SARS sparks no-shows from Asia

Larger effect on licensing fees as yet unknown

It could have been worse. The SARS virus has resulted in a relatively small number of no-shows in Cannes from the Asian territories most affected by the killer disease.

But on a broader level, some sales companies fear the health scare and its impact on local box offices will have a lingering effect on license fees for those territories.

“Buyers could use the SARS situation to demand price reductions” for some time, says Edison Jeon, senior VP of international sales and acquisitions of Korean producer-distrib CJ Entertainment.

Asked how he would respond to such pleas, Jeon says diplomatically, “We would take various market factors into account in our negotiations.”

Ann Hung of Hong Kong’s China Star Entertainment agrees SARS could depress license fees for some territories but notes the market in economically ailing Taiwan has hit the bottom anyway, which is why her firm is switching its focus to mainland China.

Hung and other HK reps took the precaution of having chest X-rays and blood tests before leaving for Cannes and came armed with doctors’ certificates, but were not screened on arrival.

Asian sellers say most Hong Kong buyers are here (excluding Media Asia, which pulled out) but there have been cancellations from distribs in Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Understandably, the China Film Group, the country’s sole importer/distrib, withdrew a few weeks ago. That disappoints Jennifer Muhn of South Korea’s Cinema Service, who was hoping to meet with the Chinese delegation. She says the Chinese have expressed growing interest in acquiring Korean movies after her pic “My Sassy Girl” racked up healthy video sales on the mainland.

In early May, China Star was forced to suspend production of two films shooting in China due to the SARS outbreak. Hung says both are on hiatus for at least a month.

Conversely, Hong Kong producer Universe Films says its pic “Jade Quanyin,” from director-producer Ann Hui, is still lensing in Yunnan, China, a region that hasn’t been hit by the virus.

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