Faced with the merger of South Korea's two biggest film companies, mid-sized distributors are jockeying for position in a rapidly changing market.

With market prospects undermined by the recent bursting of an investment bubble, four mid-sized players - Showbox, Korea Pictures, Aura Entertainment and Big Blue Film - have the best potential of emerging as counterweights to the merged operations of CJ Entertainment and Cinema Service.

Big Blue Film, formed in late 2001 with capital from Cinema Service and TeraSource Venture Capital, has emerged in the past year as an important distributor of local product. Originally seen as a distribution arm of Cinema Service, it has taken on a more independent character, handling films from diverse companies such as B.O.M Film Production's A Tale Of Two Sisters (pre-sold to France and Hong Kong through sales company Cineclick Asia), Sidus Corporation's comedy Singles, and musical drama Ogu.

From this summer the company will also launch an ambitious production arm, starting with an action/comedy feature about vampires from Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong, directors of the award-winning Memento Mori (1999).

Aura Entertainment, launched by four former members of the A-Line distribution network, is also seen as having a growing profile in local and imported product. Recently re-named due to a conflict over the A-Line brand name with former partner Kang JeGyu Films, the company will release Daredevil on March 21st, followed by the highly anticipated local animated film Wonderful Days on April 25. It has also announced it will invest in three upcoming local productions, including Joy Entertainment's comic-horror title Ghost (Guishin).

Korea Pictures, which has remained a force in the market since the release of Friend in early 2001, will be focusing primarily on imported product in the first half of this year. The company will release Chicago on March 28, followed by Frida in April and Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio in May. It will also handle Kim Ki-duk's Spring Summer Fall Winter' And Spring, which is rumoured to have a shot at competing in Cannes.

Finally, much attention is focused on Showbox, which due to the capital of parent company Orion Group, is the best funded of the four. Although the company has yet to announce its full line-up, it is slated to release melodrama Haneul-jeongwon starring An Jae-wook and Lee Eun-ju in April, as well as mountain climbing blockbuster Ice Rain (Bingu) in late 2003.

The company has also recently launched its own international sales division, which currently represents sex comedy Sex Is Zero, which grossed $21m on its December release.