AFM stuck in slow lane

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Despite a late surge in activity Sunday, exhibitors and buyers are less than pleased with this year's Asian Film Market, which wraps today, blaming global economic and local sales conditions.

Some exhibitors are "very disappointed" by the quietness of the market, including Kentaro Yoshida, manager of international sales, merchandising and licensing at Japan's Tohokushinsha Film Corp., whose sales office is located on the Seacloud Hotel's sixth floor, where there was relatively more foot traffic.

The company's "My Darling of the Mountains" is in the official lineup at the Pusan International Film Festival, and its car-racing animation title "Redline," in production for five years, has received the most offers. But Yoshida predicted that deals would close at November's American Film Market.

"There are too few buyers, and Korean buyers told us that except for Hollywood blockbusters, most films aren't doing well (at the boxoffice) here this year, even for domestic films," he said. "That's why they don't want to acquire new films."

Despite that, some sellers are having a little more luck at the festival.

  After kicking off the market with presales to Singapore's Festival Films and Star Group, Pusan's A Window on Asian Cinema title "Cape No. 7" claimed 2008 boxoffice supremacy in Taiwan, hitting the NT$300 million ($9.32 million) mark.

  Korea's FineCut sold North American rights to Noh Yeong-seok's "Daytime Drinking." Japan's Eleven Arts plans to release the film in 30 North American cities.

"It has great prospects for a Western audience," Eleven Arts president and CEO Ko Mori. "It's a low-budget title but with a unique style and twist and great narrative suspense. What's exciting is that we signed this title before any domestic release of the film (in Korea)."

Eleven Arts also sold "Hazard" to Evokative Films for DVD and TV rights in Canadian territories, Mori said.

  Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine," which won best picture at this year's Asian Film Awards and for which Jeon Do-yeon won the best actress award at the Festival de Cannes, was sold to German distributor Rapid Eye.

  Mirovsion has sold remake rights to "Driving with My Wife's Lover" to U.S.-based Circle of Confusion.

  Thailand's United Home Video, Germany's Splendid Film and Australia's Vendetta Films bought all rights to "Butterfly Lovers," a kung fu romance from Hong Kong's Mei Ah Entertainment Group.

  "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" was sold to NonStop, a distributor for Scandinavian regions, which also bought the rights to 15 Korean films -- including "Arahan" and "Once Upon a Time in High School" -- as part of a TV package.

  Japan's Fine Films bought five Korean movies for their video package deal: "Hellcats," "Fly High," "Mission Possible: Kidnapping Granny," "My Son" and "Radio Star."

  Australia's Special Broadcasting System acquired partial Australian rights to "The Photograph" from FilmSharks.

FilmSharks said its hottest title has been Rodrigo Pla's "The Desert Within," with interest from Japanese and Korean buyers. The indie Latin American sales company, here for sales and pickups, is interested in Pusan Promotion Plan participants "The Bride" along with "Pinoy Sunday" and "Devil's Rock" but hasn't signed anything.

The company also has received interest from Spanish companies Buena Vista and Notro for "A Boyfriend for My Wife," FilmSharks director Guid Rud said.

But still, for most, Asian Film Market sales have been hard to come by.

"The market in Pusan has been shrinking every year. Many buyers are choosing to go to TIFFCOM instead," Yoshida said. "The turnout in the (market) this year will certainly affect our decision to come here next year."

Also from Japan, international movie sales rep Yasushi Miyamae of Tokyo Broadcasting System TV, which repped the $20 million "Pandemic" in Pusan, said they have decided to close all deals at the American Film Market instead. "We're getting offers, but there are not many buyers here, so we decided to wait," Miyamae said.

Korea's Showbox also decided to close all deals at the U.S. market instead, according to Soojin Jung, senior manager of the international sales team. "Buyers are leaving earlier. There are many two-day buyers."

She added: "The Pusan market screenings are not good for buyers. The venues are a little far, so buyers would go to meetings instead of screenings and watch the films on DVD screeners."

Berlin-based sales agent M-appeal, established in January, is attending a market in Asia for the first time. The Asian Film Market proved a good place to meet people but very cool for business, M-appeal rep Maren Kroymann said.

"Japanese companies are not buying anymore," she said.

Kroymann said she is looking forward to exhibiting at Hong Kong Filmart in March, where she thinks the more open floor plan will be a plus; the company "hasn't even considered going to TIFFCOM."

Winnie Tsang, managing director of Hong Kong's Golden Scene -- in town to buy, along with repping Pang Ho-Cheung's "Trivial Matters," showing in A Window on Asian Cinema -- opined that the lack of surprise or innovative films contributed to the slow business and lack of buying impulse.

"The films are similar every year, and the new films of the big-name Korean directors aren't ready yet," she said.

The gloomy economy led to the dwindling number of buyers, said Audrey Lee, GM sales and acquisition at Hong Kong's Edko Films.

"Because of the economic crisis, buyers are becoming more budget-conscious. Even the increasing airfare due to rising oil prices is a factor that determines buyers' decisions to come," she said. "It will be harsh for independents."

Nigel D'Sa and Park Soo-mee contributed to this report.
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