History of Korea-Hong Kong Co-Production

The influence of exchanges with the Hong Kong film industry on Korean films

By Korean Film Archive

Lee Sang-joon (Professor at Lingnan University, Hong Kong)

A View of Shaw Brothers StudioKorean Film Archive

Exchanges between the Korean and Chinese-language film industries had been flourishing until the China’s ban on Korean popular culture in 2016. A few years after the ban on Korean culture, exchanges with China feel like ‘memories of a time,’ but in fact, the history of cooperation between the Korean and Chinese-language film industries extends quite further. We look back on the journey that Korean and Chinese-language film industries have accompanied.

A Poster of the 2nd Asia Pacific Film Festival (1955)Korean Film Archive

Solidarity Begins in Asia

In 1955, the 2nd Southeast Asia Film Festival was held in Singapore. The film festival, which was initiated by Japan and Hong Kong and sponsored by the United States, was a sort of ‘Asian Filmmakers Forum’ with the goal of promoting friendship and exchange among Asian filmmakers. Im Hwa-su was among the Korean film producers who traveled to Singapore that year on behalf of the post-war Korean film industry.

Love with an Alien Film Still (1957)Korean Film Archive

It was at this time that Im met the Shaw brothers of Shaw & Sons (the predecessor of Shaw Brothers), a film production and distribution company based in Malaysia and Singapore. And with the active suggestion of the brothers, a joint production with the Korean and Chinese-language film industries took place for the first time. The first Korean-Hong Kong co-produced film Love with an Alien was released in Korea, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia in 1958.

Love with an Alien Film Still (1957)Korean Film Archive

Birth of Korea-Hong Kong’s First Co-Production Film

Starring Korean top star Kim Jin-kyu and leading Hong Kong actress Lucilla Yu Ming, Love with an Alien was a hit in both Korea and Hong Kong. Three directors were in charge of directing: Korea's Jeon Chang-keun, Hong Kong's Tu Kuang-chi, and Japan's Wakasugi Mitsuo. Nishimoto tadashi, a young Japanese cinematographer at the time, was in charge of the color shooting, and starting with this, he shot numerous martial arts films in Hong Kong in the 1960s.

After the success of Love with an Alien, other melodramas depicting the “hopeless love” between a Korean man and a Hong Kong woman were produced. Representative works include Deep in My Heart (1967) and Loving the Years of War (1967). The two films were directed by Chung Chang-wha and produced by Asia Films Company. Considering that Chung was hired to Hong Kong soon after, the relationship at this time seems even more special.

Director Shin Sang-ok at the 9th Asian Film Festival (1962)Korean Film Archive

The 1962 Asian Film Festival was held in Seoul. About 100 filmmakers from 7 countries including Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and others, gathered in one place, and the general director was Shin Sang-ok. At the time, his influence was enormous. At the 1st Daejong Film Awards, which was held that year, Shin won Best Picture for Prince Yeon-san and Best Director for Mother and a Guest. Evergreen Tree, where Choi Eun-hee won Best Actress, was also directed by Shin.

The Last Woman of Shang Poster (1964) by Choe In-hyeon·Griffin Yueh FengKorean Film Archive

Meeting of Two Giants

Shin Sang-ok met Run Run Shaw, a big player in the Chinese film market, at this film festival and they became co-production partners. Their first work was The Last Woman of Shang, a film dipicting well-known evil female figure in ancient Chinese history, ‘Daji.’ The film is also remembered as the posthumous work of Hong Kong's big star at the time, Linda Lin Dai. She took her own life at the age of 30 just before this film was released.

Representative Korea-Hong Kong co-production moviesKorean Film Archive

The Last Woman of Shang was one of the biggest box office hits of 1964, attracting 150,000 viewers when it was released in Korea. Thanks to this, Shin and Run Run Shaw produced three more films: Tyrant (left), Black Thief (center) and An Emperor with Iron Mask (right), but unfortunately, except for Tyrant, the audience’s reception of other two films were unfavorable. Besides, Tyrant was also not as successful as The Last Woman of Shang.

