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South Korea

Fewer local films proves friendly for imports

SEOUL — Korean pics have fared well at home in 2008 so far, taking a B.O. market share of about 42%. But an admissions downturn in the territory has made distributors somewhat more receptive to releasing imports.

Five local pics made it into the top 10, with three in the top five: Western “The Good the Bad the Weird,” action-thriller “The Chaser” and comedic actioner “Public Enemy Returns,” demonstrating that Korean auds still have an appetite for genre. (Hollywood studio fare “Kung Fu Panda” and “Iron Man” rounded out the top five.)

According to a report compiled by Korea’s leading multiplex chain, CJ CGV, Korea’s admission cume through September stood at 116 million — down 6 million from in 2007. Lack of bigger local films and the recession are being blamed for the lower turnout in theaters.

The dips both in local production and at the B.O. have distribs looking at imports again. “We will be making more film acquisitions in order to supplement and balance domestic film production and distribution,” says Sungwon I Com’s acquisition manager, Vincent Kim, whose company will be attending AFM for the first time. Sungwon’s prior pickups include “Copying Beethoven” and “Assembly.”

Some are transitioning into the theatrical biz. “We were focused on the video business in the past,” says Jack Shin, acquisition team manager of KD Media, “but after the collapse of the DVD market in Korea, we have tried to turn things around with foreign films.” As a licensor of Walt Disney homevid titles, the company still operates as a homevid retailer while expanding into theatrical. Among its pickups are “Drag Me to Hell,” “My One and Only” and “I Love You Phillip Morris.”

Meanwhile, the number of distribs has swelled to nearly 20 this year. Several smaller companies launched in order to work around local majors such as CJ Entertainment, Showbox and Lotte Entertainment.

Daisy Entertainment just bowed distrib unit Cinergy, which has “Deception” and “Painted Skin” on its fall slate. “It’s more advantageous for us to set up a distribution company rather than wait for the majors’ busy schedules to open up,” says Daisy prexy William Kim. “Even though the current market is very slow, it’s not difficult to secure more than 200 screens, thanks to multiplexes.”

Other companies launching fresh distrib labels include KM Culture with MPlus Pictures and Megabox’s N.E.W. Among the new midrange distribs are Sungwon I Com and Vantage Holdings, which compete with distribs such as Studio2.0 and Sponge.

2008 B.O.

$562 million (through Sept. 30)

Top title

“The Good the Bad the Weird” ($33.6 million through Sept. 30)

Recent pickups

“Still Walking” (Jin Jin Pictures)

“Spread” (Mirovision)

“The Tree of Life” (KD Media)

“Nine” (Daisy Entertainment)

“Milk” (Sponge)