Pusan's Asian Film Market (October 3-6) closed its third edition last week with most delegates agreeing it had been a quiet event, but many saying they had still found it productive. Certainly there was not much footfall at the market, held for the first time on three floors of the Seacloud Hotel, and few deals were announced or reported. Market organisers said 4,640 participants - or 128 companies from 28 countries - attended the market and accompanying locations showcase Bifcom. But it felt like much less.
One reason for the relatively calm atmosphere was that different elements of the market were spread across four hotels. In addition to sales rooms in the Seacloud, the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) was held at the Paradise Hotel, the Grand Hotel hosted some seminars and Bifcom took place at the Novotel.
Meanwhile, the crowded autumn calendar is making it difficult for Pusan to pull buyers: Mipcom is underway this week (October 13-17) and Tokyo's Tiffcom cranks up next week (October 22-24). The global economic situation also seems to be having an impact as buyers become choosier about where they travel.
Most of the exhibiting companies were from Korea and Japan, and there was also a Chinese delegation headed by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Radio and Television. Participation from South-east Asia was limited. Europe was strongly represented with the UK Film Council and European Film Promotion (EFP) occupying five rooms in the market.
The Korean sellers agreed the market was better than they had expected. "We had good reactions to the films we had in the festival but want to wait for AFM to see what kind of deals we can lock down," said Studio 2.0 head of international Choi Eun-Young.
Michelle Son of new Korean sales outfit M-Line Distribution said the length of the buyers list had definitely shrunk, though she still had lots of meetings: "But it's becoming more rare for buyers to sign here, because increasingly they want to see the finished product."
For that reason, sellers were happy the market is increasing the number of screenings: there were 46 screenings of 38 films over three days from October 3-5, including 21 market premieres.
Among Japanese sellers, Nikkatsu and TBS cited a lack of buyers from other Asian territories, especially Hong Kong and Taiwan, resulting in fewer meetings. Some Asian buyers apparently opted out of Pusan to go to Tiffcom, which has been aggressively pushing its market, now in its fifth year.
Phantom Film's Ai Inoue echoed this sentiment: "(Pusan) seems mainly geared toward Korean buyers, and not a lot from other territories. And nobody is doing pre-buys these days. It's a market to introduce new products."
While Japanese stars such as Joe Odagiri could once ensure a pre-buy in Korea and big films such as The Sinking Of Japan did impressive business in the territory, buyers are now warier of picking up Japanese titles. Recent releases such as Shaolin Girl, Boys Over Flowers: Final and Twentieth Century Boys, the latter two major hits in Japan, earned lacklustre numbers in Korea.
Pusan festival and market director Kim Dong-ho stresses the Asian Film Market is not just about Korean titles: "The local film industry may be weak right now, but the strength of the rest of the Asian film industries is what keeps our market afloat. And I'm sure there will be years in which it will be vice versa."
Indeed, one of the hottest films at the market was a small-budget Taiwanese comedy, Cape No 7, which has been a surprise hit in its own territory grossing more than $4m in Taipei alone.
Jean Noh, Jason Gray and Sen-lun Yu contributed to this report
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