Mart opens screen door for pan-Asian biz

PIFF event offers everything from pix to tech services

The South Korean movie industry has been doing a lot of things right for much of the last decade. Launching the Asian Film Market as part of the Pusan Intl. Film Festival could prove a master stroke.

It brings together the many strengths amassed by the Korean industry since heavily restrictive censorship was lifted in the mid-1990s, but it remains to be seen whether the rest of Asia can play on the same level.

Having come from nowhere, Korea now has production, finance and distribution capacity that is the envy of Asia, plus a cutting-edge image and talent that is among the leaders in the region. The debut Pusan mart aims to be the world’s first “total film market” with activities extending from the conventional — screening of finished films for industry execs — through project financing to location and technical services.

These strands, which have previously operated separately at PIFF, are brought together under one management and are complemented by a new talent showcase, Curtain Call.

Plans for the mart were announced by city mayor Hur Nam-sik at the end of last year’s 10th PIFF, when the Korean industry and the fest were both on a high. Event was to cost $3 million and to be housed at the colossal Bexco convention center a couple of miles away from the festival nexus in Pusan’s Haeundae district.

Since then, exports of Korean movies have slowed — sales to Japan, which at one stage accounted for 70% of export value, have become less frequent and less lucrative — and cooler heads have prevailed. Haeundae’s Grand Hotel has replaced Bexco as home to the market, keeping the fest and market in closer step and halting the separation of bizzers from creative types.

But the motor driving the commercial side of the Pusan event is once again the Pusan Promotion Plan, a curated forum for movie projects in need of coin to be matched with distribs, sales agents and other financiers.

The PPP, modeled on Rotterdam’s Cinemart but long since exhibiting a life of its own, expands this year from 27 to 36 projects and includes those from outside Asia. Jon Amiel’s Vietnam War drama “105 Degrees and Rising” and “Miss Christina,” a Romanian-set period piece by Raul Ruiz, are among foreign projects selected.

High-profile pix

The Asian lineup is already plenty impressive. Competing for attention, distrib contracts and a $10,000 first prize are Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang’s “Faces,” with Jean-Pierre Leaud, Maggie Cheung and Lee Kang-sheng; marital drama “Ploy,” from Thailand’s Pen-ek Ratanaruang; Iranian Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “Two-Footed Horse”; “One Day of Ibraham,” helmed by Hong Kong’s Pang Ho-Cheung; “Sad Vacation” from Japanese helmer Aoyama Shinji; Chinese director Yang Chao’s Yangtze River pic “Crosscurrent”; and “Female Demon” from Korea’s Ryoo Seung-wan, your typical 10th-century horror pic.

Festival has operated a market of sorts in previous years with both buyer screenings and booths in hotel rooms for sellers. U.S. buyers are expected to include reps from Focus Features, Lionsgate, Magnolia Pictures, Paramount and producer-remake specialist Vertigo Pictures.

Seller ranks, notably, have expanded from the Korean staples to include China’s Huayi Brothers, India’s Adlabs, Taiwan’s Serenity Entertainment, the Philippines’ Bigfoot Entertainment, the U.S.’ Arclight and Taiwan’s Pandasia. Combined with the presence of a large Japanese contingent (including sellers from Gaga, Dentsu, Toei, Shochiku, TBS, Geneon and Gold Coast), this raises questions about Pusan’s impact on the Tokyo Festival’s market TIFFCOM, which is sandwiched awkwardly in the week between Pusan and the other AFM, Santa Monica’s American Film Market.

Indeed, growing inclination of Pusan — and the wider Korean biz — to assume leadership of the Asian movie industry raises hackles at a time when both China and Japan are also enjoying improving fortunes. Only by turning Korean prowess to the good of the Asian industry as a whole will the Korean industry escape charges of arrogance. To avoid conclusions that their reach exceeds their grasp, Pusan events like Curtain Call and the Asian Film Commissions Network really need to be successes.

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