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LEE’S LEGACY LAUDED

Lee Jung-jae, star of hit series “Squid Game,” and the show’s director Hwang Dong-hyuk were awarded the Geumgwan Order of Cultural Merit, South Korea’s highest cultural medal at a ceremony last week held at the office of Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol. Hwang was honored for his career efforts that included “Miss Granny” and “Silenced.” Lee was noted for being the first Asian the US critics’ Choice Award for best actor, the first Asian to win an Emmy for best actor in a drama series and for his SAG Award.

In a separate Korean honors list Lee, director Park Chan-wook, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” star Park Eun-bin and star Don Lee (aka Ma Dong-seok) were named on a list of 10 cultural icons who received 2023 Visionary Awards from CJ ENM. In addition to his “Squid Game” success, Lee last year also made his feature directing debut “Hunt.” The film made its debut in Cannes and turned out to be a surprise box office hit.

ACQUISITION

Banijay has completed its acquisition of Beyond International Limited, a process that began in Oct. 2022. “Banijay today confirms it has fully completed the acquisition of Beyond International Limited, taking full control of the production/distribution business worldwide. Having now successfully navigated all necessary shareholder and court approvals, plus the customary closing conditions, the global group will commence the necessary integration process,” Banijay said in a statement.

Under the terms of the agreement, Banijay will assume full control of the Beyond International group of companies and departments — as well as its more than 8,000 hours of IP — with all elements of the business boarding the Banijay production and distribution footprint. Beyond’s titles includes “Highway Thru Hell,” “Heavy Rescue: 401,” “Massive Engineering Mistakes,” “Halifax: Retribution,” “MythBusters” and “Deadly Women.”

APPOINTMENT

Argonon‘s branded video agency Nemorin Film & Video has appointed Sachini Imbuldeniya to the newly created role of executive creative director, reporting into Nemorin’s founder and CEO Pete Fergusson. Imbuldeniya will oversee the expansion of creative operations as part of the agency’s growth plans for 2023.  She joins from Rupert Murdoch’s News U.K.’s Bridge Studio where she delivered triple-digit revenue growth during her seven-year tenure.

Imbuldeniya founded artist agency Studio PI in 2020 to represent talent from the four most underrepresented groups – women, people of color, those living with disabilities and individuals from working class backgrounds. 

HAINAN HONORS

Prizes were awarded on Christmas Day to the winning titles at China’s Hainan Island International Film Festival. “Trenque Lauquen” by Argentina’s Laura Citarella was named the best film of the competition section. Alice Diop was named best director for her “Saint-Omer.” Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun” received a special jury prize. “We, Students” directed by Rafiki Fariala was named best film in the parallel documentary competition. “Dry Ground Burning,” co-directed by Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queiros of Brazil, earned a special mention.

FROM VENICE TO LONDON 2023

After a successful debut in 2022, From Venice to London returns in 2023 for its second edition. From Feb. 3-5, the festival transports five titles from the 2022 Venice Film Festival to London’s Curzon Soho, giving them their U.K. premieres.

The selections this year include Susanna Nicchiarelli’s “Chiara” (Italy/Belgium) and Andrea Pallaoro’s “Monica” (U.S./Italy), both of which won awards at Venice in 2022, Carolina Cavalli’s “Amanda” (Italy/France), Pippo Mezzapesa’s “Burning Hearts” (Italy) and Benedetta Argentieri’s “The Matchmaker” (Italy).

DEVELOPMENT

Belgium’s Frakas Productions, whose credits include “Return to Seoul” and “Titane,” have in development a film inspired by Belgian painter Stéphane Mandelbaum and his life in Brussels during the 1980s. Director Marta Bergman (“Alone at my Wedding”), Yoann Zimmer (“Return to Seoul”) and writer Séverine Werba (“Spiral”) will explore the meteoric rise of the Belgian artist murdered at the age of 25. The work of fiction will draw its essence from the close ties that Bergman has been able to forge with the painter’s family and friends. Mandelbaum will be portrayed by Zimmer. The film is supported by the Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles and the RTBF.

HONG KONG HIRINGS

The Hong Kong Disneyland theme park has begun 2023 by announcing plans to hire an additional 600 staff. The move is being made in anticipation of an increasing in visitor numbers, especially from mainland China, following the almost complete removal of COVID restrictions in both jurisdictions. The park, which is 52% owned by the Hong Kong government, has rarely made a profit. Visitor numbers dived in 2019 when Hong Kong was hit by political protests. In 2020 the pandemic caused borders to be largely shut, killed off international tourism and meant that the park had to rely largely on local visitors. The border between Hong Kong and mainland China is expected to reopen by this weekend – significantly, ahead of the all-important Lunar New Year holidays – but is likely to be subject to a daily quota.

The current year will see the opening of two new attractions within the Hong Kong theme park: The World of Frozen, based on the animated hit movie “Frozen,” and a roller coaster and scenic ride called Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs.

DULY NOTED

NASDAQ-listed Chinese video streamer iQiyi has completed a $500 million fund-raising exercise, first announced in August last year. The company issued interest-bearing commercial notes that are convertible into shares to PAG an investment firm with $50 billion of assets under management. PAG’s Shan Weijian also obtains a seat on iQiyi’s board of directors. iQiyi claims 100 million paying subscribers and in the nine months to September last year enjoyed revenues of $3 billion.