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S. Korean Film Festival Sets the Standard

To foster better understanding and cooperation between Korean and Chinese film industries, the 2004 Beijing South Korea Film Festival started on December 2.

It was hosted jointly by the Korean Film Council and China Film Group and ensured that over 200 Korean celebrities had close contact with local filmgoers. Among them were Jeon Ji-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun, Ahn Jae-wook, Jang Dong-gun and Kim Hee-sun.

The China-South Korea Film Summit Forum opened on the second day of the festival. Top officials from both countries and a number of domestic filmmakers and actors attended the opening ceremony.

According to the organizers, there were three goals for the summit and festival: to coordinate to produce good films, to promote movie imports and exports between China and South Korea and to build a powerful regional film coalition.

There was some embarrassment when it turned out that most of the Korean
attendees weren't aware of many names involved in Chinese cinema, apart from the obvious stars like Zhang Yimou, Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.

Kang Je-gyu, director of the box office record breaker Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, was one of a few familiar with the broader Chinese film industry. He expressed a willingness to cooperate with director Feng Xiaogang a couple of times, and this eagerly awaited move is widely considered a breakthrough.

During the festival, 12 films, three made in 2002, seven in 2003 and two in 2004, were selected to dazzle Beijing audiences in two local theaters. All the films, including My Tutor Friend, Oasis, Old Boy and Wonderful Days, belong to various genres, but have a common characteristic: entertainment.

In China, many still belittle market-oriented filmmakers and call Hong Kong-made entertainment films "garbage." The unprofitable industry has long been undermined by widespread piracy and fierce competition from foreign movies. The so-called "fifth" and "sixth generation" directors were all infatuated with shooting art films and winning awards abroad, and set this as an example for newcomers. As a result, underground themes and counterculture stories have increasingly alienated mainstream audiences.

"Feng Xiaogang and I are both entertainment directors." Kang Je-gyu said Feng was his favorite Chinese director. "It doesn't mean I don't like Zhang Yimou -- I admit that he has made great contributions to film in China. But Feng is capable of engaging a wider audience with his films."

From imitating Hollywood at first to eventually innovating their own styles, smart Korean directors now dominate their own market, successfully drawing in many fans who once favored American blockbusters.

Sun Jianjun, a sponsor of the event, has worked in film since returning from the US a decade ago. He acknowledged he has watched more American than Korean movies, but the more he has seen, the more he thinks it is impossible for the Chinese industry to follow Hollywood's model.

Sun said that the festival was a good platform for people who seldom met each other to talk together. In fact, cooperation on five films was agreed during the event.

When might China catch up with South Korea in filmmaking?

Sun said, "For a simple program, it only needs two or three years. If we want enough excellent films to compete with their Korean counterparts, it needs three to five years. To establish an integrated industry that can develop in a sustainable way, and provide wonderful movies for filmgoers to see every weekend, it needs much longer -- maybe longer than eight years."

South Korea plans to host a China Film Festival in Seoul in 2005.

Recently, China imported some 50 films annually, about a half from the United States. Since many domestic film fans are unable to watch movies from other countries, the Film Bureau will make more efforts to diversify the source countries next year.

(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, December 17, 2004)

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