Ryoo Seung-wan’s latest action comedy and the third-biggest Korean movie of all time, “Veteran,” has made $1 million at the North American box office since its Sept. 17 release. Its North American distributor, CJ Entertainment America, is the U.S. arm of CJ E&M, South Korea’s largest entertainment conglomerate.
CJ began distributing its own titles in the U.S. in 2009 with “The Man From Nowhere,” which initially showed in CJ’s CGV theater in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Between 2010 and 2014, CJ distributed 73 Korean titles in the U.S., and according to box office tracker Rentrak, two CJ releases — “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” and “Ode to My Father”(pictuerd) — were listed on top 10 foreign films released in the U.S. last year.
The success can be attributed to their North American release immediately after they were hits in the home country. “Currents” was released in the U.S. two weeks after its strong opening in South Korea, while “Ode” opened only one week after its home debut. Such films tend to lure more Korean moviegoers in the U.S. as their success at home goes viral.
Outside the U.S., CJ handles its own theatrical releases in Japan, China, Vietnam and Indonesia. As Korean cinema has strengthened its international presence, they do not only reach out for the Korean diaspora but also for local audiences.
Lotte, South Korea’s second-largest distributor, is the only other Korean company that operates direct distribution business overseas, though in a much smaller scale. Lotte’s only direct distribution territory is Vietnam, where it has a local distribution arm and 18 theaters.
“About 50% of our distribution lineups in Vietnam are non-Korean,” says a Lotte source, implying that its direct distribution business is not strictly targeting at Koreans in Vietnam. Indeed, as the small number of distributors in the country would make the rights sales business quite small, companies might as well choose direct distribution so as to avoid just taking minimum bids when selling rights to the relatively less- developed market.