The Korean Film Companies Doing Business in the Asian Film Market
Jun 18, 2019
- Writerby SONG Soon-jin
The Successes of Lotte Cultureworks, NEW, CJ and Showbox in Asia
The expansion of Korea’s film companies into the Asian markets has picked up steam, with CJ ENM’s Miss Granny (2014) contributing to the success of their international projects. Major companies such as CJ ENM and CJ CGV, as well as Lotte Cultureworks and Showbox, have jumped one after the other into the fray of financing and developing Southeast Asian and Chinese local productions, and concrete results have been reported as of late. Today, KoBiz takes a look back at the achievements realized by Korean film companies since July 2018 and sorts through the projects currently in the works in order to get a better picture of the current state of the Asian expansion of Korean film companies.
Lotte Cultureworks and Lotte Cinema
The Korean film company that has been drawing the most attention recently in the Vietnamese film market is Lotte Cultureworks, owing to the fact that the two movies the studio has released so far since its entry into the Vietnamese market in June 2017 proved box office gold. Indeed, both Hồn Papa Da Con Gái (Daddy Issue), a remake of the Korean Daddy You, Daughter Me (2017) released on December 28, 2018, and Hai Phuong (Furie), released last February 22, won big in Vietnam. According to Lotte Cultureworks, Hồn PaPa Da Con Gái and Hai Phuong blew away Vietnam’s box office by welcoming 920,000 and 2.4 million viewers, respectively. Having now become the third most-viewed film of all time in Vietnam, Hai Phuong pulled off a performance for the record books, as it shows the commercial potential of R-rated action films, a genre never attempted before in a market traditionally dominated by dramas and comedies. The film follows Hai Phuong, a single mother who left her gangster life behind to start her life anew as she tries to save her daughter from the criminal organization that kidnapped her. The film is now nicknamed “Vietnam’s female version of Taken”. Another key factor to its success was having model and singer Veronica NGO, who has been pursuing an acting career between Vietnam and Hollywood, and director LÊ Văn Kiệt, who received international notice for his Diu Dang (2014), take center stage. “We have confirmed the possibility of expanding the genres in Vietnamese cinema, and we think that by using Hai Phuong as a starting point we could produce more diverse Vietnamese film from now on”, stated Lotte Cultureworks. “The two titles we financed and distributed having both earned good results, the local market is taking a much bigger interest in Lotte Cultureworks. We have been offered to collaborate on many projects since then”.
The box office performances of the two films also prompted Lotte Cultureworks to plan on developing its business more aggressively. “There is a strong interest in Vietnam for Korean IPs and remakes“, a representative of Lotte Cultureworks declared. “Several of the titles financed and distributed by Lotte Cultureworks are under consideration, and we will back up to 6 local films or co-productions over the next year”, to which they added, “We plan to announce soon the lineup of titles currently being coordinated”.
Lotte Cultureworks is also aggressively expanding the presence of Lotte Cinema in Southeast Asia. Now owning a total of 56 theaters with 288 screens across the Asian region (187 screens over 42 locations in Vietnam, 96 screens over 13 venues in China, and 5 screens in a single theater in Indonesia), Lotte Cinema revealed that it is “currently planning a continuous expansion”. Indonesia in particular is the new country where Lotte Cultureworks is concentrating all its attention, and as such the company plans to carry forward the aggressive expansion of its Lotte Cinema footprint as well as the production, financing, distribution and funding of local films. Following the opening of the five-screen multiplex Lotte Cinema Fatmawati in South Jakarta last December, Lotte Cultureworks plans to launch 26 new locations in Indonesia by 2023.
Multimedia group NEW has been dipping its toe in the Asian water by selling remake rights through its own international rights sales division, CONTENTS PANDA. It is now having a stab at international projects centered on China with THE LAST RIDE, a remake of the 2016 film of the same name, with Chinese top stars Darren WANG and WEI Daxun in the lead and an expected Chinese release date in this summer. Although their Southeast Asian projects have yet to enter proper production, the company has long been contemplating an expansion to the Southeast Asian market, having for instance signed a license agreement with Singapore-based VFX studio Vividthree Productions for the creation of “TRAIN TO BUSAN VR”, a VR tour show based on TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016). “We are monitoring the fast-growing Southeast Asian market”, NEW explained. “Different business areas accessible through co-production and partnerships with local business operators are under discussion”. Vietnam is receiving particular attention, and when asked about the reason, NEW explained, “The interest is considerable since Korean multiplex operators have laid the foundations and both nations have a good image of each other.” Moreover, clarifying their position regarding their Southeast Asian expansion, NEW said, “Indonesia and the Philippines too are territories where we have the ability to do various remakes based on Korean properties”.
