Exhausted execs hit AFM

Busy Asians hitting market after Pusan, TIFFCOM

More AFM news

HONG KONG -- Asia's film executives can be forgiven for arriving in Santa Monica a little exhausted, and it's not just the 16-hour jetlag.

Many recently have trekked from Pusan to the Tokyo festival and market, and some even added a few days at last week's China Film Group-organized Beijing Screenings. Despite that, most arriving at the American Film Market are expecting to do business.

Pusan and Tokyo's TIFFCOM effectively were warm-up events before the main show, and both were better attended than last fall, when the severity of the global financial meltdown was making itself felt.

Since then, Asian economies have largely recovered, boxoffice has proved resilient and local and regional films have shown themselves capable of being financed and prebought within the region. Further intra-Asian business is definitely on the AFM agenda this week.

Still, Pusan and Tokyo essentially were regional events, whereas this week's AFM is viewed as a global sales event. It is being attended by buyers from North and South America who did not attend the two Asian festivals, by a far more representative selection of European buyers and also by some of the cannier Asian buyers who realized that sellers would hold off on key deals until they had met with all their clients.

Also, Pusan and Tokyo have a stronger accent on art house and festival titles than AFM, which because of its English-language bias is a place for more mainstream commercial and genre fare.

Several leading Hong Kong sales companies and studios -- including Fortissimo, Emperor and Universe -- sent acquisitions staff to the other recent events but avoided taking sales booths. They now are at AFM with suites, packed schedules and sales on the mind.

"We are certainly expecting a busy time given that our meeting slots have largely been taken up," Emperor CEO Albert Lee said. "We chose not to go to Pusan and Tokyo and now have a strong lineup for AFM."

Indeed, several Asian sales companies have opted to unveil top new product at AFM rather than nearer to home:

-- Korean giant CJ Entertainment is opening sales on the thriller "Secret" and crime drama "White Night" and also drumming up ongoing international interest for "Sophie's Revenge," a romantic comedy starring and produced by Zhang Ziyi, and market screenings for "Haeundae" its big-budget disaster movie now the No. 3 film all-time in Korea.

-- Korean indie Mirovision is putting on a good show with a sales debut for "The Housemaid," a love-triangle horror drama that is a remake of one of the best Korean movies of the 1960s.

-- Hong Kong's Distribution Workshop, which is fed by a film fund and its Cannes deal with Singapore's Media Development Authority, has a powerhouse slate that includes the Jackie Chan starrer "Little Big Soldier," a new live-action version of "Mulan" and the 3D shark actioner "Bait," on which it shares sales duties with Arclight.

-- Emperor also is in the Chinese action business with "Shaolin," a production backed by the Shaolin temple of martial arts now in preproduction, and director Jiang Wen's "Let the Bullets Fly," which is now shooting.

-- Media Asia is unwrapping "Legend of Chen Zhen," a Donnie Yen- and Shu Qi-starring martial arts actioner directed by Andrew Lau ("Infernal Affairs"), and "Jianyu Jianghu," a Mandarin-language action thriller that stars Michelle Yeoh and Korea's Jang Sun-woo.

On the other side, Asian buyers are likely to remain picky. First, they are spoiled for choice with local and other Asian material playing strongly. But their business models have also been made more precarious by DVD markets that are shrinking or in come cases have been obliterated completely.

The weakest point in Asia remains Japan, where a string of indie distributors have collapsed and only Toei and the TV-backed groups seem to be making much money. Still, it is possible to secure sales in Japan with the right product, as Korea's Fine Cut proved this week with the art house title "A Brand New Life."

India also looks quieter after a flurry of buying activity last year. Not only has the wider Indian cinema economy's bubble burst, but also new art house distributors have attained cruising speed after a phase of stocking up.

Still, Hong Kong could prove a bright spot for art house sellers as a new specialty movie channel continues its acquisition hunt.