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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 12:09 GMT
S Korea trades film rights with US
Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein's Miramax led Hollywood's Korean charge
The South Korean film industry is selling Hollywood the remake rights to its best movies to try to make up for the huge losses it is suffering through piracy.

Producers in the country - the seventh-largest film industry in the world - estimate that between 30% and 40% of revenue has been wiped out due to illegal copying.

They are resigned to the fact that court action is having little success, and have responded by seeking alternative ways to make money - and Hollywood is possibly their best hope.

Among the takers the US is Steven Spielberg's company DreamWorks, which has acquired the rights to smash hit A Tale Of Two Sisters.

"The Korean pictures have become a very popular remake right property," producer Edison John told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme.

"A Tale Of Two Sisters as a huge hit in Korea.

"It was well-written and well directed, so I am not at all surprised."

Market killing

Production company Miramax led the way in the Hollywood rush, by snapping up My Wife Is A Gangster in 2001.

Since then other studios getting in have been MGM who acquired Hi, Dharma and Warner Brothers who bought Il Mare. Meanwhile Madonna's production company Maverick Films took a look at My Sassy Girl.

Take Care Of My Cat
Take Care Of My Cat got an international release of its own
The speed with which these films are being acquired is a reflection of the spectacular boom the South Korean film industry has undergone in the last five years, with audiences doubling in size since 1998 alone.

As in India, Koreans flock much more to locally-produced films - with such titles as Attack The Gas Station, and Take Care of My Cat - than Hollywood fare. It has even overtaken Hong Kong as the biggest movie market in the region.

But much of that is now coming under threat from widespread piracy - streets in the capital Seoul are full of copied DVDs available for around $1.50 (79p), none of which heads back into the company.

"It's not only a problem - it's the biggest threat to all this industry," said Jason Che, the CEO of Korea's leading independent producer and distributor, Mirrovision.

"It really kills the market, it kills the distributors."

He described attempts to fight pirates through the courts as "meaningless efforts," adding: "We don't know who they are or where they are."

And he said that the revenue being lost was incalculable.

"You can't even count it - 30% to 40% of the revenue has been killed."

Genre defying

Films are now so big in Korea that they rank as one of the country's top 10 industries.

Many believe that the watershed which began the boom was Shiri, a film in which North Korean spies attempted to blow up a stadium in South Korea. It eventually received a limited release worldwide.

John Woo
John Woo's flashy gunplay was courted by Hollywood - but Korean stories might not fare so well
"It had a box office no-one felt was possible in Korea," said Mark Russell, a Seoul-based writer for magazine Hollywood Reporter.

"Since then I guess the cinema bug got into a lot of companies and a lot of investors.

"Pretty soon, more people started going to the cinema, and it started expanding. Five years later, there are twice as many screens and twice as many people going to the movies."

However, some believe that there might be things that get lost in translation between the originals and the remakes.

South Korean films tend not to stick to one particular genre in particular, instead having a more dynamic feel.

Mr Russell said that, for example, almost every comedy is "pure melodrama" in the last 20-30 minutes.

It is possible, therefore, that the remakes will change things around to appeal to a mass audience - which might upset purists and fans of the originals.

Certainly, Mr Russell said, this was the reason South Korean films were not worldwide hits.

And he added he doubted there would be much take-up of the films in their original form.

"The films here have so much of the local characteristics," he said.

"You don't have films here that are as flashy. With John Woo you have guns - it's easy to move guns from Hong Kong to Hollywood.

"But it's much harder to move these particular stories."

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