CJ Entertainment to Expand Slate of Overseas Productions

Hong Kong Filmart
'Miss Granny'

The South Korean giant plans to annually produce at least 20 titles in more than 10 languages, beginning in 2020.

South Korea's CJ Entertainment said it will expand its lineup of local productions in overseas markets, producing at least 20 titles in more than 10 languages per year beginning in 2020.

This means that South Korea's leading investor-distributor will produce considerably more projects specifically targeting the global market than for local audiences. Last year, CJ created nine foreign titles, which is almost twice the total of five the year before. It has invested and distributed on average between 10 to 15 Korean-language films for the local market in recent years.

"The South Korean market is already highly saturated. Expanding overseas is not a choice but a necessity," CJ Entertainment CEO Jeong Tae-Sung told reporters in Seoul. "We hope that the success of CJ's strategies for the global market will become a barometer for determining whether or not the stagnant Korean film industry could make another leap forward."

Last year, the Korean box office reached $1.44 billion, a flattish result after years of growth, and experts do not foresee big fluctuations for 2017. Though the Asian country has the world's highest annual moviegoing rate, with Koreans watching an average 4.2 films per year, its leading demographic group of twenty- and thirty-somethings is quickly decreasing in size given Korea's rapidly aging population.

CJ currently operates businesses in six overseas territories — the U.S., China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand — where over 80 employees are dispatched. To date, it has produced and released 23 foreign-language titles and has distributed 256 Korean films overseas.

CJ's plan to focus on localized foreign productions moves away from the traditional model of selling local films or remake rights. It is not surprising, given the representative case of Miss Granny. The 2011 family comedy-drama received multiple remakes across Asia including China, Vietnam and Indonesia, which together raked in 78 billion Korean won (about $69 million) in box-office revenue, which contrasts starkly with the $354,000 it made from international sales and remake rights.

"Hollywood studios have a global distribution channel and face little cultural barriers in any given territory. Korean films, however, must overcome linguistic and cultural differences when they sell to foreign markets. The number of sales for remake rights also remains low. We cannot model ourselves after China either, and buy out major exhibitors and production companies," said Jeong.

The exec continued: "The Korean film industry's biggest strength is its creative ability. We have an abundance of talented people in the film industry as well as good source material. And so there is much more added value in creating localized content that is tailored to the culture codes of a given territory. This will also create more opportunities for Korea's pool of creative talent."

The entertainment giant also plans to enter the Mexican and Turkish film markets. In May, CJ established a business operation in Turkey. Mike Im, head of international at CJ, noted that Turkey is one of the few countries in the world, along with Korea, where local films outperform Hollywood imports, and CJ sees the country as a key territory for potentially expanding into Europe.

"In addition to Turkey and Mexico, we plan on expanding out business to Russia, India and other markets," said Jeong.

Hot Sweet & Sour, a Korea-Turkey co-production, is slated to be released in December, while more than 10 titles are currently in development for releases in 2018, including a Turkish-language version of Miss Granny. The title will also be remade in Spanish in partnership with Mexico's 3Pas Studios. And stateside, Tyler Perry Studios' 34th Street Films is co-producing an English rendition of the film targeting the African-American community.

More films are underway for the U.S. market, where CJ says it will focus on producing small- and mid-budget films that cost between $5 million-$35 million. Currently in the works are English versions of the 2016 Korea-Vietnam joint venture The Housemaid and 2011 Korean retro drama Sunny. Rush Hour helmer Brett Ratner's production arm Ratpac has signed to co-produce the latter title, and Sunny is expected to be the next Miss Granny, with adaptations underway for Japan and Southeast Asian territories. Another upcoming project is Super Fan, based on the true story of a regular office worker, SungWoo Lee, becoming a super fan of the Kansas City Royals.