Korea’s CJ Entertainment Targets Global Production

CJ Entertainment, long South Korea and Asia’s leading movie conglomerate, has now set its sights on becoming a fully-fledged global film producer.

“The domestic [Korean] market has been highly saturated in recent years. Expanding overseas is no longer a choice but a necessity,” said Jeong Tae-sung, CEO of CJ Entertainment, at a recent event in Seoul.

The company, which typically has a 30% share of the Korean distribution market, and is a sister company of leading exhibitor CJ-CGV, now aims to produce 20 films per year in 10 languages. That would be a greater volume than the number of Korean films it backs.

It also puts CJ within striking distance of the Hollywood studios, but Jeong foresees a production-led strategy, subtly different from the U.S. majors. For a start, budgets in the U.S. are likely to be capped at $35 million, though it invested some $40 million in “Snowpiercer.”

“Our case is different. Hollywood studios have global distribution channels and entering foreign territory is easier for Hollywood films than for Korean films,” said Jeong. “Our strength is creativity.”

The blueprint for CJ’s production outreach is its “Miss Granny” franchise. The comedy-drama has already been remade several times within Asia (including China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam) each time with subtle cultural nuances. Now it is being remade for two separate audience segments 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.

“African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics account for 38% of (the U.S.) population, but they make up almost 50% of the ticket sales,” said Jeong, implying that the company may as well target those communities with other initiatives.

After several years of operation within Asia, CJ now has other original properties that could be remade or transformed. Its Vietnamese film “The Housemaid” is to be remade in other territories.

It plans to leverage CJ’s corporate strengths in North America, Latin America and Europe. It has been plugged into Hollywood as an investor in DreamWorks for more than 20 years, and as the U.S. studio’s Korean sub-distributor.  Through CJ America, it has operated as a distributor and exhibitor in selected local markets in the U.S.  And it has a relationship with Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures.

Following the acquisition of leading Turkish exhibitor Mars Entertainment by CJ-CGV, CJ Entertainment opened a Turkey production office in May.

“Along with Korea, Turkey is one of the few countries in the world where local films outrun imported Hollywood titles,” said Mike Im, head of international at CJ Entertainment. Korea-Turkey co-production “Sweet & Sour,” a Turkish remake of Korea-China co-production “A Wedding Invitation,” is set for release in December.

Now the company is dropping hints about expansion into Russia and India.

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