After years of growing one of the world’s strongest local entertainment industries with high quality product, a sophisticated audience and a box office that consistently ranks among the Top 5 international markets, South Korea seemed to suddenly burst into global consciousness with Bong Joon-ho’s smash 2019 hit Parasite. This was the first-ever foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar, as well as, shockingly, the first time the country scored an International Feature nomination, much less a prize.
Hollywood execs, box office watchers, and festival curators have long had their eyes on Korea, but even with such confirmed talent as Bong (who made cult hit Snowpiercer in 2013 and Netflix’s Okja in 2017), Park Chan-wook, Lee Chang-dong and Kim Ki-duk, mainstream worldwide awareness was not especially rampant.
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One company that has arguably tipped the scales is CJ ENM. In 2019, a local film it released, Extreme Job, grossed more than Avengers: Endgame in the market. It also had three of the total four Korean movies that landed in the Top 10 that year. Among them, Parasite, which it produced.
CJ ENM, which is also behind Fox’s I Can See Your Voice, is Korea’s foremost film and television studio, cable operator and music producer. Eyeing a bigger role on the world stage, it recently committed to investing more than 5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) in content creation over the next five years.
In announcing the investment, CEO Kang Ho Sung said CJ will “compete with global platform and media powerhouses”.
Not that it wasn’t already a player outside of Korea. In 2020, CJ made a strategic investment in David Ellison’s Skydance Media, whose TV division is adapting 2019 Korean fantasy drama Hotel del Luna as a series. This past May, it partnered with HBO Max to develop a competition series in Latin America.
CJ also owns leading series producer Studio Dragon, and the plan going forward is to form more production studios specializing in variety shows, film and animation, and to enter into further partnerships with content creators in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The company’s streaming platform affiliate, Tving, is eyeing 8 million paid global subscribers by 2023. A further priority will be placed on K-pop to produce more competition shows outside of Korea.
The Vice Chairwoman of CJ, Miky Lee, is one of the key drivers of the expansion and one of the most powerful female executives in the business. Lee is mainly responsible for the overall strategic direction and management of CJ ENM, alongside her brother, Jay Lee, who is the chairman of CJ Corporation. She founded ENM in 1994, after being one of the early investors in DreamWorks, and since then, the company has built such influential divisions as exhibition giant CJ CGV, which has cinemas in China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Turkey, Vietnam and the U.S.; as well as cable network CJ Media, and Mnet Media, which includes cable music television, music distribution and live concerts. Lee also created KCon, a convention promoting Korean pop music, and produces the country’s largest K-pop awards show.
Lee has previously been quoted as saying that facilitating the worldwide explosion of Korean pop culture is a role she was born to play. “I’m happy to be the bridge, just walk over me.”
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