The rise of China-Korea film collaborations

The rise of China-Korea film collaborations

It’s videos like the interview done by Arirang News recently that excite me when it comes to this new niche of China-Korea pop culture.

Film production collaborations between China and Korea have been such a recent trend, there hasn’t been much discussion about it. Of course, Korean entertainment companies like SM Entertainment and CJ E&M have had eyes on the Chinese entertainment industry for a long time now, but it wasn’t until the market started getting media attention for its box office growth did companies overseas – that is, non-Chinese entertainment companies – started making moves into slicing a piece of this rapidly growing Chinese pie.

The above Arirang News interview is of Korea-based film critic Pierce Conran, who discusses some of the main points as to why China has increased collaborations with Korean filmmakers over the years. I won’t rehash the interview word for word – you can watch it yourself or read the transcript here at the Arirang website – but there are a few points Conran makes that should definitely be noted:

01) It was the first time in the history of Busan’s Asian Film Market where they hosted a government-backed Chinese delegation.

Why this is important: The Chinese government controls the selection of films allowed into the country’s public box office. You hear news about films and actors banned in China all the time (e.g. The Departed, Shinjuku Incident, Tang Wei), and that’s because there is a government group that carefully selects which films are allowed to be played in China’s cinemas. At the moment China allows 34 foreign-language films to be imported into their country. This is why you see a lot of random “China” location scenes in big budget Hollywood movies as of late (e.g. the casting of Fan Bingbing and the remote Chinese scenes in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the special China-only scenes in Iron Man 3). Hollywood has increased their efforts in being allowed into the lucrative Chinese market by incorporating more Chinese-related elements into their movies. So when it comes to Chinese films that work with a Korean crew, this means good things for Korean film talent because these movies can be deemed as “local films” even if they use mostly a Korean film production crew and even feature one or two Korean actors.

02) The Chinese film market is now the second biggest in the world, and is expected to beat the United States in 2020.

Why this is important: 2020 is only six years from now! According to Conran, China’s market size is currently only worth a quarter of the United States $11 billion market, which means within the next six years, we will see the Chinese middle class demographic grow so rapidly, the Chinese market will gain over $8.25 billion between 2014 and 2020 and thereby bypass America as the most lucrative film industry in the world. Is the Chinese film industry powerful? Yes. Do they know that they’re powerful? Yes. But do they have the means to produce high quality films like Hollywood and South Korea? Not yet.

03) China is collaborating for Korea for the technical and production know-how on film-making, but once China has learned all that they need to know, there will be less need of a co-production partnership.

Why this is important: The next several years will be highly important for the Korean entertainment industry. For pop culture talents especially, entertainment companies like SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and CJ E&M will want to ensure they make a strong impact in Chinese audiences via these collaborations before the Chinese market grows so powerful, they no longer need the secrets of the Hallyu wave to improve the quality of their productions. Now, people will read this and criticize China on “stealing information” for their own selfish money-making reasons, but this is not a new practice in globalization. The United States did this to Japan to improve their automobile manufacturing way back when Ford was a little known car company, and even now, American companies still do this to Korea’s Samsung to better their Western smartphone designs. But like the example of America’s car manufacturers, Korea will need to make sure they are doing all that they can to get a slice of China’s entertainment industry while the country still allows it. There is already backlash regarding Korea-based entertainers in their country, although I do think Chinese audiences are slowly recognizing the quality that Korea brings to their local Chinese entertainment. Just don’t forget: what goes up must come down.

Since most of our readers are K-Pop fans, what does all this mean for the K-Pop industry? You will definitely see an increase of news in Korean media about China-Korea entertainment collaborations. You may already be seeing it. In my opinion, the way to look at these project announcements shouldn’t be something like “The Hallyu wave is so powerful, Korean companies are even working in China!” but it should be looked in a way similar to “China is working with some amazing Korean talent!” The protagonist in this situation isn’t Korea, it’s China. Yes, be happy that there are bilateral collaborations between acting, singing and film talents, but there shouldn’t be any doubt as to which country actually wears the pants in the relationship.

This was supposed to be a short op-ed-ish blog, but I ended up – as usual – blabbing away, but I hope this blog has been useful in learning more about present and future China-Korea film productions.

The relationship seems to be going well so far but the one thing that does worry me is that China is looking to Korea, an industry world renowned for impeccable production values, for its technical know-how… Being so close and much cheaper than Hollywood, it seems obvious that China would look to Korea for this kind of guidance. However, once that information is considered to be absorbed, there may no longer be the same need for a relationship.