Transnational Labor and Precarity in Chinese and Korean Film Co-production


Co-productions in film industry have a long geopolitical history in East Asian regions including Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan as well as Hong Kong. Especially, there have been fluctuations in film co-production between Korea and China since the 2000s. Chinese media market expanded glamorously since the 2000s and demanded more storytelling contents from East Asian countries in order to fill up the increasing channels and the internet platforms. Meanwhile, in the early 2000, the Korean film industry was in gridlock without growth of productions, and there was no demand for staff in its film labor market. Filmmaking labor was always considered as low-wage job in Korea, so many specialists left the field according to the decrease of opportunities to work. The custom of freelancers’ working conditions such as not signing a labor contract even continued to the 2010s. Therefore, film laborers had to cross the border to China to make a living.

This paper will focus on transnational labor migration and precarity in the Chinese and Korean film industries. I investigate how Korean film crew who participated in international co-production with Chinese units internalize themselves into the co-production system through transnational labor migration. Not only do they go through a simple socialization that they adapt themselves to the new production system, but they also experience ambiguity and frustration when they are posited as in-betweenness of Korean and Chinese production systems. In this short-term adaptation process, Korean film workers experience the Chinese film production system and division of labor, which is different from that of Korea. As they confront the power of Chinese filmmaking system and capital dominance, the workers take a step into the daily internalization of Chinese global hegemony. A case study of a film worker will illustrate the labor circumstances in international film co-production. In this case, there is less room for the state intervention, and their transnational labor remains very personal. However, the films co-produced by the Korean and Chinese labor force are promoted and released in the name of ‘International Co-production’ only in China.