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Filming suspended indefinitely as COVID-19 spreads

April 1, 2020 - 16:55 By Choi Ji-won
Actors Lee Byung-hun (left) and Ha Jung-woo attend a press conference for the film “Ashfall” in Seoul on Nov. 19, 2019. Lee and Ha have been cast for upcoming films “Emergency Declaration” and “Kidnapped,” respectively. (Yonhap)

The impact of the novel coronavirus on the film industry may continue into early next year, as films not only postpone imminent releases, but suspend shootings and push back entire production schedules.

Filming of blockbuster aviation disaster flick “Emergency Declaration,” originally scheduled to start last month, has been postponed, according to the film’s distributor and investor Showbox.

“As the film is set inside a plane, it’s a big project in itself and requires more preparations compared to other films. With the coronavirus outbreak continuing, we have decided to take things more slowly,” a Showbox official told The Korea Herald on Wednesday, adding it is undecided when the shooting would start.

Helmed by director Han Je-rim of “The King” (2017) and “The Face Reader” (2013) and featuring a star-studded cast of Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yon and Kim Nam-gil, the film was a highly anticipated action-disaster flick.

Films with overseas sets have been hit hard by the COVID-19 spread, as travel has become restricted.

Last week, the crew and cast of “Bogota,” including lead actor Song Joong-ki, returned from Colombia as filming was suspended. The crime flick about a Korean man who moves to the South American country was expected to be shot mostly in Colombia.

“The entire ‘Bogota’ team is returning as of now. Their safety is of the utmost priority and we will decide on how to proceed with the shootings while monitoring the situation,” the film’s distributor Megabox Plus M said last week.

“Kidnapped,” starring Ha Jung-woo and Ju Ji-hoon, also put an early hold on the film's production in Morocco. Filming was scheduled to have started in March, but no new schedule has been decided on for now, the film’s distributor Showbox said. 

Producers of the blockbuster “Negotiations,” featuring Hyun Bin and Hwang Jung-min, have tentatively called off filming in Jordan, proceeding with scenes in Korea first.

Actors Hwang Jung-min (left) and Hyun Bin are expected to star in an upcoming film "Negotiation." (Yonhap)

Yet even films being shot in Korea are finding it difficult to continue. A studio complex operated by the Korea Creative Content Agency in Daejeon -- Studio Cube -- reports seeing cancellations since the outbreak of the virus early this year.

“The six studios in the complex were reserved for nearly 1,600 days (total between them) last year, but we’re expecting less than 1,000 days for this year. Even that might be difficult,” an official from Studio Cube told The Korea Herald.

“Although we’re supported by the government, regarding the operations of the studios, the impact (from COVID-19) is huge even for us, and probably even worse for private studios,” the official said.

According to the official, two of the four big productions that had planned to use the studio this year had canceled reservations.

As the public is told to stay away from mass gatherings, locations often used for film shoots -- schools, hospitals and government properties -- are increasingly refusing to allow filming on site as it typically involves around 100 people gathering.

Meanwhile, Korean cinemas are seeing the lowest audience numbers in decades.

According to Korea Film Council data, around 1.83 million people visited the cinema last month. This is the lowest figure in KOFIC’s data since 2004, and nearly one-eighth of the number of people who went to the movies in the same period last year.

By Choi Ji-won (