By Lee Hyo-won
When you hit rock bottom, there's no other way but up.
After hitting a record low in May, Korean cinema is slowly emerging from the slump with a string of box office hits like "The Good, the Bad, the Weird
". An alternative version of this "kimchi Western" ― the one that awed viewers at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival ― is now in theaters. The buoyant mood for homegrown flicks is expected to continue throughout the latter half of the year.
Since its release July, the spaghetti Western-inspired film starring three top actors drew in 5.17 million viewers, Barunson Film Division announced Sunday. This beats the ticket sales record set by "The Chaser"
, which sold 5.13 million, and continues the good standing of domestic flicks like June's "Public Enemy Returns"
It held the top box office ranking despite the screening of star-studded Hollywood imports like "Wanted". The $1.7 billion action flick, however, conceded its spot on the box office to $18 billion venture "The Mummy 3", and the $18.5 billion Batman franchise "The Dark Knight" is making its way up. Yet the forecast is far from cloudy.
The Cannes version of "The Good", which is rumored to being more concise and faithful to the artistic visions of director Kim Jee-woon
, is now showing. This is the first time a director's cut is being released in Korean theaters rather than through DVD.
"It's a smart marketing tactic", Yu Hyeong-jin, a researcher at the Korean Film Council, told The Korea Times. Multiple viewings by the same person play an important role in movies that hit the 10 million mark. A slightly different flavor of the same film will definitely draw in more viewers. Moreover, Yu argues that Hollywood competition helps, rather than hurts, the potential of domestic movies in the market.
"When there are movies people want to watch, it draws in more viewers and helps the sales of both Hollywood movies and Korean ones". For example, if one is unable to watch Disney's Pixar animation "Wall-E", due Thursday, then Lee Joon-ik
, which is receiving positive reviews, might be a satisfying alternative.
Nevertheless, "The Good" took about a week longer to reach the 5 million record than did perennial blockbusters like "D-War
" (aka. "Dragon Wars"). Its box office success is great news for the struggling film industry, but is only significant for the 2008 roster. Market share of Korean films is only a cursory indicator of the market size and industry's health.
Market size is often determined by the willingness of entertainment giants like CJ Entertainment and big investors like KT, whose attitude toward investment and production has been far from aggressive or bold, said Yu.
Nevertheless, prospects for the fall/winter lineup are optimistic. "Eye for an Eye
" starring "Shiri
" (Swiri) star Han Seok-gyu attracted 1 million viewers its first weekend. With the lineup of highly anticipated works like the 1930s Gyeongseong romance "Modern Boy
" and historical epic "The Divine Weapon
" in September as well as the James Bond parody "Dachimawa Lee
" (Aug. 14). There is also the mellow love story "My Dear Enemy
" starring 2007 Cannes Best Actress Jeon Do-yeon
and "The Chaser"
hero Ha Jung-woo
, slated for release late fall.
Moreover, the positive outlook is meaningful in the sense that it will set a good mood for 2009. "It's important to have a good fall/winter because that encourages investment in film production the following year", said Yu.
The Cannes edition of "The Good, the Bad, the Weird
" (no English subtitles) is now showing in CGV Yongsan and Gangbyeon in Seoul, and other CGV theaters across the country including Incheon and Daejeon. At CGV Yongsan, English subtitles are available for the Korean theater release version.