Korean major Cinema Service is poised to become the country's fourth exhibition giant when it unveils detailed plans next week to build a country-wide multiplex circuit (see Screendaily.com April 14).

Structured as a joint venture, the circuit will concentrate on developments in under-serviced regional areas. The company envisages having 10 venues and 100 screens in place and operational by the end of 2004.

Cinema Service president and CEO Michael Kim and Park Byungmoo, president/ CEO of parent company Plenus Entertainment, told Screen International that an official unveiling of the cinema circuit will take place in early August. At that time a major international or domestic partner will be announced. Park declined to detail the scale of the investment before of the official announcement but said: "it will exceed the initial stake of [current market leader] CGV."

The new venture will put Cinema Service on a par with the current leaders of the quickly-expanding local exhibition market. This is currently headed by CGV, a joint venture between rival distributor CJ Entertainment and Golden Village that currently operates 10 venues and 85 screens, Megabox Cineplex (5 venues, 42 screens), and Lotte Cinema (9 venues, 70 screens), part of the giant Lotte retailing and property development group.

Park argues that despite the heavy competition in major cities, considerable room exists for an exhibitor to focus on suburban and regional areas. "Korea is a very densely populated country, and there are still cities which contain a large number of people who don't have access to good theatres," he said.

The announcement follows the recent buyout and merger of Cinema Service with parent company Locus Holdings to form Plenus Entertainment. With a stable source of funding, film division Cinema Service has undertaken a push towards vertical integration that has seen it start construction on its own studio/post-production complex, to be completed by March 2003. It will also inaugurate its own film training centre, the Kang Woo-suk Film Academy.

On the film distribution side Cinema Services has recently been involved with Cannes prize-winner Chihwaseon, Annecy animation festival winner My Beautiful Girl Mari and Volcano High. In the first six months of 2002, Cinema Service had a 24.3% share of the crowded distribution market.

Patrick Frater recently in Seoul also contributed to this report