- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

BANGKOK — With their huge budgets and slick marketing machines, Hollywood movies have long cast a shadow over Asia, but filmmakers there believe creativity rather than protectionism is the key to boosting local fortunes.

South Korea’s booming domestic industry is Asian film’s success story of the decade, but the government’s decision last month to slash its screen quota for homegrown films has sparked protests over a feared cultural “invasion.”

“If you leave a lion and a mouse in the same place, what will be the result?,” Yang Gi-Hwan, spokesman of the Screen Quota Action Alliance told Agence France-Presse. “The screen quota must be with us forever.”

Filmmakers in the country have earned a 60 percent box office share on the back of the quota system that forces cinemas to screen domestic productions 146 days a year.

That share will be cut in half from July, but even then South Korean filmmakers will enjoy market conditions that are more favorable than those for most of their counterparts throughout Asia.

No screen quotas exist in Hong Kong, Taiwan or the Philippines — film centers that in their 1970s heyday each churned out up to 200 releases a year each, dominated box office takings and spawned homegrown stars that outshone Hollywood’s biggest names in their local markets.

In recent years the combined releases from the three film centers have barely topped 100.

While South Korean filmmakers see its quota system as the driver behind the “Korean Wave” cultural phenomenon, those in other countries say creativity and investment are better ways to try and win local audiences back from Hollywood blockbusters.

In Thailand, where the film industry has been undergoing a renaissance of late, Nukool Sukthaworn, international business director with CM Pictures International, said that while a quota system would help domestic filmmakers, stronger efforts against piracy and quality productions were just as vital.

“We have Thai and foreign films here, and now it depends on whether you can make a good production yourself or not. If you can … make a good film, you can survive,” he said.

Singapore’s cinemas have long been dominated by Hollywood releases but government grants and a growing pool of local talent has seen the industry there begin to sprout.

Kenneth Tan, a movie distributor and member of the Singapore Film Commission, said it would thrive on merit.

“I don’t think the quota system is the way to go. The ideal situation is one where local movies can compete on their own merit,” Mr. Tan said.

In the cinematic stronghold of Japan, more than 350 domestic films were screened last year — about half of the total — and accounted for 41.3 percent of the box office with takings of 81.78 billion yen.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-nominated “Howl’s Moving Castle” was the runaway leader at the box office ahead of the most recent installments in the “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” franchises.

More than 100 films were made locally and industry analysts say the number is rising without any need for government help.

“The film industry should basically be free from much government involvement, but the nation should support creating art that has high quality, not just in terms of commercial success,” said Keiji Fukuda, secretary-general of the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan.

Mr. Fukuda said creativity was key to taking on Hollywood blockbusters.

“U.S. films’ power to entertain is strong and Japan will never surpass that. It is important and necessary for Japan to pursue originality in its own films,” he said.

In Taiwan, where foreign films score three-quarters of box takings and the local industry has been in a long slump, the government has handed filmmakers 310 million Taiwan dollars ($9.7 million in U.S. currency) in subsidies.

The number of films leaped from 24 in 2004 to 40 last year, but film critic Liang Liang said more needed to be done.

“What the government has done is at most make sure Taiwan’s film industry does not collapse under stiff competition,” he said.

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