The Korea Herald


KOFIC eyes ASEAN cooperation to develop Asian cinema

Despite Culture Ministry's criticisms over mishandled budget and failure to form ASEAN-ROK Film Organization, KOFIC seeks to establish ASEAN partnership

By Lee Si-jin

Published : June 20, 2023 - 17:26

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The Korean Film Council's logo (KOFIC) The Korean Film Council's logo (KOFIC)

The Korean Film Council emphasized the significance of Korea-ASEAN cooperation in the film industry, while promising to restructure itself to better support and promote Korean films as a state-funded entity.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism openly lambasted KOFIC on June 15 over its lax management, particularly the organization’s mishandled budget of 2.4 billion won ($1.86 million) over the last five years which was aimed at creating the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Film Organization (ARFO).

In response, KOFIC said that while spending toward the establishment of ARFO is not in the council’s 2024 budget, the organization will continue to work toward creating a similar partnership, as bilateral cooperation between Korea and ASEAN is essential to promoting Asian cinema.

“Though Korean films receive international recognition, the local film market has a limit to its potential growth. China and Japan are countries with a self-sufficient film market. We felt that Korea needs to partner with other Asian countries to grow its market and industry,” a KOFIC executive told The Korea Herald on June 16.

The official explained that the council initially hoped to jump on the bandwagon of the former Moon Jae-in administration’s New Southern Policy, a core diplomatic initiative aimed at elevating the country’s relations with ASEAN member states that was launched in 2017.

KOFIC began working on the establishment of ARFO in 2018.

“We aimed to build a framework for Korea-ASEAN cooperation in films, including filming locations, joint production, overseas funding systems and film studies,” the official said.

“Most of the movies that are released in theaters are either Hollywood blockbusters or local films. There may be few Japanese or European movies. We felt that ARFO could offer the moviegoers greater accessibility to foreign projects,” he added.

However, the official explained that achieving a unanimous agreement among the 10 member states of ASEAN was more difficult than expected.

“Each country had different strengths in its respective film industries, so the member states took different stances and had individual goals to achieve in ARFO. Singapore, a trade-dependent country, was very open to overseas cooperation. Vietnam also showed its interest in Korea’s ability to create a smash hit project with their local industry, but had different thoughts about overseas cooperation,” the official explained.

“Unlike South Korea, where the film-related policies are managed by the Culture Ministry and KOFIC, it was necessary to involve multiple ministries and industry insiders to discuss the issues in some ASEAN countries. Aside from those processes, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic decisively delayed an agreement between Korea and ASEAN,” he added.

When asked how KOFIC’s budget for ARFO was used during the pandemic period, the official explained that it was diverted -- upon approval by the relevant ministries and the National Assembly -- toward support measures for movie theaters impacted by the pandemic, including government-issued discount coupons for movie tickets, quarantine services in theaters and financial support for small- and medium-sized production companies.

Despite the failed attempt at creating ARFO, KOFIC believed that a Korea-ASEAN partnership is crucial for the Asian film industry.

“Recognizing its importance, film promoters and industry insiders of seven countries -- Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mongolia -- worked together to launch the Asian Film Alliance Network at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May,” the official said.

AFAN is an international council that consults on ways to promote Asian cinema.

“AFAN is an organization without government participation. KOFIC felt that creating a network and building business cooperation were the priorities in planning for more detailed partnerships in the near future,” he said.