Korea’s expanding VoD market and increasing cooperation between Korea and China are driving growth at this year’s Asian Film Market. 

The ninth edition of the Asian Film Market gets underway this morning (Oct 5) with 196 companies from 24 countries taking booths at the BEXCO convention centre in Busan.

These numbers compare to around 142 exhibitors last year, but BIFF deputy director Jay Jeon says he was more interested to see that sellers are taking bigger exhibition spaces – exhibition space is up 30% on last year.

“This means the Asian Film Market is serving its purpose as a platform for transaction activity, and we’re seeing an increased number of larger companies with intent to do full-scale business at the market,” Jeon tells Screen.  

Exhibitors include XYZ Films and Arclight Films from the US; France’s Pyramide International and MK2; Germany’s The Match Factory and Global Screen; and Japanese studios Toho, Toei, Shochiku and Nikkatsu.

The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) is attending the market with 11 companies and the Beijing branch of China’s SARFT is bringing a delegation of Beijing-based companies for the first time (see separate story). European Film Promotion (EFP) has doubled the size of its pavilion, bringing 38 European sales companies. Australia and Estonia are setting up pavilions for the first time.

The move to BEXCO from the Haeundae hotels in 2011 gave the Asian Film Market space to breathe, but growth was initially slower than organisers were hoping for, partly due to the crowded autumn film festival and market calendar.

Now several factors are helping the annual market to grow – including the expansion of Korea’s VoD and ancillary markets, and increasing interest from the giant territory next door in working with Korean actors, directors and other talent.

“Korea’s ancillary market has expanded, which drew more European sales companies’ interest,” explains Jeon. “We’ve also had endless phone calls from Chinese companies that want to do business with established Korean directors and stars with mass appeal, especially since the signing of the Korea-China co-production treaty.”

In addition, this year’s Asian Film Market has avoided a direct clash with MIPCOM in France, and is also benefitting from the incentives introduced last year – buyers and sellers receive support with flights and accommodation if they are actively trading at the market. “The incentives have been especially effective with buyers, so we plan to continue this system,” says Jeon.

This year the market also has an increased focus on talent and casting: the “Asian Star Casting Forum” will introduce talent agencies, management companies and stars from Korea, Japan and China, in an attempt to boost co-productions between these three countries. Jeon says the market is also planning to revive its Star Summit Asia event, a talent showcase that presented actors and actresses from across the region.  

High-profile events also include the “Producing Blockbusters in Korea” panel, during which the producers of ten Korean films that broke the 10 million admissions mark will discuss the past, present and future of Korean film production.

The Asian Film Market also hosts a wide range of pitching activities. In addition to the long-established Asian Project Market (see separate feature), Busan Film Commission and the Korea Creative Contents Agency (KOCCA) hold separate pitching events for Korean projects, while Ties That Bind is a workshop focusing on co-productions between Europe and Asia.

In addition, the three-year-old Book To Film event brings the publishers of novels, comic-books and webtoons together with producers and filmmakers. Selected projects this year include new novels from Sung Suk-je and Gong Ji-young, whose previous works, Dance With The Wind and Silenced respectively, have already been successfully adapted into films.

Meanwhile, KOFIC intends to shed some light on developments in the Korean VoD market and other digital topics through its KOFIC Industry Forum. Speakers from KT Media, CJ E&M, Daum TV and Greenfish will talk about digital distribution in Korea, while speakers including Slated’s Stephan Paternot, the British Film Institute’s Alex Stolz and iQiyi’s Li Yansong will discuss crowd-funding. The Forum will also discuss strategies for film preservation in the digital age.