China tug-of-war over 'D-War'

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There's a turf war brewing over Chinese rights to "D-War," Korea's summer smash hit about a dragon that eats Los Angeles, in a clear example of the difficulties of navigating state-controlled distribution.

Johnny Liu, GM of independent marketing upstart Avrio in Beijing, signed a deal memo with world sales handler Showbox for the film at May's Festival de Cannes. Now Liu says he's worried that the Seoul-based producer of the film, Younggu Arts, could spoil the deal.

Liu submitted the film to the censors' board in Beijing and hopes to release it across China in January in the run-up to the peak moviegoing season around the Lunar New Year.

However, about a week before AFM, a Younggu Arts' manager got a call from an executive at the China Film Group, suggesting the producer deal directly with CFG, said Judy Ahn, head of international sales at Showbox.

CFG is the state-run film giant which, with its de facto control over all film imports into China, is seen as the competitive big brother to nominal competitor Huaxia Film Distribution Co., the company Liu had hoped to work with, Ahn said.

Liu and Ahn are keen to work together and are concerned that Younggu and CFG may disregard the Showbox-Avrio agreement struck at Cannes.

Liu told The Hollywood Reporter that he had contacted the China Film Copyright Protection Assn., the semi-governmental body that usually fights piracy, to see if it could help Avrio protect what he views as its rights to distribute "D-War" in China.

Ahn said that there was some miscommunication between Showbox and Younggu Arts and that she could not comment in further detail by press time.

Younggu Arts and China Film Group could not be reached by press time.
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