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China and South Korea: 'Like a good neighbor…'

By Wei Xi in Beijing and Wan Yu (Global Times)

09:53, June 14, 2013

A scene from Daisy (GT)

As geographic neighbors, the Chinese and Korean people have maintained close communication for thousands of years and share many cultural roots. While the feudal kingdoms of China used to lead the popular style there, the recent decade or so has seen waves of cultural trends from South Korea gaining popularity with Chinese audiences and consumers in everything from TV shows to fashion and cosmetics.

Despite the fact that more and more made-in-China movies are "fighting back" and establishing their market share in South Korea, co-productions between the two countries are becoming the new trend.

Movie exchange program

Starting from June 16 and running until June 20, a Chinese movie festival will be launched in both South Korea's capital Seoul and coastal city Pusan. The festival has already set two successful representative films in featured slots during the festival: The Grandmaster (directed by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai and starring South Korean actress Song Hye-gyo) will be the opening film, and A Wedding Invitation (directed by South Korean director Oh Ki-hwan and starring Taiwan actor Eddie Peng and mainland actress Bai Baihe) will be the closing film.

Other Chinese movies like Chen Kaige's Caught in the Web, Zhang Yang's Full Circle, Ann Hui's A Simple Life, Xu Zheng's Lost In Thailand, and Feng Xiaogang's Back to 1942, will also represent some of the recent works from China.

This is already the fifth year since 2006 when China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and General Administration of Press and Publication co-launched this movie exchange program with South Korea's Korean Film Council.

As was planned, screenings of Chinese movies in South Korea and South Korean movies in China are carried out in turn every two years. Last year, in August and September, South Korean movies like Architecture 101, Deranged and Il Mare were screened in Beijing and Shanghai.

Chinese stars in Korea

Though the exchanges and cooperation between China and South Korea seem in a fever, Chinese movies are still not very popular among Korean audiences.

As a veteran producer in South Korea, Jang Bo-yeong said that because the movie market in South Korea is fiercely competitive, Chinese movies only take roughly 2 percent. Even though sometimes there are a few works with good feedback, the box office does not achieve much.

Japanese movies take an even smaller slice than Chinese movies, but Hollywood blockbusters and domestic movies are equally the biggest players, Jang said.

The situation was quite different two or three decades ago. As Jang introduced, in the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong movies almost took over the whole movie market in South Korea: back then, eight out of 10 movies sold well.

The gangster films or kung fu flicks of Hong Kong gradually lost their market share, according to Jang, due to the development of South Korea's domestic works. Yet certain Chinese stars still enjoy a big name there, such as directors Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Hark Tsui, actors Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, and actresses Zhang Ziyi and Tang Wei.

Chen Weiming, founder and president of Beijing-based Zonbo Media, helped distribute a number of Chinese movies in South Korea. He once told that though Jackie Chan was popular in South Korea, his fans are now older than typical moviegoers.

While Jang believes that to earn more revenue share, Chinese movies should be more open in their subject matter and more creative, Chen thinks Chinese movies have lost their own characteristics after following Hollywood's style of filmmaking.

"Few Chinese movies have left a deep impression on people in recent years, and the understanding of Chinese movies among many Koreans is still from directors of the fifth generation (representative figures include Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou)," Chen said. By comparison, he said, Korean directors like Kim Ki-duk and Lee Chang-dong are able to offer something that Hollywood blockbusters do not have while doing so with smaller budgets.

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