Having invested in more than 50 titles projects since 2010, CJ ENM found success with the Vietnamese film De Hoi tính (Let Hoi Decide, 2014) soon followed by the Miss Granny international series, inspiring a wave of Korean film remakes across the Southeast Asian region. CJ ENM released several commercial hits last year too, most notable among them being Go-Go Sisters, which gathered 1.38 million spectators upon its release in March 2018 (9th at the all-time box office in Vietnam), romantic comedy My Mr. Wife, which sold 1.25 million tickets in August 2018 (7th at the all-time box office in Vietnam), and Dreadout which opened last January and brought in 830,000 admissions (5th at 2019 box office in Indonesia). CJ ENM is enjoying an overwhelming status particularly in Vietnam, as five of the homegrown movies it financed broke into the all-time top 10 in Vietnam.
Also, CJ ENM displayed a more systemized international strategy by announcing a line-up of 14 international projects during the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (FILMART) last March. This lineup comprises movies that are set to be produced in the US, Turkey, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, and among them the Southeastern Asian projects account for the majority. Most noteworthy among these titles is Bebas, an Indonesian version of Sunny (2011), scheduled for an October release. Other titles the company is producing in Indonesia include action comedy Hit and Run from Ody C. HARAHAP’s and Impetigore, which marks the third collaboration of CJ ENM with director Joko ANWAR after the studio financed his horror films Satan’s Slaves and A Copy of My Mind.
Meanwhile, KWAK Jae-yong’s The Classic (2003) is set to be remade in Thailand. This movie, which is being produced in partnership with Major Cineplex, is going to hit theaters later this year, under the title Classic Again. Wirat HENGKONGDEE’s romantic comedy Love Battle and Chookiat SAKVEERAKUL’s That March have been announced for a Thai release in June and September, respectively. Also, DO Duc Thinh’s My Teacher, the Vietnamese version of My Teacher, Mr. Kim (2003), will be co-produced with HK Film.
In Vietnam, where only film exhibitors have the ability to handle film distribution, the most influential Korean film company is by far CJ CGV. In December 2015, the cinema chain became the first in Vietnam to ever record 10 million yearly admissions. CJ CGV has attracted attention as that same milestone came earlier and earlier every year since then; in 2016, it was reached in September, in 2017 in August, and in 2018 in June. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that CJ CGV is behind the outstanding growth of Vietnam’s film market. As expected, CJ CGV has now placed Vietnam on top of its priority list, along with China, with 76 new screens over 15 venues added in Vietnam during the second half of last year only. CJ CGV entered the market through the acquisition in July 2011 of Vietnamese theater chain Megastar Media Company, which was at the time operating 7 multiplex theaters, positioning itself as market leader. It has since focused its efforts on growing its presence, expanding its footprint to 73 locations with 433 screens. Recently, however, CJ CGV has been laying emphasis on “strategic distribution” and is in the midst of reinforcing its collaboration with local film professionals. “CJ CGV Vietnam is devoting its resources on the strategical distribution business of local movies”, explained KIM Dae-hee, Department Head of PR division at CJ CGV. “In 2017, we distributed 12 out of the 36 Vietnamese films released that year, and in 2018 that number was 16 out of 40 Vietnamese films”.
Last February, CJ CGV strategically distributed period comedy Trang Quynh, a film in a genre rarely seen before in Vietnam. The title eventually climbed to seventh place on the all-time Vietnamese film box office as it welcomed 1.3 million. This constitutes a successful case study of a project in which CJ CGV was involved right from the initial concept stage with a strategy of “incorporating popular codes into the period piece genre, something rarely attempted before in the Vietnamese film industry”. In addition, CJ CGV has 20 local films or so planned for distribution, including the comedy Lat Mat 4: Nha Co Khach, and plans to finance about 6 local films starting later this year, “for the rapid growth of Vietnam’s local film market”.
Showbox, which is currently venturing into Hollywood with Neil JORDAN’s The Widow in collaboration with Ivanhoe Picture and Blumhouse, chose Indonesia for its first coproduction in a Southeastern Asia country, producing Forever Holiday in Bali, which released on January 11, 2018. The film, a romantic comedy about the chance encounter of a Korean idol (Thunder) and an Indonesian college student who helps him and ends up traveling with him on Bali Island, received a wide release on around 200 screens, including Indonesia’s biggest cinema chain Cinema21. With directing duties having gone to Ody C. HARAHAP, who previously helmed Sweet 20, the Indonesian version of Miss Granny (2014), this is the result of a long-lasting collaboration between Korean film companies and local film professionals. At the time of the release of Forever Holiday in Bali, Showbox explained, “we are currently considering Southeast Asia ventures through different formats including films but also TV series”. The company also stated its ambition “to create a collaboration model for local content taking varied forms and based on source materials including webtoons (selected through a webtoon scenario contest held by Showbox)”. Their first film Forever Holiday in Bali having however posted box office numbers that were just shy of meeting expectations, the company will be more careful in its next steps. A representative of Showbox PR division said, “Although we are constantly discussing planning and production options with local production companies and filmmakers in North America and Indonesia, we have no project worth mentioning at the moment”.