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Global ambition

Telco cash boost propels iHQ into multimedia mogul

Boasting one of the world’s most vibrant star systems outside Hollywood and India, South Korea is a place where talent wields real influence. So it may not be surprising to learn that one of the Korean film industry’s most dynamic and influential companies has its roots in talent management.

iHQ, headed by Teddy Hoon-tack Jung, got an initial leg up by assembling South Korea’s leading collection of actors under the moniker SidusHQ. But its ambitions have expanded, and the company is involved in film and TV drama production, game development and publishing, music, online, digital and TV content.

Perhaps its biggest boost came in early 2005, when it became a subsidiary of major telco SK Telecom. The added financial backing from its parent company has made it possible for iHQ to aggressively pursue new content. It acquired program provider YTN Media in early 2006 and Chungeorahm Films (producer of box office record-holder “The Host”) last autumn. SKT has also contributed $20 million to investment funds totaling $57.3 million that will partially finance many of iHQ’s upcoming works.

The company’s inhouse production unit iFilm is developing a large slate of films under its new CEO, Oh Ki-min, who also heads production shingle Masulpiri Pictures (“Take Care of My Cat”).

Not including comedy “A Day for an Affair,” which will have its market premiere at the European Film Market, Oh says he has six to seven projects that are likely to go into production this year. Late last fall he also signed a deal with Cinema Service, which will majority finance and distribute five of iFilm’s titles.

“It feels like we’re setting off anew, though I can’t say there isn’t some anxiety at increasing production at the same time that everyone else is decreasing theirs,” says Oh.

The hiring of Oh was considered somewhat of a coup for iHQ given the fact that experienced producers are in short supply in the Korean film industry.

At the same time, iHQ is turning aggressively overseas. In January, iFilm saw its first English-language production “American Zombie,” by Korean-American director Grace Lee, invited to screen at the Slamdance fest.

In the talent arena, iHQ is also working to place its higher-profile stars in overseas productions, especially in Hollywood.

“We are trying to broaden the international market for our artists, so we’re on the lookout for good projects,” says Yeo Sang-yeop of iHQ’s international management team.

To facilitate the process, the company is making contacts in L.A. and has also struck a development deal with N.Y.-based dealmaker John Sloss. iHQ has also started representing U.S.-based actors inclined toward the Asian market, such as Korean-American Will Yun Lee.

Top actress Jun Ji-hyun is skedded to take the lead role in Ronny Yu’s “Blood: The Last Vampire,” while Jung Woo-sung has been cast for a role in John Woo’s upcoming “The Battle of Red Cliff.” Other iHQ stars working abroad include Ha Jung-woo in Sundance competition entry “Never Forever” and Kong Yu in Japanese director Takashi Miike’s “Like a Dragon.”

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