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Berlinale: Korea’s CJ Entertainment Bids Farewell to Veteran Kini Kim

Kini Kim, one of the most respected film executives in Asia, is a noticeable absentee from Berlin’s European Film Market this year.

Having headed international sales at CJ Entertainment for several years, Kim will leave the giant Korean conglomerate at the end of this month.

“It is a good time in my life and for the company for me to step aside,” Kim told Variety. “I’m sure that one day I’ll come back to the industry, but CJ Entertainment has been such a large part of my career that it would be disappointing if people thought that I were leaving it for some other position. Right now, I’m enjoying figuring things out and spending more time with my family.”

Kim was the first employee of CJ Entertainment, joining in 1995 when the company was founded by foods and commodities group CJ (Cheil Jedang) as a way to diversify into cinema.

CJ Entertainment’s first move was to buy the second-largest stake in similarly newly hatched DreamWorks studio. Kim was involved in acquiring English-language festival hits “Secrets and Lies,” and “Shine,” which served as test runs for handling Korean distribution of DreamWorks’ first titles. The company had rights across much of Asia and Kim was involved in finding sub-distributors in other regional territories.

With South Korea now the world’s No. 6 box office market, the contrast with CJ’s beginnings is stark. The company was born in a pre-multiplex era and opened its first theater in 1998.

That also coincided with CJ’s moves into local production. Its 1999 title “Happy End” scored 1 million admissions, a big number in those days. Only a year later, “JSA,” with its controversial theme of cross-border friendship with North Koreans, sold 5.8 million tickets. (The North-South theme continues to play strongly with Korean audiences and “Confidential Assignment,” CJ’s current chart-topping hit, mines a similar seam.)

Kim’s role as an all-rounder also saw him play a key role in the company’s 2000 IPO and for a year head its investor relations effort. Only in 2003 did Kim officially join the international team that he headed until recently.

While sales have been a major part of CJ’s international drive, in recent years Kim has been instrumental in CJ’s pan-Asian localization efforts. The sales slate handled by Kim’s recently appointed successor, Choi Yoonhee, reflects Kim’s local production efforts in Vietnam, Indonesia, China, and most recently Thailand.

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