South Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk talks of the values of Asian cinema in Beijing. Wang Kaihao reports.
After a chilly phase in China-South Korea relations in recent times, things seem to start warming up again.
South Korean cinematic icon Kim Ki-duk's appearance in Beijing on Tuesday was probably an icebreaking trip for the two countries' cultural circles, especially as it comes a day ahead of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's state visit to China.
"I've always believed that there are boundless cultural and economic possibilities for cooperation between China and South Korea," he says. "I hope we can be together at the forefront of a new era of China-South Korea cultural relations."
In the past 15 months, cinematic exchanges between the two countries stagnated due to the tension over the deployment in South Korea of the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system.
The 57-year-old director has won praise for his outstanding performance in several major European film festivals. In 2004, he won a Silver Bear (for best director) at the Berlin Film Festival with Samaritan Girl and was bestowed a Silver Lion (for best director) at the Venice Film Festival for 3-Iron. His film Pietu won the Gold Lion (best picture) in Venice in 2012.
In 2015, Kim was invited to direct Who Is God?－a Chinese fantasy film. Production of this widely-expected work was halted over the THAAD issue.
But now he is optimistic about future cooperation.
"China and South Korea have had close cooperation in cinema for years," Kim says.
"If misunderstandings can be erased, we can work on more joint projects. With our efforts, Asia can become a booming hub for filmmaking in the world."
Kim was in Beijing on Tuesday to attend a news conference on Asian Brilliant Stars, a section of the upcoming Berlin International Film Festival in February, which is set to promote high-quality Asian cinema around the world.
He is on the jury for the section. It will be the second edition of the section after its inauguration at the 67th Berlin festival earlier this year.
Seven out of 19 entries in the section are Chinese, including action film Wolf Warrior 2, the highest-grossing production in China's cinematic history earning 5.6 billion yuan (0 million) at the box office; Youth, director Feng Xiaogang's recent nostalgic drama; and Our Time Will Come by Hong Kong director Ann Hui On-wah, which is about the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).
The other Asian films in the section are also productions that have done well this year, including Dangal (India), I Can Speak (South Korea) and Bad Genius (Thailand).
"The diversity of Asian peoples needs a platform to be reflected in world of cinema," says Shen Dongjun, a film and TV producer, and a co-organizer of the Asian Brilliant Stars section. "It is a channel for the East and West to have a cinematic dialogue, and a place to promote the value of Asian cultures."
Six awards are set for the section, including best director, best actor/actress in a leading role, and best screenwriter.
"As a director of art-house films, I naturally prefer productions in this genre, especially those reflecting true human nature, when judging these films," Kim says.
Kim's films are known for caring about the plight of people at the grassroots.
"It's great to see so many different types of high-quality films that speak for Asia in the international arena, but the selection process is tough," he says.
Speaking of potential topics of coproduction within Asian countries, Kim says filmmakers should not always feel tied to heavy historical themes.
"It would be better to have in-depth thinking and explore common values facing the future," the director says.
Separately, the South Korean filmmaker believes that Chinese cinema has been successful at nurturing talent and creativity as well as growing the market. He also suggests young Chinese filmmakers stick to original ideas－be it in commercial movies or in art-house films.
Kim appears as someone who doesn't like to be put in a particular category despite his breakthroughs at major European film festivals. In his self-reviewing documentary film, Arirang (2011), he has a long monologue where he opposes being dubbed a "national hero".
"What I make are not really 'South Korean films', but they instead reflect my own style," the advocator of art-house says.
In recent years, South Korean films have seen fast growth at the industry level.
"Before I made those award-winning films, I never expected them to be popular among Western audiences," he says. "But it's good that they are interested in Asian culture, like Zen. Maybe that's why I won the awards."
His ideas are echoed by other members of the jury for the Asian Brilliant Stars section.
"From Dangal to Bad Genius, filmmakers didn't try to please the global market in the first place, though they turned out to be commercially successful worldwide," says Mandfred Wong, a Hong Kong filmmaker and former president of the Hong Kong Film Awards.
"A good filmmaker should focus on telling a good story," he says.
"If the story is attractive, its value will resonate with people in other countries, and it will travel around the world."