Big presence for S. Korean sales outfits


South Korean sales companies are at the American Film Market with a bigger slate of pictures than ever before as the nation's movie industry is slated to produce more than 100 movies this year, the most since 1991.

The Korean wave is headed by Showbox, one of the country's largest entertainment companies, which is offering the biggest South Korean film ever — "D-War," a $70 million special effects bonanza about dragons wreaking havoc in Los Angeles. While several Korean films have ventured into the $10 million-$20 million budget range during the past couple of years, nothing has even begun to approach "D-War."

"Everybody is asking about 'D-War,' but we're focusing on getting a deal with a U.S. distributor first," chief operating officer Jeong Tae-sung said, adding that a deal is unlikely before the close of AFM.

Showbox also is in talks with several Asian buyers around "My Wife Is a Gangster 3," which returns the original movie's helmer Cho Jin-kyu to the director's chair, sales executive Agnes Lee said.

"Gangster 3" features a change in protagonists. Out is Shin Eun-kyung, the title character from the first two films, to be replaced by Taiwanese actress Shu Qi ("The Transporter"). Shu plays the daughter of a Hong Kong boss who comes to Korea to hide out from rival gangsters.

Korea's other leading movie company, CJ Entertainment, also has a large list of titles up for grabs, especially now that it is representing the films of domestic distributor and investment company Cinema Service.

The company sent a big group to AFM this year simply because it's got more to sell but found that though "it's the biggest market yet, it's also the toughest," said Kini Kim, vp international sales. "Buyers are few and not that aggressive."

That said, CJE's two biggest projects at the market sold widely. Park Chan-wook's "I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK," which stars Korea's biggest singer, Rain, sold to Golden Scene in Hong Kong, M Pictures for Thailand and Encore Film for Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The big-budget fantasy epic "The Restless," by Cho Dong-oh, sold to M for Thailand, Splendid for Germany and Benelux, Central Partnership for Russia, and Eco for Portugal, among others.

Even though more Korean film companies than ever are selling their films internationally, specialty sales house Cineclick Asia once again has built itself a healthy and diverse roster of titles. Some of its new titles include the latest from Kim Ki-duk, "Breath"; an Asian Western by Kim Jee-woon, "The Good, the Bad and the Weird"; the zombie family horror "Mommy's Risen"; Im Sang-soo's latest, "The Old Garden"; and the fairy tale horror by Yim Pil-sung, "Hansel & Gretel."

In addition, Cineclick is getting more involved in working with filmmakers outside Korea. The company is selling Siddiq Barmak's latest film, "Opium War," about two U.S. soldiers drawn into the opium trade in Afghanistan, and "Two Footed Horse" by Mohsen Makhmalbaf of Iran.

South Korean presence is also bolstered by the Core Studio, which is selling the frenetic, ultraviolent comedy "No Mercy for the Rude," Lee Myung-se's horror melodrama "M," and the period thriller "Sword and Flower."

Studio 2.0 has a fairly diverse slate, with the animated "Aachi & Ssipak," horror titles "A Ghost's Story" and "Odd Doctors," and the romantic comedy "Highway Star."

MK Pictures is bringing several titles, including the dark action film "Bloody Tie," the mystery thriller "Paradise Murdered" and the controversial but true story of one of the worst civilian killings during the Korean War, "The Bridge at No Gun Ri."

"The climate these days, especially in L.A., is that interest in Korean cinema is very high," said Paul Yi, L.A. managing director of production-distribution company MK Pictures. "Not necessarily for sales of Korean films into the mainstream U.S. market (which is already saturated), but for other potential collaborations."

Other Korean companies including iHQ, Lotte Entertainment, Prime Entertainment, Mirovision and Show Eas look to have a significant presence at AFM as well.

Jonathan Landreth reported from Los Angeles; Mark Russell reported from Seoul.