Korean studios merge o’seas film sales ops

CJ, Cinema join forces; duo to present united front at upcoming marts

Leading Korean studio group CJ Entertainment and longtime rival Cinema Service are merging their international movie sales operations. Move underlines CJ’s growing dominance of the Korean scene and Cinema Service’s increasingly tight focus on production and local distribution.

The two will next present a united front at autumn film markets including the Pusan festival (Oct. 7-15) and the AFM (Nov. 2-9).

“Cinema Service titles will be handled by CJ’s expanded international sales team,” said Cinema Service in a statement.

According to a Cinema Service source close to the deal,  CJ bought outright ownership of Cinema Service’s pre-2004 back catalog on Wednesday. CJ will set up a library sales operation representing these 83 titles in international markets and handle them in the Korean homevid and TV licensing markets under the CJ label.

Titles from the current 2004-05 slate will be represented by the newly expanded sales team to take shape when Cinema Service staff report for work at CJ’s offices on June 15. Cinema Service personnel making the transition are expected to include managing director Jennifer Muhn, who recently returned to sales after two years on the local distribution front, and deputy managing director Josh Lee.

“This is not about downsizing but improving the way we work,” said a CJ insider.

Earlier bid failed

CJ and Cinema Service attempted to cozy up at a full corporate level two years ago. But the 2003 move ended fractiously and the dominant CJ retained Plenus, Cinema Service’s emerging theaters chain, and NetMarble, its highly profitable Internet gaming offshoot.

Cinema Service remains one of the top two local distributors and, thanks to the behind-the-lens efforts of its founder Kang Woo-suk (“Public Enemy”), is a leading producer of hit titles. Successes this year have included Kang’s action-drama sequel “Another Public Enemy” and thriller “Blood Rain.”

The power play in Korea these days is increasingly between CJ and Showbox, a real estate-backed cinema operator that is fast diversifying into production finance, local distribution and international sales.

While this weekend’s merger announcement is short on detail, it may be longer on industry significance.

Foreign buyers of Korean movies have come to regard CJ and Cinema Service as competing providers of local blockbusters and middle-of-the-road Korean indie titles. One fewer supplier may improve the terms of trade for the sellers.

The CJ-Cinema Service foreign sales hook-up also mirrors other recent consolidation and restructuring moves within the Korean industry.

Last month leading production houses Fun & Happiness and Sidus announced plans to merge and form Sidus F&H. Last year saw the coming together of pioneering production house KangJeGyu Films (“Joint Security Area”) and Myung Films (“A Good Lawyer’s Wife”) to form MK Pictures.

It is not clear with which group the new Sidus F&H will align itself. Sidus, the production shingle behind last month’s chart topper “Antarctic Journal” and the earlier “Memories of Murder,” has seen its pictures handled by both CJ and Showbox. Fun & Happiness, responsible for “Blood Rain,” has largely worked through Cinema Service.

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