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‘Parasite’s’ South Korean backer furthers Hollywood ambitions with Skydance deal

92nd Annual Academy Awards - Show
CJ Entertainment’s Miky Lee accepts the best picture award for “Parasite.”
(Kerry Brown)

The South Korean company behind the Oscar-winning film “Parasite” is looking to become a bigger player in Hollywood.

CJ Entertainment and Merchandising, which financed Bong Joon Ho’s acclaimed thriller, has invested in David Ellison’s entertainment studio Skydance Media, the companies said Tuesday.

Santa Monica-based Skydance was launched in 2010 by the 37-year-old Ellison, the son of Oracle Corp. billionaire Larry Ellison. The company specializes in big-budget science fiction action movies meant to attract global audiences, producing the most recent “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Terminator” movies.

Seoul-based CJ Entertainment’s funding commitment is part of a larger $275-million strategic investment led by New York-based hedge fund RedBird Capital Partners. The deal represents the latest expansion for CJ, which has a hand in a wide range of entertainment businesses, including music labels, K-pop festivals, television, live theater and animation.

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CJ Entertainment is run by Miky Lee, the most powerful media mogul in South Korea, though she’s little known to U.S. audiences. She’s vice chairwoman of the larger conglomerate CJ Group, which was founded in the early 1950s by her grandfather, Lee Byung-chul, the first chairman of Samsung.

CJ originated as a division of Samsung that started with flour and sugar manufacturing and then expanded into biotech and pharmaceuticals. The group was spun off from Samsung in 1993 and has continued to grow. One of its subsidiaries, CJ CGV, operates South Korea’s largest cinema chain.

Lee has been a powerful force in South Korea’s entertainment business for years.

In 1995, she led CJ to invest $300 million in DreamWorks SKG, making it one of the early backers of the studio founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. The company is one of the driving forces behind the international explosion of K-pop and organizes the global series of KCON music conventions. In L.A., the KCON festival runs for four days, annually. CJ’s relationship with writer-director Bong goes back years. The company backed earlier Bong titles “Memories of Murder,” “Mother” and “Snowpiercer.”

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However, the vast majority of U.S. viewers were first introduced to Lee when she spoke from the Dolby Theatre stage Sunday night to celebrate the best picture honor for “Parasite.” The movie also won for director, original screenplay and international film.

“It’s a historic moment,” Lee told The Times at a “Parasite” after-party Sunday night. “I don’t know what it means for Hollywood, but I definitely know what it means for us. This opens up doors for Korean moviemakers.”

For Skydance, the investment represents an opportunity to work with a powerful player in Asia with a large library of intellectual property that could be exploited for U.S. audiences. The deal values Skydance at $2.3 billion, the companies said. Current investors include Chinese tech company Tencent. The Ellison family also participated in the funding round.

When Tencent invested in Skydance in 2018, the studio’s value was estimated as high as $1.5 billion.

Skydance’s movie business had a rocky run at the box office last year, with big-budget flops “Terminator: Dark Fate” and “Gemini Man,” starring Will Smith and directed by Ang Lee. Both movies were released by Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures.

The company is hoping for a rebound with “Top Gun: Maverick,” in which Tom Cruise reprises his role from the 1986 Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster. Skydance also has a growing TV business with such shows as “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Amazon and the upcoming “Foundation” for Apple TV+, based on the Isaac Asimov book series.

Ellison is the brother of Annapurna Pictures founder Megan Ellison, who is known for more prestigious projects such as “Vice” and “Booksmart.”

Times staff writer Christie D’Zurilla contributed to this report.


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