CJ leads trend as Korean firms look abroad

Film company aims to generate half of its income overseas

SEOUL -- More South Korean filmmakers are turning to overseas markets and co-productions as the prospect of a recovery from the boxoffice decline of the past few years seems increasingly unlikely.

CJ Entertainment, the country's biggest film company, announced Tuesday that it will release three international co-productions by the end of this year and has newly signed two Hollywood remakes of Korean originals.

The first, "Korean Wedding" -- shot 85% in Korea in partnership with Lionsgate and Vertigo Entertainment -- focuses on an American English teacher in Korea vying for approval from his Korean girlfriend's parents.

"Our goal is to produce 50% of the company's total income from the overseas market in the next five years," CJ's newly appointed CEO Katharine Kim said. "We hope to create diverse business models through co-production, remakes and joint investments including ways to expand overseas sales and explore new markets in India, Middle East and South America."

CJ confirmed the sale of remake rights to the Korean films "Bitter Sweet Life" (to Fox Atomic) and "Moment to Remember" (to Sobini Pictures).

Separately, the Korean powerhouse is waiting for the Chinese release of "Sophie's World," co-produced with China and starring Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi; "Fish Story," co-produced with Japan's Amus, due in March; and more recently "Killer Virgin Road," also with a major Japanese distributor currently in pre-production.

CJ aside, local producers are actively seeking to pull in overseas companies for joint film projects.

Last week, Korea's Activers struck a deal with Hyde Park to co-produce "Against Conspiracy," based on the true story of a female North Korean spy who was executed for seducing an American colonel to elicit government secrets in the years leading up the Korean War.

"Piando," based on a Japanese vampire comic, also will be made into a film, with Korean director Kim Tae-gyun ("Crossing") helming a cast of Japanese actors. "Hanakage" (Flower Shadow), directed by Hayato Kawai, will feature Japanese and Korean actors, as did "Oishi Man," a Korea-Japan co-production now in theaters.

Korea has systematically supported co-production opportunities both on a governmental and industry level. Last year, the country signed a treaty with New Zealand that provides incentives on equipment imports and visa benefits for location shoots in either country.

Local blockbuster hits such as "Oldboy" and "Silmido" were filmed in New Zealand, while "Laundry Warrior," a fantasy action pic from "The Lord of the Rings" producer Barrie Osborne, is due in March starring Korea's superstar Jang Dong-gun.

Meanwhile, more Korean actors are taking roles in international co-productions. Ha Jung-woo ("The Chaser") and Tsumabuki Satoshi ("Josee, the Tiger and the Fish") teamed up in a Japan-Korea co-production about the smuggling business called "Boat." Lee Byung-heon ("Bitter Sweet Life") will star in two Hollywood productions, one as a Hong Kong gangster in the French-U.S. co-production "I Come With the Rain" and the second as an assassin in the full-fledged Hollywood action film "G.I. Joe."

Daniel Henney, an American actor who made his film debut in Korea, has joined the cast of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," as Agent Zero, while "Blood, the Last Vampire," an action movie starring Jeon Ji-Hyun and based on a Japanese anime title, opens in May in Japan followed by European release in June.