Some Notes For Korean Film Companies Considering an SF Film Project

This entry is part 47 of 72 in the series SF in South Korea

After the debacle that is 7광구, which I discussed here, I figured I might write up a few suggestions for Korean film companies considering undertaking an SF project. After all, I’m someone who has studied Korean SF films carefully, picked out their pitfalls and how and why they failed — either domestically, or internationally — and I have a few thoughts based on my own frustration with the way Korean SF film has gone, and is going.

I think there are a few very simple things that production companies in Korea need to realize, if they want to start putting out films as successful as The Host on a more regular basis. I figured I’d put them all in one place, and if someone wants to translate them and post them around, all I ask is that a link

  • SF is of the Fans, By Fans, For Fans: Don’t fund genre film projects with people who neither understand nor love those genres at the helm of the project. Seriously: ask the person pitching the project about his or her love of genre films, ask what he or she thinks of major SF authors (Korean, American, Japanese, etc.). If the person doesn’t seem to know SF, doesn’t seem to love it, then just say no. People who don’t love jazz will never make good jazz albums. People who don’t eat kimchi will never, ever make great kimchi. It’s the same with genre: someone who doesn’t love or respect SF, or horror, or fantasy, or rom-coms, will not make a good one. Someone who does the genre will have standards, and passion, and a sense of what SF people like and love, and how to achieve all of that, and will go that extra mile to make sure it turns out as wonderfully as it can… by the standards of people who love those genres… and they are the core of your #@*!$ audience. They would evangelize Korean SF to their friends, except you’ve given them barely anything to share…
  • Stop Dithering About Marketing: You need to quit turning movies into failures by mis-marketing them. Market SF as SF. If it’s not actually comedy, don’t market it as comedy. (Black comedy plays well to SF lovers, SF plays less well to straight comedy fans.) You need to make posters that actually sort of give a sense of what the film is about, the mood and style of the film, and so on. This is elementary. If you make an erotic film and put a kids’-movie poster up in cinemas, and the film is rated 19+, you are going to lose shit-tons of money. This is elementary. It’s true of SF, too. So market SF as SF, not as kiddie fare, or comedy, or horror, or whatever else you think will sell. Sell the movies to your audience. Make a good SF film, and the whole Korean internet will hear about it on opening night, and the SF fans especially will book tickets. Several of the Korean SF fans I know saw Avatar at least once, if not two or three times, in the audience… even those who knew the plot was stupid. That’s what I call hunger… and an audience waiting to be served.
  • Expand Your Audience Intelligently: Yes, it is possible to write romantic SF films. (Go watch Blade Runner again. Or even the recent Star Trek reboot film.) If you want to do SF comedy, think about how time travel can be funny. Back to the Future compares very favorably to, oh, Heaven’s Soldiers — mainly because of the humanity of the characters in Back to the Future, the awkwardness of the situations they’re propelled into by the SFnal idea of time travel, and the relatability of the characters’ responses to those situations shines where the nationalist claptrap of Heaven’s Soldiers falls flat. If you want to make horror SF, it’s possible; detective/crime/thriller SF? Sure! Military SF, erotic SF, comedic SF… these are all possible, and can help win more fans for the genre, or at least works within the genre. While it’s not exactly my kind of film, Cyborg She (by Kwak Jae-yong) does exactly that: it’s an SF chick-flick, and if it’d been shot in Korean, I think it would have done quite well here.
  • Stop Remaking American SF Films: Yes, really. Stop trying to “adapt” foreign works of SF to film. Natural City is a terrible adaptation or “reinterpretation” ofBlade Runner (via Japanese anime like Ghost in the Shell)– so bad it actually misses the point of the original works in both genres. 7광구 feels more like an offense against The Host and the Alien series than homage. The Resurrection of the Little Match Girl riffs on The Matrix, but shows no sense of actually having grasped how the film manages to mobilize interesting and important intellectual questions through pulpy SF tropes. Homage is okay, when done well — there’s tons of it in some Korean works, like The Host and especially Save the Green Planet, that works very well. Both of those films are very Korean, and it’s no surprise that they’re the only remotely successful commercial SF films made in Korea since 2000. And if you’re not sure how to Koreanize those SF tropes, well, this next point is for you:
  • Go Hire Real Korean SF Authors, or at Least Buy Their Stories : There actually is a community of SF authors in Korea, writing Korean-styled SF. Some of it is actually quite good, and might make a great adaptation to the screen. No, really! Yes, you would have to pay them money. But what you would get in exchange would be SFnal narratives tailored to your own culture. Believe it or not, different cultures do SF with a different “accent” and these authors are not only well-versed in SF, but also have done the really difficult work of figuring out how to make workable SF narratives that are also culturally coherent to Korean audiences. The track record of Korean SF films suggests that filmmakers have a lot to learn from them. All you need to do is ask. They love SF and would be exactly the people you should pay — as consultants, as screenwriters, or as authors whose works could be optioned — to help you make blockbusters that rake in the cash and the fans, that launch series, that popularize SF and create a new and powerful revenue stream for Korean cinema.Oh, and… buy the stories. Don’t rip off SF writers. If you do, you’ll get a bad reputation, people will pan your films, but more importantly, you will be flying blind from then on. Korean SF authors are your biggest resource, and by the way, they can also advise on adaptations… They want any adaptations done to be done well, so they will be happy to discuss changes and ideas and so on, to a point. If you need evidence of why not doing so is a bad idea: the “differences” between the film 2009: Lost Memories and the book In Search of an Epitaph by Bok Geo-il may have saved the filmmakers in the plagiarism case that followed the film’s release… but they’re exactly the reasons why the film is so damned bad, and lost so much money… in other words, the departures from the novel made in the film are exactly the kind of, ahem, “workaround” that wasn’t worth it in the end.

That about wraps up my thoughts. Who knows whether the people who need to see it ever will, but at least I’ve said my piece. Now, back to other stuff.

Series Navigation<< <em>7광구 (Sector 7)</em> — Setting Korean SF Back DecadesComing Soon: “Invasion of Alien Bikini” >>

2 thoughts on “Some Notes For Korean Film Companies Considering an SF Film Project

  1. Nice post, Gord, with some some very practical, well-thought out suggestions.

    But alas, I’m here to ask a small favour of you. Since we last had a little exchange on my blog about Korean sci fi, Dougal Dixon etc, I’ve received a request to interview a prominent sociologist about his latest book on transhumanism and related matters. Would you be interested in providing a question that I could use in the interview? I could send you the proofs, and would just ask that you do not distribute them. I know you’re busy, so it would be fine if the question was as short or as long as you liked, on any aspect of the book. And no, it doesn’t have to be specifically name dropping sociologists. For example, given your knowledge of South Korean society and culture, I imagine you could, should you so choose, bring to bear related specific issues to test the general propositions in the book.

    Furthermore, up to you whether you prefer anything to be anonymous, as in peer review, or linked back to you. If you’re interested, I would, of course, honour any requests you may have.

    Mind you, time is not yet at a premium, as the idea is to post the interview some time before the first week in October. Hopefully that would work for you.

    If you’re interested, I’ll send you the PDF.



  2. Anselmo,

    I’m curious, yes. Is this transhumanist Korean? Just wondering if that’s why you thought of me. Anyway, I’m curious. I can’t promise anything but I’d like to see/know more…

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