Dialogue: Jeong Tae-sung of Korea's Showbox

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Since producing the critically praised "Spring in My Hometown" and helping to found the Pusan International Film Festival's marketplace, the Pusan Promotion Plan, in the 1990s, Jeong Tae-sung has served as chief operating officer at Showbox, one of South Korea's biggest movie companies. At Showbox, a Mediaplex affiliate, Jeong has been involved in many of the biggest blockbusters in Korean history, including "The Host" and "Taegukgi." Just ahead of the Aug. 1 Showbox release of "D-War," the most expensive Korean movie ever made, Jeong chatted with The Hollywood Reporter's Korea correspondent, Mark Russell.

THR: Is everything on track for "D-War"?

Jeong: Yes, we just had the first screening of the finished film anywhere in Los Angeles last week. It opens in Korea on Aug. 1, on over 500 screens. Then, it opens in the United States in mid-September on around 1,500 screens.

We are targeting both young people and families in Korea, along with people in their 30s who might fondly remember director Shim Hyung-rae's children's movies of the 1980s and '90s. In fact, this time we are focusing our marketing on Shim, because everyone in Korea knows him and his films.

Even though his last film (the 1999 monster movie "Yonggari") did not do well, he did not give up.

THR: Is this "D-War" much different from the version people saw at the American Film Market last year?

Jeong: Yes, quite different. That was 106 minutes long, but the version we are releasing is down to 90 minutes. All the post-production only got finished in May. The final version is much tighter, faster, with better f/x and sound. We're very happy with how it has turned out.

THR: What was the final cost?

Jeong: We officially announced the budget at $30 million. Earlier numbers that were talked about, $70 million, or whatever, were just rumors or included a lot of other investments by Younggu Art, the production company. But the final project equity is $30 million, and Showbox invested one-third of that.

THR: This week, Mediaplex announced it was selling your exhibition division, Megabox, to Macquarie Funds for $159 million. Was this deal done because Mediaplex is having money problems? Are you pulling out of the movie market altogether?

Jeong: No, we're not pulling out of the movie business. We have enough money, but now we are expanding. Not only us, but On Media and the other parts of the Orion Group.

Yes, we sold Megabox, but we are keeping management of the company for the next 10 years. With the money we raised in the deal, we will put it into contents – films, cable TV, other media and so on.

THR: There have been rumors that you turned over Kim Jee-woon's "The Good, the Bad and the Weird" to CJ Entertainment because its budget was growing too large.

Jeong: I cannot comment on the reason we gave up that film.

THR: But you are in Korea for the long haul?

Jeong: Yes, we are here for the long term. We have five film funds, worth over $50 million in total. Our production company Motion 101 is making three to five films a year. We are investing in John Woo's "Red Cliff", and we are in talks with Hollywood, too, to make a big, English-language co-production.

It's true there is a lot of upheaval these days -- (production company) Sidus FNH is starting its own distribution, and Chungeorahm is resuming its own distribution, too, so who knows? When there's risk, there's also opportunity. The Korean film industry has been growing for 10 years, so probably it was time for reform. Reform is always painful, but it is good for the long run.
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