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‘Mother’ goes to Japan’s Bitters End

Japanese deals getting done again at AFM

SANTA MONICA — Japanese distributors have given AFM an early reason for optimism.

On the eve of the market, middleweight Japanese distributor Bitters End snapped up rights to “Mother,” a high-intensity drama that is set to be one of the biggest Korean films of 2009.

Pic, now shooting under helmer Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Memories of Murder”) stars Kim Hae-ja as an elderly woman desperately trying to prove her thuggish and uncommunicative son (Wong Bin) innocent of a murder charge.  The $6 million pic is repped by CJ Entertainment, which is targeting a Cannes preem and Korean theatrical release in June. Deal was signed Monday.

In a separate move, new Korean sales outfit M-Line Distribution licensed romantic drama “Kitchen,” starring Ju Jin-hu, to Japan’s Showgate.

“Japanese deals are getting done again, but at lower prices than they were a year ago. It is significant that Korean producers have now become more realistic in their expectations of the size of Japanese deals,” M-Line principal Michelle Son said. Korean stars, especially those with TV drama credentials, remain enormously popular in Japan. “Japanese buyers are looking for name cast, good scripts and films exploring new genres,” Son said.

Showgate previously acquired another Ju starrer, “Antique,” from Fine Cut, while Bitters End is also handling “Tokyo,” a three-part portmanteau film also co-directed by Bong.

Japanese major Shochiku also scored a high-profile eve of market deal. It licensed Tadashi Mori animal docu “Panda Diary” to Wild Bunch for France, Benelux, Germany and Italy. Pic, which lensed for over a year and includes first-ever footage of a newborn panda cub in its mother’s arms, was released by Shochiku in August.

Other companies unveiling early deals include Fortissimo, which licensed Zooey Deschanel starrer “Gigantic” to Italy’s BIM Distribuzione. Company’s U.S. food industry expose “Food, Inc.” was picked up by Scandinavia distributor Svensk Filmindustri, Israel’s United King Film Distribution, CMC Entertainment for Taiwan, Hong Kong’s Deltamac Co. Ltd, Russia’s Film Depot and HBO for Latin American pay TV.

L.A.-based sales and production house Myriad Pictures picked up international rights to “Dino Mom,” an English-language animated movie about time-traveling kids. Pic is produced by South Korea’s Toiion and Motif RMC and produced by David K. Lovegren (“Hoodwinked”) and Jae Woo Park. The $16 million film is helmed by Choi Yoon-seok and received coin from Korean venture capital group Boston Investment Corp. (Variety, Aug 13).

Santa Monica-based sales and distribution company Lightning Entertainment acquired all distribution rights outside of Australia and New Zealand to Prodigy Movies’ survival adventure “The Reef.” It struck licensing deals with the U.K.’s Momentum Pictures, Canada’s Alliance Entertainment, Russia’s Film Depot and  Pasatiempo for all of East Europe. Lightning topper Richard Guardian says company is also finalizing a deal for Japan.

“Green Communications/Outsider Pictures pre-sold supernatural thriller “The Disembodied” to the U.K.’s Optimum Releasing and Horizon Entertainment for Australia/New Zealand.

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