How Fox International's Local-Language Strategy Is Paying Off in New Ways (Cannes)

Films like Cannes entry "The Yellow Sea" have proven to be profitable and prestigious.

CANNES -- The push by Hollywood studios to make local-language movies and profit from the gold rush in booming international territories has reached the Cannes Film Festival, where two titles playing in Un Certain Regard are from Fox International Productions.

Sanford Panitch launched FIP three years ago with the goal of making commercial films in territories including India, Japan, China, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Korea, Argentina and Mexico. The idea that some of those titles are now hitting the major festival circuit is icing on the cake for Panitch and his team, which includes Rebecca Kearey, who was recently promoted to executive vp marketing and distribution for Fox International after a long stint at Fox Searchlight.

Miss Bala, a drama about a young woman thrust in the center of the Mexican drug wars, drew strong reviews when premiering here last week. Gerardo Naranjo directed the film, which stars Stephanie Sigman. Fox International is planning an early September release in Mexico, and is also mulling a limited U.S. run.

Korean film The Yellow Sea, directed by Na Hong-Jin, debuts Wednesday night on the Croisette. The thriller tells the story of a cab driver living in Yanbian province, a region between North Korea, China and Russia, whose wife goes missing in Korea. His life spirals downhill, until a hit man approaches him with a plan that will reunite him with his wife and resolve his gambling debt, but the plan goes horribly wrong.

Yellow Sea is already a box office hit in South Korea, grossing $17 million (the movie was made for $7 million).

“There has never been a Korean movie produced and distributed by a Hollywood studio,” said Panitch, adding that he’s signed a development deal with Hong-Jin. Fox International co-produced Yellow Sea with Shadowbox, with Shadowbox distributing.

It was Panitch who sought out Hong-Jin two years ago after noticing that the director’s film Chaser was beating Fox’s Jumper at the Korean box office.

On the eve of Cannes, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment announced the formation of Fox World Cinema, which will work in tandem with Panitch’s division and make festival titles like Yellow Sea available in the U.S. on DVD, VOD and digital download.

In addition to Yellow Sea, Fox World Cinema’s initial slate includes Chinese film The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman, Indian film Dum Maaro Dum and Vallanzasca: Angel of Evil.

“Fox has always championed films that transcend language and social differences,” Panitch said in announcing the new venture. “In recent years, American audiences have embraces successful foreign films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The universal themes represented with Fox World Cinema will be appreciated by film lovers everywhere.”