Lotte Cinema, which operates one of South Korea's three major multiplex chains, has announced its long-speculated move into film distribution.

The company, headed by CEO Kim Kwang-seop, is scheduled to release its first film Naduya Ganda in May. Another 3-4 titles are expected to be announced by the end of June.

Lotte, a division of one of Korea's largest conglomerates Lotte Group, will instantly become an influential player in the distribution field due to its chain of multiplexes housed in upscale Lotte department stores. Currently comprising 86 screens, the cinema circuit is expected to swell to 147 screens by the end of 2005.

The firm has already entered the field of film investment by taking part in an $8.7m (WON 10 billion) media fund established in late 2003, and it reportedly expects to participate in a second fund of a similar size this year.

Korea's two other rapidly-expanding top exhibitors CGV (136 screens) and Megabox Cineplex (77 screens) already operate in tandem with major distributors CJ Entertainment and Showbox respectively. The possession of a theatre chain is considered a major asset for local distributors, as Korea is still underscreened relative to most territories.