More Asian faces seen at Cannes

Bizzers creating buzz at fest

It wasn’t just an optical illusion. There actually were more Asian faces in town this week, but they weren’t necessarily here just to buy more Western movies.

In fact, the Asian contingent has made a “great leap forward” in terms of quality and sophistication of their approach to sales, co-production and corporate self-promotion.

Sellers are splitting rights, producers are talking with completion bond companies and Asia’s congloms are increasingly negotiating as equals with Hollywood heavyweights.

Oriental companies such as Fuji TV and Shochiku of Japan, Hong Kong’s Mandarin and India’s UTV hired pricey Brit PRs to tub-thump their market product, communicate deals and boost the minutiae of biz developments.

China’s Huayi Brothers did not blink at putting on a corporate party to celebrate its first Cannes as a seller. The following day it smartly leveraged the presence of Cannes juror Zhang Ziyi for a full-on press junket.

Progress reflects several different forces at work. These include expansion of China as a marketplace and increased weight and wealth of its top distribs and prod’n shingles, plus some efforts to diversify away from the martial arts staple that has dominated exports since “Crouching Tiger” in 2000.

Growing market share of local films in Japan, Korea and China has meant that foreign companies wanting to business in these territories cannot rely on sales, and must instead consider co-production and co-financing.

“We cannot sell anything to Korea these days. They don’t need us,” bemoaned one Blighty seller.

This year Japanese buyers in particular resisted the highest priced U.S. projects on offer. Toshiba, Shochiku, Nippon Herald and Asmik Ace avoided bid battles and announced no deals in recent days. Some of the slack was picked up by upcomers SPO, AMG, Avex, Movie Eye and the financially refreshed Gaga. But pics like Woody Allen’s “Scoop” from HanWay and “Stormbreaker” from Capitol Films remain unsold in Japan.

Intra-Asian trade at Cannes remained strong, with South-East Asians picking up many Korean and Chinese titles. More and more Hong Kong companies are linking up with mainland China as sellers or co-producers. For example, Sundream Motion Pictures announced that it had brought Huayi on board as co-producer of its $16 million “Howling Arrow,” to be helmed by Sammo Hung.

But there were signs that the Japanese fever to buy Korean pics is cooling. Only one Korea-to-Japan mega-deal (KM Culture’s “Once In A Summer, bought by SPO) was completed this market.

Instead Korean movie sellers are powering up exports to territories such as Latin America and India where their TV dramas have beaten a path and their stars now shine.

Darkest cloud on the Cannes horizon was China’s continuing ability to take one step back for every two paces forward. Country reacted to the competition screening of helmer Lou Ye’s unauthorized “Summer Palace” first by banning commentary of the film in the media. Then it recalled much of the Chinese press corps and told them to stop covering the festival. Shame, they missed out on China’s return to the world stage and the shone a spotlight on the ongoing issues of state control.

Latest deals:

QED sold Richard Gere-starrer “Spring in Bosnia” to Avex for Japan.

Emperor Motion Pictures licensed Jackie Chan-starrer “Rob-B-Hood” to Minerva Pictures for Italy, Splendid for Germany, Show East for Korea, Central Partnership for Russia, SPI for Eastern Europe, Hollywood Entertainment for Greece, Gulf Film for the Middle East, Sahamongkolfilm for Thailand, Galaxy for Vietnam, Star Entertainment for India and Pakistan and Manga for Spain.

Production newcomer Sundream Motion Pictures licensed a package including big budget actioner “A Battle of Wits,” “49 Days” and “Eye in the Sky” to Thailand’s leading indie distrib Sahamongkolfilm. In Brazil it licensed “49 Days” and “Eye in the Sky” to China Video Produtora. “Battle of Wits,” which stars Andy Lau, Ahn Sung-ki and Fan Bingbing, is a war time epic about a single man who stands up to an invading army to protect a besieged city. Territories outside Asia are repped by Fortissimo Films.

“Dragon Tiger Gate,” a frenetic Hong Kong-Chinese actioner starring Donnie Yen, was sold by Mandarin Films so Frashstar for Brazil, Indofilm for India, Italia Film for the Middle East and Cinebox for Vietnam. Picture is based on the “Dragon and Tiger Heroes” manga series.

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