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Korea’s Showbiz Giants Seek to Expand Outside the Country

With the domestic market saturated, the three big entertainment conglomerates are moving into other territories

The growth bug has hit South Korea’s three leading entertainment companies: CJ Entertainment, Lotte Entertainment and Showbox.

They’re all participating in the American Film Market as sellers of Korean films. That’s to be expected. But the real story here is that the trio are also setting out to expand globally and dive deeper into international productions.

Such expansion is seen as necessary if those companies are to grow, as they are already dominating the domestic market.

CJ Entertainment, which started started its international move before Lotte and Showbox, has been the country’s No. 1 film studio that has backed, distributed and sold some of South Korea’s biggest films.

At AFM, the conglomerate is introducing several new titles to buyers: Jang Joon-hwan’s “1987: When the Day Comes,” Noh Dong-seok’s “Golden Slumber,” Choi Sung-hyun’s “Keys to the Heart,” Korean-Turkish co-production “Hot Sweet Sour” and animated feature “Tobot: Attack of the Robot Force.”

Among the three companies, CJ is the only one to launch sales of new titles that have not been sold at previous markets such as Busan’s Asian Film Market and Tokyo’s TIFFCOM.

“Each market has different buyers,” Choi Yoon-hee, CJ’s head of international sales and distribution, told Variety. “Compared to the other two markets in Asia, there are more non-Asian buyers attending AFM. Also, we consider our products’ release schedules when launching sales. As we prefer pre-sales, the titles that we are bringing to the AFM are mostly winter tentpole films that are set for theatrical releases during the Christmas or Lunar New Year seasons.”

Apart from international sales, which are the company’s major strength, CJ has now set its sights on becoming a full-fledged global film producer. The company, which accounts for a 30% share of the Korean distribution market, now aims to annually produce 20 films in 10 languages.

The international production strategy started with the “Miss Granny” franchise. The hit Korean comedy has already been remade in multiple territories in Asia, including China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, and has enjoyed box office success.

As the company aims to further expand beyond Asia, “Granny” is being remade for two separate audience groups in North America. Tyler Perry Studios is handling an English-language version of the film, targeting the African-American community, while 3Pas Studio will make a Spanish-language version for the Hispanic market and potentially for Latin America.

The company’s latest international production attempt is “Hot Sweet Sour,” a Turkish remake of the company’s 2013 co-production with China. That follows the acquisition of leading Turkish exhibitor Mars Entertainment by CJ-CGV, CJ Entertainment’s sister company. “Hot Sweet Sour” is set for a December release in Turkey.

A latecomer in the international production game, Showbox recently entered into its first production and investment deal in Hollywood. The company, which signed a partnership deal with Ivanhoe Pictures in 2015, is co-producing Neil Jordan’s upcoming thriller, “The Widow,” with Ivanhoe and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Showbox ambitiously announced that the deal would be the first step for its future expansion into activities in Hollywood.

At the same time, Showbox is also co-producing its first local project in Indonesia. Starring K-pop star-turned-actor Thunder of MBLAQ, romantic comedy “Forever Holiday in Bali” sees the story of a K-pop star that travels to Bali with the help of an Indonesian girl. Ody C. Harahap, who previously directed CJ’s Indonesian production “Sweet 20,” has joined the project as director.

Showbox’s AFM lineup includes feature debut director Jang Chang-won’s “The Swindlers,” Jung Bum-shik’s horror feature “Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum,” Kwak Kyung-taek’s “RV: Resurrected Victims” and Jang Hoon’s “A Taxi Driver,” which has been selected as South Korea’s contender for the Oscar race.

Lotte Entertainment, which has been better known for its exhibitor chain, Lotte Cinema, is also advancing its plans to grow internationally. Following the parent group’s recent decision to spin off the film business as a separate affiliate, financier-distributor Lotte Entertainment and Lotte Cinema are set for an expansion to Indonesia.

According to Lotte’s statement, the new affiliate will also specialize in operating businesses related to theater operation and original production in the Southeast Asian territory. No project details have been announced.

Lotte, which sold its mega-budget tentpole title “Along With Gods” to multiple territories, including North America, is not introducing new titles at the AFM. “Gods,” directed by Kim Yong-hwa, is a cartoon-based fantasy drama that tells the story of a firefighter who dies and is taken to the afterlife by three guardians. “Owing to the good word-of-mouth during the Busan market, many buyers have shown interest in ‘Gods.’ We are expecting further sales at the AFM,” says Justin Choi of Lotte Entertainment.

Other titles that the company is selling at the market include Lee Jang-hoon’s “Be With You,” Cho Geun-hyun’s “Heung-bu: The Revolutionist” and Lee Yong-seung’s “Room No.7,” which opened Bucheon Fantastic Festival in July.

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