystem, and recreate the special experience each movie visitor has had.