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Korean Cinematography Booms on High-quality, Lucrative Productions

2009/05/21 Source

Korean cinematography has been thriving recently as more movies continue to draw scores of viewers to theaters, bringing in impressive revenues and receiving positive feedback both from domestic and foreign critics. As more viewers these days are attaching more importance to the uniqueness of movies rather than their scale, Korean movies are expected to continue to enjoy popularity for the time being. But some have voiced concerns that their success could be short-lived because many Hollywood blockbusters are set to open later this year.

The Korean film market remained stagnant in the first three months of the year despite the success of "Speedy Scandal" and "Old Partner", which opened this past December and January, respectively. The number of viewers during that period plummeted 19 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the Korean Film Council. Viewers began paying attention to domestic movies again around mid-April, when several hits including "Thirst" opened.

Domestic movies drew more than two million viewers in the first five months of last year, but there were only two movies -- "The Chaser" and "Forever the Moment" -- that produced impressive results. This year, however, there are five movies that are likely to keep the domestic film industry afloat -- "Speedy Scandal", "A Frozen Flower", "Old Partner", "My Girlfriend is an Agent" and "Thirst". The latter drew significant attention for the impressive acting of Song Kang-ho and Kim Ok-vin and for receiving an invitation to the Cannes International Film festival. "Thirst" and the comedy movie "Secret Couple" managed to beat even Hollywood blockbusters such as "Knowing", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and "Star Trek XI", which cost 10 times as much to produce.

Kang Hyo-mi from First Look, which oversees the promotion of "My Girlfriend is an Agent", says though it's a given that large-scale foreign productions typically receive a larger response, viewers seem to base their choices on the uniqueness of movies rather than on their scale. She added that Korean movies that are fun to watch and that stand apart from other productions have received a favorable response from viewers so far.

It is also worth mentioning that domestic movies that have become hits so far have received positive feedback even from film critics and are diverse in terms of genre. "Speedy Scandal" and "My Girlfriend is an Agent" have struck a chord with viewers with their humorous plots, characters with distinctive personalities and the impressive acting of their casts, unlike the movies of the early 2000s, which evoked laughter with obscene language and the comical behavior of their characters.

"Old Partner", which was underestimated by many, proved the great potential of independent films, while "Thirst" turned out to be a huge success despite its complexity. Other domestic films that have contributed to drawing more than one million viewers so far include the detective movie "Private Eye", which is set in the period of the Japanese colonization of Korea; the thriller "Insadong Scandal" about conspiracy in the art circles; and another thriller "The Scam", which deals with stock manipulations. These movies mark a new chapter in the history of Korean cinematography, which until recently focused mostly on provocative subjects such as organized crime.

The surging popularity of Korean movies overseas is further proof of their high quality. Ten Korean movies have been invited to this year's Cannes International Film Festival, including "Thirst" (Competition) "Mother - 2009" (Un Certain Regard) and "Like You Know It All" (Director's Week). That's the largest number of Korean film invitees to date, and they have all received rave reviews from foreign media.

But despite the recent boom in the domestic film industry, its future remains obscure. The comedy movie "Castaway on the Moon", which opened last weekend, lost the spotlight to the Hollywood blockbuster "Angels & Demons", while director Bong Joon-ho's new production "Mother - 2009", which opens May 28, will have to compete with "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins".

Things could be more challenging in the second half of the year, when domestic films will have to compete with a number of Hollywood blockbusters such as "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen", "Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince" and "G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra". Domestic productions slated for opening in the second half of the year include the nation's first disaster blockbuster "Haeundae", which is to open later this year; "JEON WOO CHI : The Taoist Wizard" from director Choi Dong-hoon, who gained recognition for his previous movie "Tazza: The High Rollers"; and "Take Off" ("National Athlete", tentative title) from Kim Yong-hwa, whose movie "200 Pounds Beauty" was a big hit. It remains to be seen if they will manage to steal the spotlight from their Hollywood rivals.

Domestic film experts agree that the future of domestic cinematography will be determined by the contents of movies. Film critic Kim Bong-seok says up to now Korean movies have failed to draw viewers because they were not fun to watch, and that the reason behind the popularity of recent hits "Speedy Scandal" and "My Girlfriend is an Agent" is none other than their "fun plots". He also added that "Mother - 2009" by Bong Joon-ho stands a high chance of succeeding because Bong produces films that appeal to the public. He stresses that it is of primary importance to resolve internal problems in the domestic film industry and produce high-quality movies, because the future of Korean cinematography rests in the hands of viewers.

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