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Asian product for the elusive west?

Far East economiesf may be expanding at an impressive rate, with U.S. films and TV shows among the first to benefit, but -- to date -- it's all a one-way street.

Visual entertainment from producing countries in East Asia in making barely a dent in the European and American cinema and video markets. Similarly there isn't a major effort to introduce these movies and TV programs to European and U.S. audiences.

In Europe though, the market for Asian product seems to be more open. In France, for instance, out of 275 movies playing in Paris last month seven were from the Far East. Similarly, in Spain some Asian movie product is making the rounds, and in Germany it is not unusual to find companies that represent Chinese product.

But, even in America there are exceptions. Ethnic groups in the U.S. such as the Chinese and the Koreans are served with films and via cable TV in key cities.

And, very gradually, Far East features are beginning to trickle into the U.S. via European film festivals.

For instance, Taiwan's The Wedding Banquet, a coproduction, which shared the first prize at the Berlin Film Festival this year, has been picked up by Samuel Goldwyn for the U.S. It's half in English, half in Chinese.

The Korean Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East has been acquired by Milestone Films and Video for the U.S. after Receiving European attention.

China's Farewell to My Concubine, winner at this year's Cannes Festival, was picked up by Miramax.

There is a Korean cable channel in New York, and another in Los Angeles. However -- surprisingly -- it plays virtually no Korean movies, though the film industry in South Korea is very active.

The channel's manager explains that the Korean producers "just don't want to sell their films. We have great problems with them and we hope that perhaps, by the end of the year, we will solve them."

Several sources confirm that the expectations of the Korean producers there are very high and that their asking price for the U.S. market is out of line with the realities. If their demands are not met, the U.S. distributors seem to prefer not to make a deal rather than make concessions.

This is confirmed by Milestone's Amy Heller who, like others in New York, believes the Koreans have an inflated notion of the U.S. market potential. "They aren't good at negotiating," said Heller. "They are like the Italians who think our streets are paved with gold."

Dongsin Han, who promotes Korean artists, said the Korean industry produces something like 200 movies a year, but added that the problems with foreign sales center on quality." A lot of these pictures are quite boring," she acknowledged. "They always use the same old plots."

Conversely, Vancouver, Canada has a Chinese television station which runs on a commercial basis and is reportedly on the way to showing a profit. Some 167,000 Chinese live in Vancouver. The Chinese-language services are run by Cathay International TV, and about 40 per cent of its revenue derives from advertising.

Meanwhile, Korean Broadcasting System is negotiating to give its entire catalogue to Zodiac for possible sales in the U.S.

More Asian product was on view in New York last month during the Asian Cinevision Festival which unfolded at Florence School Hall. Minne Hong, Asian Cinevision's exhibition director, scheduled at least one feature for each Asian country, including the Korean White Badge which deals with Korean troops who fought with the Americans in Vietnam, and Rebel of the Neon God from Taiwan.

However, the increase of Chinese, Koreans and others Asians in the U.S. so far hasn't significantly expanded that ethnic market. There are Chinese houses in many cities, of course, but they are virtually all serviced by product (in Chinese) from Hong Kong studios which churn out everything from action features to soap operas.
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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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