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Korea inspires Kiwi filmmaker

Benjamin Brooking reflects on the three weeks he spent in Seoul last December and January learning about South Korea’s burgeoning film industry on a programme with one of the country’s leading film production companies.

Benjamin: It was fascinating to see the many similarities, and few quirky differences, between New Zealand and South Korean film productions.”

In December, I travelled to South Korea’s capital, Seoul. My goal? To learn about everything I could about the Korean film industry.

I was invited to work with an entity called CJ CheilJedang, and I spent my time between two companies within the conglomerate: CJ Culture Foundation, and CJ Entertainment.

CJ is involved in food, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, film, K-drama, K-pop, musical theatre, and plenty more.
A producer explained to me on the way to dinner one night how the company actually started its innovative life as the first sugar producer in Korea. What they’re now doing in film is something equally unique – sitting at the forefront of film production on the Korean peninsula.

During my trip, I visited film production and distribution facilities and spent time with eleven of CJ’s film development teams.

What I enjoyed most was meeting the incredible people involved in the industry across all levels of development. I spent time getting to know young screenwriters and directors in development programmes, spoke to writers from an affiliate programme of CJ’s based in Vietnam and met with numerous film producers and content developers.

It was also a special privilege to be invited to lunch with New Zealand Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Phillip Turner, who introduced me to a number of producers in the Korean film industry who had ties to New Zealand.

Another highlight was getting to know a couple of New Zealanders who were interning with CJ while I was there. Getting to build connections in South Korea, but also with other New Zealanders passionate about Korean culture, was a privilege.

Some of the most interesting insights I gained during my stay came while I was getting to understand the history and extent of the filmmaking resources available within South Korea.
It was fascinating to see the many similarities, and few quirky differences, between New Zealand and South Korean film productions.
The politics of filmmaking was similarly focussed on cost of labour and duration of productions, but it was also heavily focussed on China’s maturing film market, and opportunities to develop work in Southeast Asia.

I was also fortunate to get to meet martial artists, special effects experts a few famous actors, and visited the underwater film studio where they’ve filmed many disaster movies, including some key scenes from Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite.

What I’ll take away from this experience is an incredible insight into how CJ operates as the biggest player in South Korean cinema; some new friends and colleagues in the South Korean film industry; an in-depth understanding of where the South Korean film industry is directing its cultural might in this new decade; and an appetite to get involved in the future of cinematic storytelling in Asia. The experience was only possible thanks to the work and generosity of the Asia New Zealand Foundation and the New Zealand Film Commission, to whom I’m grateful for creating and supporting such an incredible opportunity. I’m also grateful to everyone at CJ in South Korea who generously facilitated my stay and shared with me their insights and experience as film practitioners.

Thanks to the Asia NZ Foundation for this article