However, Tyrant (Hong Kong title: The Goddess of Mercy) is remembered as an unusual attempt in Korean film history. The female lead for the Korean and Hong Kong (and Southeast Asian) release versions were played by two actresses respectively. The male leads, Kim Seung-ho and Kim Jin-kyu, appear in both versions, but the female lead, Princess Miao Shang, was played by Li Li-hua in the Hong Kong version, and Choi Eun-hee in the Korean version.

Tyrant on Set Photo (1966)Korean Film Archive

It is said that two actors wore the same makeup and wardrobes and took turns filming at the time of making this film. This method is similar to Hollywood's practice of producing in two languages by changing actors to target the South American market in 1930s. It was a rare case in Korea, but Hong Kong's film companies had produced films in their respective languages with local actors to distribute them in various Southeast Asian countries.

Because I Love You Poster (1958) by Han Hyeong-moKorean Film Archive

Key Player of Korea-Hong Kong Co-Production

The Hong Kong film producer who led Korean-Chinese collaborations in the 1960s and early 1970s was Wong Cheuk-hon of Lan Kwong Film Company. Starting with Because I Love You (Han Hyung-mo), which he co-produced with Lim Hwa-soo in 1958, he made Journey to the West (Hong Kong title: The Flaming Mountain; Kim Soo-yong & Mok Hong-see, 1962), followed by action and melodrama genres from the mid-60s.

'509 Tank Forces' Film Still (1967)Korean Film Archive

The films co-produced by Wong Cheuk-hon starred Ting Ying, a Cantonese film star with whom he was in a romantic relationship. Examples include SOS Hong Kong (Choi Gyeong-ok, 1966), Deep in My Heart, and 509 Tank Forces (Kim Dong-hak, 1967). He later founded First Organization Limited, which focused on horror and kung fu films from the mid-70s. As a result, the cooperative relationship with Korea gradually diminished.

Lucilla Yu Ming, Li Ching, Chelsia Chan Chau-Ha, Li Li-huaKorean Film Archive

Many Hong Kong actresses starred in co-produced films, and the list includes Ting Ying, Lucilla Yu Ming, Linda Lin Dai, Li Li-hua, Wang Tian-li, Diana Chang Chung-Wen, Angela Yu Chien, and others. These actresses played a role in broadening the boundary of Korean cinema. In the 1970s, Li Ching appeared in A Woman with Half Soul and A Dark Noctilucous Ball, and Chelsia Chan Chau-Ha starred in Chu-ha, My Love. As such, the genealogy of co-production continued.

Dr. No Newspaper Ad. (1962)Korean Film Archive

Dreaming of a Korean ‘James Bond’

In the mid-60s, spy films, represented by the 007 series, enjoyed popularity all over the world, and the Korean film industry worked hard to create a ‘Korean-style James Bond.’ The craze for spy films started in 1964 and peaked in 1965 and 1966. Representative works include A Female Spy, Elisa; The International Spy; Starberry Kim; Secret Agency; SOS Hong Kong; Special Agent X-7 and Correspondent in Tokyo.

Representative Korean spy moviesKorean Film Archive

Due to the nature of espionage, which requires elusiveness, there is no genre more suitable than spy movies when it comes to co-production. That's why at that time, the Korean film industry continues to collaborate with Hong Kong and Taiwan. Co-productions gained even more momentum as spy movies boomed in both countries.

One of the representative spy movies was Special Agent X-7 directed by Chung Chang-wha. The film was co-produced by 'Yulin Film Company' operating in Hong Kong and Taiwan and 'Asia Film Company' in Korea. This film was shot on location in Seoul, Hong Kong, and Taipei. It is a well-known story Run Run Shaw hired Chung to Hong Kong after he saw this film, which was screened in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia through the Shaw Brothers distribution network.

