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Samboo makes Korean move.

SEOUL With plans to invest $25 million during the next five years and a budget of $8.3 million for local productions and acquisitions through the rest of this year, Samboo Finance Entertainment is emerging as the latest power player in the restructuring of the South Korean film industry.

Established in 1996, Samboo Finance Co. turned its interest to film in 1998 with local pics such as "Extra" and "Zzang." Despite mediocre returns for both films, the venture-capital firm decided to set up a full-fledged entertainment division, Samboo Finance Entertainment, earlier this year.

With prexy Min Kyung, the company recently hired an array of major film execs, including senior VP Wan Choi, the former director of Samsung Entertainment Group.

Seven-pic start

In March, Samboo joined forces with Cinema Service, Korea's largest film producer and distributor, to invest $2.7 million in seven films. Among them, "Spy, Rhee Chul-Jin," a comedy about a North Korean spy sent to South Korea, was successfully released May 15 and landed among the top five at the local box office. The remaining six films are scheduled to be released before the end of 1999.

Another project includes a $1.9 million investment in "Godzilla" look-alike "Yonggary," which will be released locally on July 17.

The success of such local hits as Samsung Pictures' "Swiri," which broke the local B.O. record set by "Titanic" and brought in an estimated $10.8 million, has inspired major venture-capital firms such as Ilshin and Koomin Venture Capital to again see local films as a highly viable commodity.

Full-service plan

Samboo, however, distinguishes itself from the other venture capitalists in that it is not only investing in content but also creating an organization that will establish it as a major entertainment conglom.

A staff of 14 will run operations and oversee local productions, including three pics scheduled to be released next year. The company will also focus on foreign acquisitions for theatrical and video release.

While Samboo won't reveal specific details on its video operations until July, the company did acquire six titles for theatrical release at this year's Cannes festival from major distributors, including four from Miramax ("Reindeer Games," "Hamlet," "Committed" and "Prophesy III"), whose titles Samboo will distribute through Cinema Service. Other areas in the company's plans include animation and theater acquisition.

Worthy successor?

In these regards, Samboo is seen as the most likely contender to fill the gap left by the major family-owned Korean conglomerates, or "chaebols," who have been downsizing or exiting the entertainment business since last year.

Choi blames the decline of the chaebols' entertainment businesses on their lack of dedication to the unique nature of the industry. He says the next leader in the business will be the company that maintains a vision. He suggests Samboo has that ambition.

Choi says the company will maintain a completely commercial direction in production and acquisition while taking a more flexible involvement in other areas, including exhibition, distribution and international sales.

Taking a lesson from the chaebols' high-cost, long-term ventures in theater construction, video distribution and cable network creation, Samboo will instead invest in low-cost ventures with short-term returns such as script development, an actor's school and star management.
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Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 28, 1999
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