Korean pic aims big

'D-War' sets sites on U.S. market

SEOUL — A new kind of animal will be on display at this year’s AFM. The $70 million “D-War” is a bit hard to classify — an English-language monster pic from an unknown Korean director, financed 100% upfront from Korean sources and featuring entirely local CGI work.

Starring Jason Behr and Amanda Brooks, pic will hope to draw viewers with its outlandish special effects, including scenes in which a giant serpent smashes its way through downtown Los Angeles. The 100-minute film features more than an hour of CG footage.

Perhaps most surprising is that this film, based loosely on a Korean folk legend, exists at all. Yet major Korean companies such as Showbox, which unveils “D-War” at a private screening at AFM, are likely to continue surprising observers into the future. Building off a strong domestic market, the Korean majors have set their sights on international viewers, and they increasingly possess the financing, technical infrastructure and manpower to produce giant-sized popcorn fare.

“If this project is a success, it will definitely change people’s views of the potential of Korean filmmakers,” says Jeong Tae-sung, chief operating officer of Showbox. “I don’t think you can find any other example outside of the U.S. where a film of this scale and technical achievement was made by an unknown director.”

Reflecting the scale of the work, Showbox will be targeting the world’s biggest market first. “Hopefully, we can find a large or midsized U.S. distributor who believes in the project and can give it great marketing, a wide release and a reasonable release date,” says Jeong. ” ‘Passion of the Christ’ was turned down by all the U.S. majors, but Newmarket did a great job with it. We’re much more concerned about issues like this than we are in accepting the highest offer.”

Other markets such as Europe and Asia will be sorted out after a North American distributor is found. “We received numerous presale offers from Japan, Asia and Europe after screening a promo at Cannes this year, but we’re confident in this title and we wanted to show the completed film before negotiating.”

The $70 million pricetag was picked up entirely by a group of Korean banks and venture capital firms, none of which had ever invested in a film before. “We’re the only film company among the investors,” notes Jeong, who boarded the project at a late stage after seeing 19 minutes of footage.

Jeong predicts viewers will be surprised at the quality of the CGI work, crafted over a period of five years by effects house Younggu Art, which was founded by “D-War” director Shim Hyung-rae. “If this had been made by a Hollywood studio, it would have cost at least twice as much,” Jeong says.

Showbox is looking to other large-scale projects in the future, particularly given the success it has found in the past with effects-heavy works “The Host” (budgeted at $12 million, with a $90 million-plus gross), “Welcome to Dongmakgol” ($8 million budget, $50 million-plus gross) and “Tae Guk Gi” ($13 million budget, $65 million gross).

“We are distributing between 20 and 30 films a year, and among these we are planning for one or two major local projects and one or two international projects each year,” says Jeong. “Our international project will be focused either on Asia or on the wider international market, and we are open to shooting films in English or Chinese if that increases our audience.”

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