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2004 good for movies, gloomy in performing arts

2004/12/29 Source

The year 2004 has been good for movies and musicals, but other culture areas like performing arts and K-pop suffered due to the long drawn-out economic slump that forced consumers to trim budgets for entertainment activities. Here are the sector-by-sector summaries of what happened this year.


Korea's film industry couldn't be in a better position in 2004. The combined share of home-grown flicks hovered at around 60 percent throughout the year, staving off fierce competition from Hollywood.

Two domestic films - "Taegukgi", about a family divided during the Korean War, and "Silmido", a true tale of convicts trained to infiltrate the communist North Korea - sold more than 11 million tickets each, opening the possibility of "blockbuster" commercial success.

Korean movies also showcased their potential in terms of artistry, grabbing awards at three major international film festivals. Director Park Chan-wook's "Old Boy", a bizarre and brooding tale about a man who goes on a revenge spree after being detained and tortured for 15 years by an unknown abductor, grabbed the runner-up Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Filmmaker Kim Ki-duk earned best director awards in major film festivals in Europe this year, first in Berlin with "Samaria" and then in Venice with "Empty House - 3-Iron". Thanks to the greater recognition, the export of Korean films is estimated to have hit $40 million this year, up from $25 million in 2003.

But the perennially disputed issue about the country's "screen quota system", which makes it obligatory for theaters to screen local films for over 100 days a year, drove a wedge between filmmakers and policymakers.

Another showdown is expected as government officials are preparing for trade talks with the United States, which has been adamant about scrapping the quota, citing it as a protectionist measure, while local filmmakers stress the cultural aspect of the movie industry as a reason for maintaining the system.

TV drama

The spirit of Candy, the ever-optimistic girl from Japanese manga, was revived through Korean TV dramas this year, the most notably in "Daejangguem". The history drama featured a valiant orphan who made herself first as a master cook of royal cuisine and then as a doctor to the king and recorded an average viewing rate of 52.8 percent (Neilson Media Research).

"Lovers in Paris", the second on the list, went one step further turning another carefree woman into a Cinderella. This time, the poor girl (appropriately played by Kim Jung-eun) meets a rich Prince Charming (Park Shin-yang) in Paris, becomes his love interest and later a princess much to the chagrin of his bohemian chic step-brother.

The Candy/Cinderella plot was repeated in "Full House", a TV drama adapted from a namesake cartoon. The girl (played by Song Hye-kyo) also works as a housekeeper, after being cheated out of all her money, only this time with a hot-shot singer (Rain).

"Something Happened in Bali" was the only exception, if at all, in that it incorporated conflict between the classes which brought tragedy instead of picturing a happy-ever-after coupling.

Performing arts

The performing arts scene faced a difficult year in the midst of a moribund economy, but that didn't deter the major centers from presenting a roster of top international artists that grows more impressive with each passing year.

The most memorable performances of the year include those by vocalists Bryn Terfel and Ian Bostridge, two of the biggest names in classical singing today.

Terfel, the hearty Welsh baritone, rumbled through a program of Italian arias and traditional English and Welsh songs with some on-stage buffoonery thrown into the mix.

The more self-serious Bostridge, however, gave a deeply affecting, if idiosyncratic, interpretation of Schubert's "Winterreise" in what was the best solo recital of the year. Other highlights in classical music include violinists Gidon Kremer and Joshua Bell, and conductor John Eliot Gardner leading his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas".

Well, it was better late than never for Elton John. The British rock legend made his Korean debut at Olympic Stadium this past September and performed in front of a full capacity crowd of mostly middle-aged women who braved the intermittent rain. His on-stage antics may have gotten a lot tamer over the years, but his musicianship and capacity to move audiences remained undiminished in his performance of such hits as "Sacrifice", "Tiny Dancer", "Candle in the Wind", and "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues".


The year 2004 was a big moment for the Korean art scene, with the country's museums and biennales in the spotlight.

The Busan Biennale kicked off the string of international art events in Korea, opening May 22 with its sculpture exhibition and ending in October with its Sea Festival. Only the second official Busan Biennale, the exhibition had a total of 1.34 million visitors.

