Expectations had been rather low for this year's Busan Asian Film Market. The Busan International Film Festival had experienced two grueling years of power struggles, internal fights and budget cuts, while recent geopolitical conflicts between South Korea and China have affected cross-border interactions between the two Asian countries' entertainment industries. Local entertainment giants, moreover, did not throw their signature parties where they promoted future lineup titles due to a new local act for curbing corruption and bribery.
The overall number of sales booths and participants did not cross last year's record-breaking figures: 157 companies from 24 companies operated 62 sales booths, which were visited by 1,381 badge-holders representing 742 companies from 47 countries (compared to last year's 208 companies from 22 countries that opened 89 booths, and 1,572 people repping 840 companies from 50 countries).
Busan, however, maintained its ground as Asia's largest pre-market as the number of market screenings remained about the same as previous editions. A total 42 companies from 13 countries offering 68 screenings for 63 films, of which 50 were market premieres. Moreover, major Korean investor-distributors reported a similar, if not slightly increased, number of deals and profits compared to last year, with sales booths having about 30 meetings per day on average. The Asia Project Market also saw more than 550 meetings.
"It was a busy year like any other year, with back-to-back meetings. We were able to meet with key buyers, particularly from Asia, who are regulars at Busan," said Kim Ha-won, senior vp international marketing and festivals at CJ E&M. She added that the company expects additional deals for local titles such as Asura: The City of Madness.
"We had great interest from buyers thanks to [summer blockbuster] Train to Busan, and had many inquiries for our upcoming titles such as Pandora," said Danny Lee from Contents Panda, the international sales arm of NEW. "It was a rather hectic market for us, and we had to cater to double, triple bookings for each time slot for meetings," said Jamie Seo, manager at M-Line, which repped such titles as the Busan Film Festival's opening title A Quiet Dream.
Moreover, the Entertainment-Intellectual Property (E-IP) Market has solidified its stance as Busan's signature feature for attracting the region's industry folk. "IP" is a term largely used in the Asian entertainment industry for original works that are characterized as having a story format that is adaptable for the screen, such as literary works, stage productions and web/mobile content (web novels, web comic strips and games).
More than 150 meetings were held for E-IP pitches. Korea's Pollux Pictures secured rights for Summer, A Corpse From Nowhere, a novel by Park Yeon-sun, on the first day of the market - breaking the record set last year when Beijing Alpha Transmedia inked a contract for the web drama The Cravings on the second day. More than 100 meetings were held in the market's fifth annual Book to Film, a program for connecting publishers, authors and producers for film adaptations of literary works. Among those in back-to-back meetings were Sidus, Showbox/Mediaplex, Cineguru and Opus Pictures.
"Many participants came to Busan with contracts already drafted, having researched our featured intellectual properties after we announced the titles during the summer," said Susan Chae, a veteran member of the Asian Film Market's selection committee.
Among those intensely competing for Korean IPs were Chinese entertainment giants. Contrary to expectations, including Alibaba Pictures, Huace Union, Huayi Brothers, Youku, Tencent and Wanda Media had a strong presence this year.Chinese online media giant iQiyi took part in the market for the first time, making its debut at an Asian film trading event with a flurry of deals.
"We were initially concerned that there wouldn't be so many participants from China, but Chinese filmmakers seem to recognize that Busan is the optimal place to pick up promising titles - particularly intellectual properties," said Chae.
"Next year we are hoping to introduce more pan-Asian content such as Chinese web novels, Japanese manga and Taiwanese novels. There is mutual interest from other industries," said Chae, adding that she is discussing ways to cooperate in the future with reps from Taiwan's Book Meets Film Forum.