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Hollywood Blockbusters Deepen Korean Cinema Woes

2007/05/29 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Following "Spider-Man 3", "Pirates of the Caribbeans: At World's End" (Pirates 3) is sweeping the domestic box office at a fast and furious rate _ but the alarming dominance of foreign films is only an indicator of a deeper problem in the Korean film industry.

"Pirates 3" debuted last Wednesday on 670 screens across the country but immediately expanded to 912 screens during the first weekend (May 25-27). Over 2.7 million moviegoers saw the Disney blockbuster in five days, a little less than the three million captured by "The Host" over the same time frame.

Amid the wave of foreign blockbusters rushing in, the market share of Korean films is expected to fall hard during the second half of the year.

"Shrek the Third" featuring the world's favorite green ogre and "Ocean's 13", starring a host of Hollywood heartthrobs, as well as Steven Spielberg's "Transformers" and Bruce Willis' classic "Diehard 4" are all hot releases this summer, and are likely to eclipse domestic films.

"Korean movies will suffer, particularly with the revised screen quota halving the duration theaters are required to screen them", said Kim Hyeonju, a researcher at the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). Under the current screen quota, local films must be shown for a minimum of 74 days.

Earlier this month when "Spider-Man 3" drew more than 500,000 viewers in just one day, exceeding 450,000 set by "The Host", local news coverage forecast a whopping 10 million viewership for the Hollywood hit, as well as a gloomy future for Korean films.

Although "Spider-Man 3" continues to top the box office, total admissions for the film remains at around five million since its release on May 1.

"Media reports about foreign blockbusters taking over the market are overly sensational", said Yoo Hyeong-jin, another researcher at KOFIC. Yoo stated that the overall dominance of Korean films remains more or less steady at around 50 percent.

"But only in the United States or India do domestic films consistently dominate the box office", explained Kim. "Depending on the films being released, the box office scene changes frequently. This year is a very unique case as we have never had so many foreign blockbusters being released all at once".

In other words, screen dominance, while important, is relative and not an absolute means of measuring the market situation. It is rash to declare a crisis for Korean cinema based on market share only, because a much more pertinent problem exists. Foreign films reigning across the peninsula is only a small pointer.

"It's the overall shrinking market size, however, that is truly problematic", said Yoo. "The U.S. has a heavy lineup of films in production, while Korea does not. We lack the stronghold of seminal hits such as "The Host" and 'The King and the Clown'. "

During the past few years, the domestic film industry saw an abnormally dramatic growth, emerging as the fifth largest theatrical market. Starting from late 2005 to early 2006, telecommunications carrier companies shifted investment from television dramas to movies, since the latter boasts higher brand value.

"But short-term investments based on content rather than profitability are actually hurting the industry", said Kim. "The production business is not doing well".

Overseas media is also taking note of the decline in Korea's film business. "The Hollywood Reporter", a Hollywood-based daily newspaper, states that "Simply put, the Korean movie industry is in crisis", and quotes declining ticket sales and exports, as well as rising production costs as major factors.

So far, only "200 Pounds Beauty" starring Kim Ah-joong has made a major impact. "Secret Sunshine", which crowned its leading lady Jeon Do-yeon Best Actress at Cannes on Sunday, has also begun to win more of an audience.

It will be a test of Korean films, whether much-anticipated films "HwangJin-Y (Movie - 2007)" and "May 18" will fare well in the crunch of Hollywood blockbusters.

"We all know it's a hard time for Korean movies", said actor Yoo Ji-tae, during a recent press conference for his upcoming film "HwangJin-Y (Movie - 2007)". "I hope that our movie will become a strong platform for domestic films this season".

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