Lotte Cinema, operator of one of Korea's largest exhibitionchains, has announced a new andambitious drive to become a major player in the fields of exhibition,distribution, and film finance.

The company's plans foresee its current circuit of 10multiplexes -- mostly housed in upscale Lotte department stores - swelling to45 by the end of 2006.

Although all four of Korea's top exhibition chains have beenknown to undershoot their growth targets in the past, expansion at Lotte couldpotentially see it rival market leader CGV, which also intends to boost itscurrent chain of 21 venues.

In addition, Lotte has announced it will greenlightinvestment in a slate of 20 upcoming productions by the end of the year,establishing it as a major presence in film finance.

The lineup will give added weight to Lotte's marketing anddistribution arm, launched this summer with the release of comedy A Wacky Switch and horror The Doll Master.

Lotte's announcement comes at a time when majors CJEntertainment and Showbox are establishing themselves as the central rivalry inthe Korean film industry.

CJ's recent investment in exhibition chain Primus anddistributor Cinema Service (,August 11) has fuelled worries from observers that too much power is being concentratedin a few companies.

In addition to operating a major cinema circuit, Lotteenjoys the backing of one of Korea's largest conglomerates in the Lotte Group -similar to CJ Entertainment (Cheil Jedang) and Showbox (the Orion Group).

The exhibition business has been the Korean industry'sbiggest cash cow in recent years. In2003, Lotte's exhibition arm earned profits of $15.7m on total revenues of$69.5m. This year the group's revenuesare expected to pass $85m.