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'Spider-Man 3' entombs Korean prey

2007/05/10 Source

Spidey's sticky web turned out to be more lethal than expected for Korean filmmakers. "Spider-Man 3", released here on May 1, entangled and entombed Korean films in the past week. Even "Beyond the Years", the 100th film by Im Kwon-taek, crashed helplessly at the box office.

Citing poor ticket reservation data, most local theaters are now planning to stop screening Im's critically acclaimed film this weekend, sparking a dispute about whether a single Hollywood film should be allowed to dominate theaters.

"Beyond the Years" was released on April 12, securing some 210 screens. Since then, the film sold just shy of 130,000 tickets, falling far short of expectations, especially given that local press splashed rave reviews about director Im's latest movie.

In contrast, Spidey is casting a wider money-making web in Korea. On the opening day, the American blockbuster started with 617 local screens -- the biggest release scale this year. Given that there are a total of 1,700 theater screens, that means at least one in three screens in Korea showed "Spider-Man 3".

On the weekend, the number of screens showing the blockbuster increased to 816, pushing other small-budget Korean films out of the theaters. Not only director Im's "Beyond the Years", but also other well-made films like "Adeul" ("My Son") by Jang Jin are struggling to survive. The key issue is that audiences have only a few alternatives at this point. Yongsan CGV, an 11-theater multiplex cinema in central Seoul, has set aside eight screens for "Spider-Man 3". Lotte Cinema multiplex near Konkuk University, equipped with 12 screens, allocated six screens to the American movie.

The favorable screening conditions instantly translated into box-office profit. "Spider-Man 3" sold 502,000 tickets on its opening day, eclipsing even the country's biggest hit film "The Host", which grossed 450,000 viewers on its debut.

Ticket sales data showed that "Spider-Man 3" attracted 2.56 million people in just six days, the second highest box-office record for the opening week after "The Host".

One of the reasons for the trailblazing performance of "Spider-Man 3" is the dearth of Korean blockbusters armed with comparable artistic and commercial appeal. Although "Milyang" ("Secret Sunshine"), directed by former Culture Minister Lee Chang-dong, is expected to be a strong contender at the box office when it gets released on May 24, there are few Korean movies that could compete with American big-budget flicks on an equal footing during the summer season. Despite its own weaknesses, "Spider-Man 3" has all the virtues to become a blockbuster that can be enjoyed by mainstream moviegoers. Outside of Korea, the third installment of the Spidey franchise received some critical reviews for its lengthy running time and disjointed storylines, but its shock and awe special effects are highly attractive for moviegoers who want to have pure fun.

Korean filmmakers have a tougher road ahead. A series of American blockbusters led by "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" and "Shrek the Third" are scheduled to hit local theaters in the coming months.

The destructive power of Hollywood blockbusters has been forgotten in the past couple of years, thanks largely to the heady growth of the local film industry. Last year saw an unprecedented growth in terms of Korean film productions, but the oversupply sparked a backlash this year, resulting in a sharply reduced number of new film projects, particularly big-budget films that also come with a wide nationwide release.

The dampened investment mood in the local film industry is feared to undermine the quality and diversity of Korean films, which in turn will translate into poorer box-office scores, a spiraling crisis that hit the nation shortly after the industry witnessed the strongest expansion in decades, bolstered by the Korean Wave in Asia.

By Yang Sung-jin

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