Chung Chang-WhaKorean Film Archive

Head-on Match of Chung Chang-wha

In 1967, when Chung Chang-wha arrived in Shaw Brothers Studio, led by Run Run Shaw, was growing its influence throughout Asia. Through Come Drink with Me (King Hu, 1966) and One-armed Swordsman (Chang Cheh, 1967), Shaw Brothers was emerging as the ‘hub’ of the overseas Chinese film industry. Dozens of Japanes, Indonesian, Filipino, and Taiwanese directors and actors created films at Shaw Movie Town, a mega-sized film studio that opened in 1966

Temptress of a Thousand Faces Newspaper Ad. (1970)Korean Film Archive

When Chung Chang-wha arrived in Hong Kong, Run Run Shaw handed him the scenario for an action movie. With two Korean assistant directors and the Korean actors Nam Seok-hun and Seong Hun, he quickly completed Temptress of a Thousand Faces (1969), an action film that runs across Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper in Asia. And as the film garnered a better-than-expected response across Southeast Asia, Dir. Chung got off to a good start in his Hong Kong career.

Valley of the Fangs Poster (1970) by Chung Chang-whaKorean Film Archive

Chung Chang-wha immediately produced a martial arts film to compete head-to-head in Hong Kong. Valley of the Fangs (1970) was a huge success, ranking in the top 10 at the Hong Kong box office that year, establishing Chung as one of Shaw Brothers’ leading directors. Before moving to Golden Harvest in 1973, he directed six genre films, including Five Fingers of Death (1972). He directed five more films at Golden Harvest before Broken Oath in 1977.

Hwang Jeong-RiKorean Film Archive

The Age of Fake Co-Production

On the other hand, the 'fake co-production’ phenomenon increased in the 1970s. Shin Films had its actors star in Shaw Brothers' films as a way to secure the number of productions and set a quota for screening foreign films in Korea. In this way, Hwang Jeong-ri, Jin Bong-jin, Kim Ki-ju, Hong Seong-jung and many other actors appeared as supporting roles in Shaw Brothers’ films from 1971 until 1975 when Shin Films was out of business.

Iron Man (Five Fingers of Death) Poster (1972)Korean Film Archive

Shin Films used these actors and directors already active in Hong Kong, such as Chung Chang-wha, to meet the basic requirements for co-production, and released the film under the title of 'co-production.' Although it was actually a Hong Kong film, it was introduced as a ‘co-production’ with Hong Kong in Korea. Representative 'fake co-production' film was Five Fingers of Death directed by Chung, which was introduced in Korea under the title Iron Man.

A View of Shaw Brothers StudioKorean Film Archive

In fact, fake co-production also happened frequently in Taiwan and Malaysia at the time, and large Hong Kong film companies such as Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest also turned a blind eye to it. In the mid-70s, Taiwan and Korea proceeded with a number of fake co-productions. At that time, there were many filmmakers who moved from Hong Kong to Taiwan, and they conducted various fake co-production films with Korea. This trend continued into the early 1980s.

A Better Tomorrow Poster (1986)Korean Film Archive

As it entered the 1980s, perceptions began to change. Korea has become an important market rather than a production partner for the Chinese film industry. In particular, the popularity of Hong Kong Kung-fu stars such as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao was huge, and actors such as Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau, Leslie Chueng, Joey Wong, and Maggie Cheung gained immense popularity with their gangster films and melodramas in the mid-80s in Korea.

A collection of Cine21; no.20, no.33, no.124, and no.273. by HankyorehKorean Film Archive

As a result, Korean producers turned to production investment instead of co-production. Meanwhile, as the Chinese film market opened in the early 2000s, Hong Kong monopolized the role of intermediary between Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Singaporean, and Western film industries seeking to enter the Chinese market. And the traces of the network between Hong Kong and Korea that was established at that time is still evident to this day.

Credits: Story

Planning and Production by Korean Film Archive Curation by Sangjoon Lee (Associate Professor, Lingnan University) Production Arranged by Lee Ji-youn·Song Eun-ji Edit Configuration by Agnes Park·Ko Sang-sok Translation by Hwang Miyojo

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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