Kwai Productions’ three-part comedic drama finds a bored French film director, mired in meaningless action movies, kidnapped by a cinema-obsessed Asian dictator and forced to remake the classic film King Kong.
Distributor Fremantle Media International
Producer Kwai Productions
Length 3 x 60 minutes
Broadcaster Arte (France/Germany)
The Arte commission is inspired by real events from the late 1970s, when former North Korean dictator and cinephile Kim Jong-il kidnapped a South Korean director and his wife to serve as his private film-makers.
Rather than tell a story about North Korea, however, Thomas Bourguignon – founder of Fremantle Media-backed indie Kwai – set out to explore the familiar tale of “creation under constraints” in a meta comedy about the film and television industry.
Pointing to the outrageous demands placed on his fictional director, Bourguignon says: “It’s basically a comedy, but it’s also a way of examining the relationship with broadcasters, which is sometimes as Kafka-esque as it is in the series. They can ask us many things that aren’t possible, and which are contestable.”
Inspired by everything from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times to Jason Reitman’s Thank You For Smoking, the quirky dark comedy is set in a fictionalised nation somewhere between “Kazakhstan and other Asian countries”, though it was shot primarily in France and Thailand.
“We wanted to create a country from scratch. We wanted to invent everything – the architecture, the way people are dressed. Everything has to be a fantasy,” says Bourguignon.
Inventing a new language, however, proved to be more difficult, and Kim Kong relies on the cast are not Chinese and had to learn the lines by heart.
“The main difficulty we faced was casting. In France, there are very few films about the Asian community, so there are few actors. We spent [six] months casting before we found our lead characters.”
Fremantle Media International chief executive Jens Richter says the prominent use of Mandarin in the series presents an excellent sales opportunity.
“There’s a global accessibility around this show. It has some relevance in the Asian market.
If you think about global SVoD platforms or local platforms in Asia, for clients that buy Western drama, this could be a fantastic show.”
Richter is eyeing Europe, Asia and the Americas for potential sales, noting that the “versatile” series could work well for cable or SVoD platforms in North America, and even pay-TV platforms in Latin America.
The exec, who describes Kim Kong as “fun in part and very emotional in part”, adds that the box office domination of the Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson-starring Kong: Skull Island also bodes well for exposure. The King Kong reboot is “well-timed,” says Richter.
One aspect of the show Richter is not losing any sleep over is its potential to upset North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose father’s actions inspired the series.
“I don’t think we’ll get into a war,” says Richter. “It was a long time ago and it was his father – we’re not concerned. It’s a fun show at the end of the day.”
Kim Kong has been selected to screen as part of the Paris TV festival Séries Mania later this month. Arte will air the series in France and Germany in the second half of the year.