Now: Who really matters in Korea?

Park Chan-wook, helmer

Park Chan-wook was memorably launched into the international spotlight at Cannes in 2004 when a jury headed by Quentin Tarantino presented the Grand Prix to “Oldboy.” That film has gone on to become a cult hit, wowing auds with its audacious visuals and dividing critics with its gut-thudding violence.

New York Times’ Manohla Dargis asked: “What does art have to do with a guy eating a live octopus, and then hammering a couple of (human) heads?”

Despite the objections, Park’s career continues to soar. In Korea, he is the very embodiment of the “star director.” He appears in TV commercials and in January was selected by 1,000 business managers as the nation’s most respected cultural figure.

Internationally, his support base is young and partisan. The reception of his sixth feature, “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” in competition at Venice last year, was typical: While the main jury passed over the film, three separate juries made up of young critics or filmmakers gave it top honors.

Featuring top star Lee Young-ae as a woman bent on revenge, “Lady Vengeance” was released by Tartan in North America on April 28.

Currently Park is in production on his seventh feature, “I Am a Cyborg,” a romantic comedy set in a psychiatric ward that features pan-Asian pop star Rain and has excellent commercial prospects in Asia.

Kim Hui-jae, scripter

In contrast to Korea’s TV drama sector, where screenwriters have star status and devoted fans, the film biz encourages directors to write their own scripts.

The screenplays that have drawn the most notice in recent years are primarily the work of commercial auteurs such as Bong Joon-ho and novelist-turned-

director Lee Chang-dong.

One exception is Kim Hui-jae, best known for her collaborations with Cinema Service founder Kang Woo-suk on smash hits “Silmido” (2003) and “Another Public Enemy” (2005).

“My screenplays tend to have a masculine feel, and with a gender-neutral name most people assume I’m a man,” Kim says.

After receiving a degree in screenwriting, Kim wrote comicbooks before her film career took off with Cinema Service.

Now ranking among a handful of leading screenwriters, noted for films that combine action and melodramatic elements, she is also contributing to scripts such as hostage drama “Holiday” (Lotte Entertainment) and action/drama “Romance” (LJ Film).

Her biggest project for 2006 is Kang Woo-suk’s big-budget “Hanbando,” set in a hypothetical near future in which Japan comes between the reunification of North and South Korea.

Bae Yong-joon, thesp

The South Korean entertainment biz boasts an unusually influential star system. Locally, the emergence of hot new stars has propelled many a film to box office glory.

At the same time, a high rate of turnover means that even the most high-profile casting is never a guarantee of box office success.

This is not the case for international sales, however, and no actor can guarantee stratospheric pre-sales deals like the 34-year-old Bae Yong-joon.

The broadcast of his KBS drama “Winter Sonata” in Japan in 2004 set off a fan frenzy, particularly among high-spending, middle-aged women.

Since then, a string of photo books, merchandising deals and high-profile film appearances (his second feature, “April Snow,” earned $23.7 million in Japan) have turned Bae into one of the richest actors in Korea, with an estimated $20 million income in 2005.

He has also been active in business, launching a chain of restaurants and cafes in Seoul and Tokyo and purchasing a $9 million leading stake in listed company Key East, which he has transformed into a content firm aimed at the Asian market. He has since seen the value of his stocks in Key East balloon to $92 million on the back of a buying frenzy.

For 2006, Bae will top a star cast in the much-anticipated TV drama “The Great King,” skedded to broadcast from September on an as-yet undecided station.

Tcha Seung-jai, producer and CEO, Sidus FNH

Tcha Seung-jai is not only Korea’s most prolific producer, turning out 35 features in 10 years, but his films occupy the spotlight more consistently than those of any other company.

Tcha’s comparatively hands-off style has helped launch the careers of directors Bong Joon-ho (“Memories of Murder”), Hur Jin-ho (“Christmas in August”), Jang Jun-hwan (“Save the Green Planet”) and Im Sang-soo (“Girls Night Out”), among others.

His productions range from groundbreaking big-budget efforts such as “Musa” (2001), “Volcano High” (2001) and “Antarctic Diary” (2005) to low-budget pics “Roadmovie” (2002) and “Love Is a Crazy Thing” (2005).

Meller “A Moment to Remember” holds the box office record for a Korean film in Japan with a $24 million take.

He has partnered with broadcaster MBC in producing low-budget films in HD format (which this year has produced the unexpected hit comedy “My Scary Girl”), and was one of the first Koreans to co-produce with Japan (“One Fine Spring Day” in 2001, wrestling biopic “Rikidozan” in 2005).

Other major international co-productions are in the pipeline.

Tcha’s business moves in the past year have boosted his influence. He merged Sidus with Kim Mi-hee’s production company Fun & Happiness in mid-2005. Soon after, major telco KTF bought a 51% stake in the company for $28 million.

Sidus is said to be planning to launch its own distribution arm this year, which could deny majors such as CJ Entertainment and Showbox some of their strongest product.

Kim Joo-sung, film financier/CEO, CJ Entertainment

CJ Entertainment, a division of the gigantic CJ conglom, is South Korea’s biggest and most influential investor and distributor, while sister company CGV is the leading exhibitor.

Although stiff competition has appeared in the guise of the equally deep-pocketed Showbox, whoever holds the top position at CJ is seen as the industry’s most powerful figure.

Last December, Kim Joo-sung moved into this slot after a long career in the cable industry, working for firms including Samsung Entertainment and CJ Media.

Kim took the reins at the close of a disappointing year for CJ — although nine of the 14 films the company financed last year broke even, the lack of a major hit and a couple of expensive failures put the company into the red.

This year has been much kinder, with a string of box office hits, including “My Boss, My Teacher,” which made $40 million local gross.

Nonetheless, Kim says, “The domestic market is important to us, but developing the international market is far more crucial at this stage.”

He cites the next two to three years as vital for laying the groundwork for future success in major markets like Japan and North America.

Items on the agenda include getting involved in international co-financing, building a network of partners around the globe, expanding CJ’s business in China and launching direct distribution in Japan and the U.S.

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