Thai film biz set for ’97 boom

BANGKOK — “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” opened here Friday, and the box office excitement is just one more indicator of the film industry boom currently under way here.

In stark contrast to the economic downturn gripping the nation, the Thai pic biz is expecting growth in the area of 20% to 25% this year.

Last year, the industry generated $80 million — up from $60 million in 1995 — and this year it is expected to climb to $120 million, per the Thai Consumers Bank Research Centre.

This success is spurring investment, too. In February, a Columbia TriStar-Buena Vista Films joint venture became the third foreign distrib to open an office in Thailand. The others are UIP (Universal, Paramount, MGM and UA) and the Major Group (Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox).

There’s a screen-building surge, too. Twenty-three multis are skedded for completion by year’s end, bringing Thailand’s total to more than 250.

“There is plenty of room for growth.” said Gerald Dibbayawan, manager of Entertain Golden Village (EGV), the first company to open multiplexes in Thailand two years ago.

There are concerns, of course. The provincial market may eventually be tapped, but for now about 80% of the movie market is in Bangkok. Many theaters are in less than tip-top shape.

And the nation’s worsening economic situation is an ominous sign. About 1,000 Thai firms are expected to face bankruptcy this year and at least 40,000 people could lose their jobs, officials and analysts said on Friday. Teerachai Triwongwaranat, marketing director at EGV, admitted the company has been forced to delay some of its projects.

Nonetheless, the overall outlook is upbeat. Homegrown pics “1956 Daeng Bailey” and “Young Gangsters” have posted unprecedented B.O., and “Lost World” is expected to become the highest-grossing film ever in Thailand.

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