BUSAN: Showbox Readies 2015 Leap Into China

Showbox, one of Korea’s major film groups, is planning to expand its presence in China with the establishment of a Chinese division in early 2015.

Showbox China will be set up next year and take part in one or two Chinese film productions per year,” said CEO Yoo Jeong-hun at the Showbox Carnival party on Saturday in Busan.

The Chinese unit is expected to produce and develop content squarely-aimed at the China market. These may be Chinese remakes of Korean titles, films that are co-productions, or projects that are pitched to Showbox in Seoul, but do not go forward as Korean movies.

“The target market for these is mainland China, Greater China perhaps, and we will see what potential they have for any other markets. They need to recoup in China,” Chris Jung, Showbox VP, told Variety.

“We are taking a very project-oriented approach, with a strong emphasis on the development process, it is not about having big, fancy offices in Beijing,” said Jung.

The pictures’ below the line budgets will initially be “small or medium,” according to Jung, but the final cost will depend on the level of Chinese stars attached. A small number of staff is expected to relocate from Seoul to Beijing.

And while he says that the projects are not conceived as vehicles for K-pop stars to enter the China market, in contrast directors may be Korean or Chinese, depending on the project. “We have some Showbox directors who are China-ready, others who are not,” he said.

“Financing and production partners will be decided on a per project basis, clearly we want to participate in the financing,” said Jung. “But we are going to need to find a distribution partner. That is not something we can do on our own.”

Showbox and leading Chinese group Huayi previously co-operated in 2012 when Huayi boarded and co-financed Showbox’s $22 million “Mr. Go,” a fantasy sports drama with a large VFX component. Huayi enjoyed box office of $17.6 in China by pitching it as a children’s film. Showbox pitched the film at a different demographic and struggled with it in Korea, where it earned only $8.6 million.

China represents a significant opportunity for all the major Korean entertainment firms. At home they are increasingly limited by the size of the market – including an anti-monopoly probe – which creates an imperative on overseas expansion if companies are to continue growing. At the same time, Korean film and music stars are riding high in China, and Korean TV series have become major attractions for online platforms including Youku Tudou and iQiyi. Korea’s biggest entertainment player CJ Entertainment, backed by its food-to-fertilizer corporate parent, has already begun a concerted effort to break into the Chinese film scene.

In addition to the China announcement Saturday night, Showbox also unveiled its distribution slate for next year. Of the 11 features introduced, six are actioners, including “Assassination” from director Choi Dong-hoon featuring Gianna Jun (“My Sassy Girl”, TV sensation “My Love From the Stars”) and other cast from his previous “Thieves”; “Inside Men,” starring Lee Byung-hun (“G.I. Joe” “Terminator: Genisys”) and “Detective K: Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island.”

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