Busan: Asian Film Market in Flux

The Busan Festival’s four-day Asian Film Market wrapped its 10th edition on Tuesday, with many sales booths emptying out by lunchtime. Launched at the Grand Hotel in Haeundae 10 years ago, the rights market has scaled up and relocated to a more practical venue, allowing a near doubling of the number of sales booths. The market’s impact as a business venue, however, remains questionable.

Though numbers have increased since it moved to the BEXCO Exhibition Hall, many attendees reported that transaction volume was slow. Many say that the market is great for Asian buyers and sellers to make casual contacts and to take longer meetings than at other marts.

“I totally see the problem,” festival co-director Lee Yong-kwan told Variety. “We are in the middle of reassessing what are our strengths and weaknesses and will look to play to those strong niches.”

After a couple of years of booming Korea-China business, this year’s general market played host to fewer participants from China.  “Affected by the China currency devaluation, there are slightly less Chinese exhibitors than expected,” said Jay Jeon, the Busan market’s director. “Situated just one month before the American Film Market, some could have decided to focus on the bigger markets.”

Other market participants said there were also fewer Chinese buyers, reflecting recent regulatory issues in China which limit the volume of imported content that can be screened online in the Middle Kingdom.

As part of its three-year restructuring plan, the market has increased the cost of sales booths and market badges. The move was intended to deter those executives not conducting transactions, but it may also make the market look smaller.

According to Jeon, the market’s new motto is that while it may be small in scale, the market can still be competitive. “The best Asian films may go to Cannes, but the newest films of the region are being screened in Busan. We hope to use that strength to build a small but strong market,” Jeon added.

Indeed, Busan’s newly launched market sidebars, the entertainment intellectual property (E-IP) market and casting market, made promising debuts.

The pilot edition of the E-IP market, designed to lure potential partners for co-productions, remakes and adaptations, was especially targeted at China. Demand for Korean original works is huge, and co-productions escape China’s import restrictions. Seemingly getting that China focus right, one-day passes were sold out on the day of the E-IP pitching session.

Launched with the ambition that Busan “become the hub of star content business in Asia,” the Asian Casting Market, debuted with a clutch of promising talent — many of whom are bilingual.

Korean actress Kim Go-eun, who was raised in Beijing and speaks Mandarin, was joined by Taiwan’s Mark Chao, who was previously in Luc Besson’s English-language sci-fi action film “Lucy.”  Others included Korea’s Kim Woo-bin (“Twenty”), Taiwan’s Sandrine Pinna (“Touch of the Light”), Japan’s Satoh Takeru (“The Liar and His Love”) and Nagasawa Masami (“Our Little Sister”).

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