Leading figures from the Korean film industry have united in a show of support for the nation's screen quota system, after reports suggesting that the government is planning to weaken the quota's restrictions on movie theatres.

The issue has gained added prominence as South Korea and the US are to start talks on sealing a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) by June of this year.

The screen quota system, which stipulates that each of the nation's screens show local films for 146 days per year, has been a source of dispute between Korea and the US for several years, with US negotiators insisting that the system be reformed or abolished.

Support for the quota system has been generated, both in Korea and abroad, by the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images, a group which argues that film, as an expression of Korea's culture, should be granted a "cultural exception."

This week, over 150 actors, directors, and industry figures issued a statement at a press conference insisting that the quota system be retained in full and denouncing the proposed bilateral investment treaty.

Following an unprecedented 46.7% box office market share for Korean films in Seoul for 2001, the quota's critics argue that the system is no longer necessary for supporting local product.

Industry figures have responded that Korean cinema should achieve a sustainable 40% market share over several years before considering a reduction in the quota. "Any drastic reduction of the quota system will destroy the budding infrastructure of the Korean film industry," says leading actor Ahn Sung-ki.

Complicating the issue is a recent agreement between local film companies and movie theaters to split ticket revenues at the same rate as for Hollywood features.

In the past, exhibitors retained 60% of box office revenues from local films, while receipts for imported features were divided 50%-50%. Theater owners have argued that under the new system they already have less incentive to screen local movies.