The resurgence of local-language product across the Asia Pacific region was a recurring theme at this year's CineAsia convention for distributors and exhibitors which wrapped on Thursday (Nov 20) in Bangkok.
At a seminar on the last day of the market, the increasing volume and quality of local-language films was credited with boosting box office revenues in several Asian territories, including Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea.
However, executives noted that the picture varies hugely across the region. In India, the US studios account for only 5% of the total market, while the reverse applies in Taiwan where local films have a market share of less than 3%.
The local arms of the US majors are well aware of this trend and are stepping up local-language acquisitions across the region.
At a lunch hosted by Twentieth Century Fox International on Thursday, it emerged the studio has acquired Thai rights to local action drama Beautiful Boxer from GMM Pictures (see separate story).
In addition, UIP has recently acquired rights for Taiwan, China and Hong Kong to Taiwanese animation Leon And Jo -The Butterfly Lovers, produced by Central Motion Picture Corp (CMPC).
According to UIP vice president sales and marketing, Asia, Kurt Rieder, there's a three-fold argument for picking up local films. "Of course there's a financial benefit but it also allows us to learn about the local market and the potential for growth," Rieder said. "It's also a matter of goodwill. The reality is this is not a good time to be representing a US company."
Piracy and the potential benefits of digital cinema were also high on the agenda at the convention. Distributors agreed that release windows - which are already squeezed in Asia - are likely to get shorter as a result of piracy. "We have to maximise revenues across the full spectrum of theatrical, video and TV and the quicker we get out there the less money is stolen," said Buena Vista senior vice president and general manager, Asia, Jeff Forman.
The thorny issue of censorship - which in general is stricter in Asia than in the West - was also discussed at Thursday's seminar. "All we want is consistency between decisions so we know what we're working with," said Forman. Rieder revealed the UIP has prepared a "soft version" of romantic comedy Love Actually with several scenes featuring a love affair between two porn actors cut.
According to CineAsia organisers, Sunshine Group Worldwide, this year's show attracted 300 delegates and around 45 exhibitors sold their wares on the trade show floor. Although small compared to its Western siblings, Cinema Expo and ShoWest, the convention offers a rare opportunity for distributors and exhibitors from the vast Asia Pacific region to meet in one place.
Screenings at the event included digital presentations of Buena Vista's Once Upon A Time In Mexico and Brother Bear while Imax Corp screened its large-format version of The Matrix Revolutions.
At the gala awards ceremony on the closing night, prizes were handed to Forman (distributor of the year), Toho Company (exhibitor of the year), China Film chief Yang Buting (special media award), Indonesian exhibitor Harris Lasmana (CineAsia award of achievement), the head of the Tourist Authority of Thailand (CineAsia award of excellence) and Cinemasia co-founder Duangkamol Limcharoen (producer of the year).