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'Hallyu' Not Enough for Korean Films

2006/10/31 Source

Systematic Approaches Are Necessary to Tap Foreign Market

By Kim Tae-jong
Staff Reporter

It has been an ordinary scene in recent years for a Korean movie star to be surrounded by thousands of international fans at an airport or a fan meeting in Asia.

With their popularity growing overseas, domestic films have gradually made their way to international markets. But despite the rush, the overall performance of domestic movies in overseas markets has been disappointing, with only a few exceptions.

Experts point out that film stars?popularity does not necessarily lead to the overseas box office success of their films.

They also say the local film industry should diversify marketing strategies to take more a systematic approach to target markets.

Reliance on Japanese Market

According to a report from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), the first half of 2006 has seen a sharp decrease in the international sales of Korean films.

International sales dropped to $17.4 million, or 41 percent, in the first half of the year, while films sales amounted to $41.8 million during the same period last year.

The average price of a film also decreased nearly by half to $136,088 from $273,268 last year.

The drop is largely attributed to a decrease in film sales to Japan.

Japanese distributors spent more than $3 million last year buying 36 movies, accounting for over 70 percent of Korean films's international sales.

But they tightened up this year, spending only $872,000 on 15 Korean movies during the first half of the year because of poor performances last year by Korean films.

"The bubble has burst", said Tae Eun-jung, manager of International Promotion Department at KOFIC. "As Korean stars are so popular in Japan, many Japanese distributors bought local films even paying high premiums".

Films such as "Duelist", "Running Wild", "Typhoon", "Yeonriji, Now and Forever" and "Daisy" were sold to Japanese distributors for more than $350,000 each, but they didn't even reach the break-even point.

"Japanese buyers hesitated to buy local films, but local film companies still maintain high contract prices, which makes it harder for more contracts to be made", Tae said.

She said that more diversified methods are needed along with in-depth market research, as merely depending on leading stars of "hallyu", or the Korean wave, is no longer effective in international markets.

Name inconsistency

The correct name of the director of this year's biggest hit monster film "The Host" is Bong Joon-ho, but many people have seen his name also spelled Bong Joon-ho. He had to go by different names in his film's ending credit and the festival catalogue when it was first shown at Cannes.

The actor who hosted the opening ceremony of the 11th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) is Ahn Sung-ki, but his name has also been spelled differently _ Ahn Sung-gi, Ahn Sung-ki and Ahn Sung-kee.

The names of local actors and directors are often romanized without consistency, which can confuse audiences and industry people overseas.

Similar problems also occur with movie titles. "Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War" has been introduced with various titles, including "Brotherhood" and "Taegukgi".

"It can be trivial, but it can be also quite confusing, as many stars go by different names and one movie has many different names", said Jung Hyun-chang, a public relations staff member at KOFIC.

Local film distributors itch to see their films sell internationally, but they have paid little attention to giving the most basic information correctly.

"In many cases, the names of directors and actors as well as even movie titles are changed and spelled in different ways depending on which distributor is working on the sale", Jung said.

To tackle the problem, the organization has recently published and distributed "the Korean Film Database Book" with the correct names of actors and directors in Korean, English and Chinese, and English titles of Korean films.

Clumsy English

Film titles tell the audience what the film is about, but when it comes to English titles of local films, many native English speakers often find them silly.

"English titles of Korean films tend to be too long and try to be too clever, compared to Hollywood titles, which are simple and concrete", said Darcy Paquet, Korea correspondent of the international film magazine Variety.

"The film industry should learn from Hollywood films", he said.

Paquet pointed out that poorly translated subtitles can also be a problem although they have been improving, But he thinks poor English usage make a quality film look like high school material.

He argued that many unqualified foreign actors take roles in local movies and their clumsy acting often spoils the films and the English dialogue of veteran local actors often sounds funny in serious scenes.

"It's just, they need to find the right person for each role, and Korean actors don't need to be at the native speaker's level, but dialogue script should be made to sound natural", Paquet said.

Lack of Experience

Although the revenue from movie exports has decreased, many are still optimistic about the international sales of local films.

They emphasize that it has been only a few years since Korean films made their way into international markets and tackling the lack of experience can be crucial for future success.

"Many local films have received positive reviews from critics and audience members", said Chi Sang-eun, senior manager at Cine Click Asia, local film distribution company. "And we believe we can make use of our experience in the near future".

The company has distributed films by renowned film directors including Park Chan-wook, Kim Ki-duk and Bong Joon-ho in international markets. It is now marketing well-known directors since their names alone can create a high expectation, as they have received acclaim at international festivals. It is also part of efforts to diversify marketing strategies, Chi said.

IFF launched a film market for the first time in Korean history, and the inaugural project received mixed reviews from industry people at home and abroad, and many hope that it will serve as a positive development for the local film industry.

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