Indeed, NEW, celebrating its 10th anniversary at Busan, has come a long way in a short time, developing itself from a second mover in the industry into a total entertainment company, overcoming hurdles and implementing innovative decisions. Take, for example, the company’s beginnings. When Kim launched NEW in 2008 with only four employees, the Korean film industry had been dominated by long-established, vertically integrated big companies. CJ Entertainment had been the top Korean distributor since 2003, with Showbox the a runner-up. The Korean arms of Hollywood majors had boasted strong lineups. A fledging in such a saturated industry, NEW started its domestic distribution business with foreign titles including Catherine Hardwicke’s “Twilight.” In its second year, when it launched investment-distribution operations of Korean titles, it became one of the top five distributors.
In 2013, it distributed 12 homegrown titles and accounted for 29.5% of the total box office revenue from all local films released that year, an astonishingly fast rise. That was the first time in 10 years that CJ Entertainment, the country’s all-time No. 1 conglomerate, failed to take the top spot. NEW’s “Miracle in Cell No. 7,” which crossed the 10 million admissions mark, was the biggest film of 2013, while its crime actioners “New World” and “Hide and Seek” also saw moderate success. In the following year, political drama “The Attorney” managed to sell more than 10 million tickets, and helped NEW log a successful year.
NEW’s 2016 zombie pic “Train to Busan” was a sensation in the Asian film industry. It broke almost every box office record in South Korea and went on to blaze through the B.O. in the majority of Southeast Asian territories. France’s Gaumont bought the film’s English remake rights. “Train” was the live-action feature debut film of animation maverick Yeon Sang-ho, and NEW had made the bold decision to invest in “Train” when all they had was a one-sentence logline.
A willingness to embrace risk helped the company take steps beyond the domestic market. It set up joint venture HUACE & NEW (Huacehexin) with China’s Huace Media in 2015, aiming to make content for the Chinese market. Three films, including two remakes of South Korean originals, “The Beauty Inside” and “The Phone,” are currently being developed and produced.
NEW was also one of the first Korean companies to build up business relations with Netflix. Since 2016’s disaster pic “Pandora,” Netflix has picked up a string of NEW titles including “Train” director Yeon’s sophomore outing, “Psychokinesis,” and political actioner “Steel Rain.” And once again in 2017, the global streaming giant partnered up with NEW for Korean theatrical release of its “Okja,” from director Bong Joon-ho.
Kim, looking ahead in the coming years, puts emphasis on not stopping the challenges, and working with the right partners.
“With good partners both inside and outside Korea, we will continue to challenge ourselves even further so that NEW can become an icon of challenge, trust, fun and heartwarming (content provider),” he said.
In celebration of the 10 year anniversary, NEW hosted a party in Busan Oct. 5. Among its anniversary lineup full of blockbusters with star casts, period zombie actioner “Rampant” and musical drama “Swing Kids” are set for release in the fourth quarter.