The Gwangju Biennale had an official visit by President Roh Moo-hyun and former President Kim Dae-jung during its run from September to November. The biennale in the capital of South Jeolla Province caused a stir in art circles with its "viewer-participant" system, where "non-professional art spectators" and artists worked together to create the exhibition works.

Galleries and museums in Seoul organized special exhibitions to show off their best works to the members of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) attending the general conference in the Korean capital. The highlight of museum events was the long-anticipated opening of Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Hannam-dong.

Opening on Oct. 19, the museum was built by star architects Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas. Meanwhile, the National Museum of Korea waved goodbye to Gyeongbok Palace and is moving to a new address in the Yongsan area. The National Museum will open next fall.


In sharp contrast to the movie industry which gained international recognition, K-pop suffered from serious regression this year. Among the few survivors were a few newcomers such as dancing quintet Dongbangsingi and ballad singer Tei, and R&B and hip-hop singers including Wheesung.

Hit maker Rain still ruled this year with his title song "It's Raining" from his third album, which also featured a strong elements of R&B roots. The song skyrocketed to the top of the pop chart in a month, and only a week for some on-line charts.

Partly due to the nominal domestic sales of albums, singers turned to other sectors of show business by appearing on TV dramas, entertainment programs and performing abroad. Rain starred as a main actor in "Full House" and "Let's Go to School, Sangdu" and won quite positive reviews, as well as other singers who spent time in front of the camera, including Eric of Shinhwa, Eugene (formerly of S.E.S), Sung Yoo-ri and Lee Hyo-ri (both formerly of Fin.K.L). Yoon Gye-sang of G.O.D. even appeared on an even bigger screen, debuting in teen movie "Flying Boys".

Another notable yet somewhat discouraging trend was releasing remake albums. Ballad singer Lee Soo-young was among the first with "Classic", of which more than 300,000 were sold. Despite worries that the singers were taking the easy and safe route, other established singers including Sung Si-gyeong and Shinhwa followed suit reproducing hits from the 1980s and 90s.


The musicals market expanded at a dramatic pace this year - about 15 percent. Last year, the domestic musicals market was estimated at 300,000 viewers. This year, the figure is expected to surpass 500,000, spurred by the success of several blockbuster musicals.

The most colorful success story came from "Mamma Mia", a blockbuster musical which cost 9.5 billion won and produced 4.5 billion won in net profit on sales of 14 billion won.

Although the sales records show that only big-budget Broadway musicals could draw in enough viewers and bring in enough revenues to pay the license fees and production costs, there is no doubt that musicals have become one of the vibrant entertainment genres for Korean audiences.

Encouraged by the sizzling success, a host of home-grown musicals made their debut, but their performances stopped short of their expectations, reflecting the preferences toward big-budget, colorful Broadway adaptations.

The economic downturn pummeled cash-strapped Korean theater productions. Mainstream dramas staged on popular theater district Daehangno in Seoul struggled more than usual. The only bright spot was a series of famous hit dramas which have been staged again on Dongsoong Art Center in a year-long retrospective project, drawing in some 127,000 audiences.


The publication industry went through a rough year as consumers tightened their belts by cutting spending for sundry items like books. Even children's book publishers saw their sales decline, reflecting the depth of the downdraft.

When it comes to bestsellers, the Korean translation of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", published locally by Bertelsmann Korea, became a huge hit, selling more than 1 million copies. Other novels falling into the hybrid genre of mystery and history also fared relatively well.

With the reality seen harsh and troubled, readers sought some relief from biographies about visionary people and autobiographies by top businessmen. In the similar vein, a host of fiction and nonfiction works devoted to Joseon Dynasty's renowned Admiral Yi Sun-shin appealed strongly to readers in search of inspiration. Admiral Yi, Korea's national hero, born in 1545, was killed by a stray bullet in the naval battle which concluded the devastating seven year war against the Japanese (1592-98).

Despite the slump plaguing the industry, top-rated publishing houses like Minumsa, Nexus, Sigong, Munhak Dongnae and Random House Joongang saw their sales go up. But small and medium-sized companies confronted a make-or-break period for business and were smashed by the overall economic woes.

By culture staff reporters

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