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'Korean Wave' now testing U.S. waters

2006/11/09 Source

There is no question that a Korean Wave is sweeping Asia. Sophisticated and trendy Korean movies, television dramas and music are widely loved throughout the region. But skeptics have long doubted the regional wave would ever cross the Pacific Ocean to hit North America, much less become significant in any meaningful way.

Perhaps it's time for skeptics to adjust their grim outlook. The wave has finally reached the United States, and initial signs suggest the Korean Wave - or the adoption of Korean pop culture in Asia - has a fair chance at appealing to a growing number of Americans interested in Asian culture.

Film director Bong Joon-ho, who made "Memories of Murder" and "The Host", flew to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Market and the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival.

At the AFM, Universal bought the remake rights for Bong's creature blockbuster "The Host" for $600,000. The film features a monster emerging from the Han River in Seoul, with family members struggling to protect each other in a dreadfully depressing situation. "The Host", released in July, sold 13 million tickets, becoming one of the most successful hit movies in Korea. With the U.S. release set for February, director Bong is also attracting strong publicity in the United States because "The Host" shares parallels with a real scandal involving an American worker at the U.S. military base in Seoul who ordered Korean employees to dump toxic waste down a drain leading to the Han River. In the movie, the toxic waste leads to the creation of the monster.

Bong is planning to produce his next film in English in order to enter the North American market faster.

Comedian and filmmaker Shim Hyung-rae also pitched his second monster feature, "D-War", at the AFM. The 70 billion won ($76 million) sci-fi project is based on a Korean legend about a huge snake-like creature known as "imoogi".

In the film, the monster goes to Los Angeles in the hopes of finding the girl destined to transform it into a dragon. "D-War", made in English, will debut early next year in the United States.

Kang Je-gyu, another renowned Korean director ("Shiri" and "Taegukgi"), is getting ready to make a large-scale sci-fi film casting American actors in a bid to enter the North American market.

At the AFM, about 100 executives and officials from 21 Korean film studios promoted the sales of their films to American buyers, attracting keen attention from the American movie industry.

Jun Ji-hyun, who has emerged as the undisputed leading Korean Wave actress after her impressive role in "My Sassy Girl" (2001), is considering a role in an American action film, while other well-known names such as Lee Byung-hun and Jung Woo-sung are also reportedly receiving proposals from Hollywood studios.

In addition to movies, Korean performing artists are making inroads into the world's heart of entertainment. "Jump", a nonverbal comic martial art performance, will start Sept. 1, 2007 at the 500-seat Union Square Theater on Broadway for an open run.

Singer and actor Rain (Bi in Korean) is scheduled to perform in the United States. Starting from Seoul next month, Rain's World Tour includes performances in Las Vegas Dec. 23-24.

The Korean government is also keen to promote Korean Wave stars abroad in order to improve the country's image and help sell Korean cultural products in Asia and elsewhere.

By Yang Sung-jin

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