AFM opens slow despite Japan-Korea synergy

Asian horror fare returns to the fore

Complete Pusan fest coverage

BUSAN, South Korea -- "Pandemic,” the $20 million disaster film from Japan's Tokyo Broadcasting System, Inc (TBS), is one of the films that is generating buzz on the first day of the Asian Film Market.

Tokyo Broadcasting System has high hopes for the blockbuster potential of the film, which has just finished production and will be released in Jan 17, 2009. It stars Japanese actor Satoshi Tsumabuki, whose popularity in Japan as well as Korea is proving particularly attractive to Korean buyers.

The company is also pushing the $7 million war drama "I'd Rather Be a Shellfish,” written by Japanese screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, who is involved in The Weinstein Company's remake of "The Seven Samurai.” However, finding a prospective distributor in Korea for the film may be difficult due to sensitive WWII subject matter.

The market got an early boost from the sale to Singapore’s Festival Films of “Cape No. 7,” now Taiwan’s all-time boxoffice champion, along with a regional, seven-country cable TV sell to Star Group, both for undisclosed amounts.

Korea s CJ Entertainment s Japan-Korea co-production “Gu Gu the Cat,” a boxoffice hit in Japan and scheduled for Oct 16 in Korea, is also gathering strength. The film has been pre-sold to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore ad Thailand before the festival, but CJ is pushing for the rest of Asia. The film is the first international project for the company, with CJ acting as the film’s international sales agent. “It’s the first time we handle the international sales of an joint project actively,” said Kini S. Kim, vp, international film financing and distribution.

The company is pushing the $10 million "The Divine Weapon,” which made its market debut in Pusan, and "The Good, the Bad and the Weird,” the stars of which will arrive on the PIFF red carpet on Saturday, is in the final stage of negotiations with a Japanese company.

Korea's Showbox is pushing Jang Bun's "Rough Cut,” and Kim Ki-duk's "Dream,” which opens in Korea next week.

“The Korean film ‘Kitchen,’ by Jeon Soo-il, is receiving interest among Asian buyers, as the film stars Korean heartthrob, Ju Ji-hun, from the hit TV drama ‘Princess Hours,’” Michelle Son, the managing director of M-Line said.

The market is also seeing the pendulum swinging towards horror pics again, as hordes of slasher flicks and creepy Asian ghost pics emerged in the market. They include the gruesome "Invitation Only" from Taiwan's Three Dots Entertainment; "Midnight Movie" from Hong Kong-based Big Foot Entertainment, "Death Bell" repped by Korea's Mirovision Inc.; Toronto-based Cinemavault's "Scar 3D,” which has interest from prospective Japanese buyers; and the based-on-true-story "Ghost Train" from Indonesia's Rapi Films proved the most requested at the Indonesian Film & TV Producers Association sales office.

However, the level of excitement at the market was not high. "I was surprised by how quiet today is," said Susan Macdonald, vp of distribution for Big Foot Entertainment, which is also representing the Lucy Liu starrer "13 Needles,” premiered in Toronto. The cause might be the increasing numbers of big film markets in Asia. "The Hong Kong Filmart and now Asian Film Market in Pusan, two big markets in Asia, are splitting the buyers," she said, not including the market alongside the Tokyo International Film Festival next month.

“Overall, though, the crowd seems to be unusually slow this year compared to the past,” observed M-Line’s Son. “You have to be more aware of the status of Korean cinema of the moment.”

The Asian Film Market runs through Oct. 6 at locations in Busan’s Haeundae Beach area.

-- Park Soo-mee in Busan contributed to this report.