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Korean filmmakers face uphill battle

2007/07/09 Source

In the second half of 2006, Korean films led by "The Host", "Tazza: The High Rollers" ("Tazza: The High Rollers") and "200 Pounds Beauty" enjoyed strong showings at the box office, outsmarting Hollywood blockbusters. This year, the situation has been completely reversed.

Big-budget Hollywood flicks like "Spider-Man 3" dominated the local box office in the first six months of 2007, while the share of local films, once hovering at around 40 percent, plunged to 20 percent in May.

The Korean film industry now places its hopes on a handful of movies to be released in the second half of this year.

The spotlight is on "May 18" ("Hwaryeohan hyuga", which roughly translates into "Colorful Holiday"), a tale that centers on the Gwangju massacre of May 18, 1980 when troops sent by the military dictatorship killed hundreds of innocent citizens.

The film, which cost about 10 billion won ($10.9 million) to make and is set to be released on July 26, portrays actual events leading up to the May 18 massacre, with the main character named Min-woo (Kim Sang-kyung) joining a citizen militia to protect demonstrators against government troops. Directed by Kim Ji-hoon, the film also stars well-known actors such as Ahn Sung-ki and teen idol Lee Joon-gi. Critics say that the film's realistic depiction of the tragic incident may renew interest in Korean films among audiences.

Although there are conflicting views about its commercial potential, critics also point to "D-War", a sci-fi monster movie directed by Shim Hyung-rae, as one of the major Korean films in the second half of the year.

"D-War", to be released on Aug. 2, is a typical effects-heavy movie shot mostly in Los Angeles. The film has drawn keen attention from local fans and critics because of its ambitious foray into the American market, as well as its massive production budget. It is estimated that the film cost about $70 million to shoot, including all the special effects developed by Younggu Art, a home-grown CGI company founded by director Shim.

Starring Jason Behr and Amanda Brooks, the English-language film revolves around a Korean legend about a huge snake-like creature known as "imoogi". The serpent-like monster smashes its way into downtown Los Angeles in the hopes of finding a girl destined to transform it into a dragon.

Director Shim, once touted as a pioneering comedian-turned-director, has been promoting the sophisticated computer graphics in an attempt to dispel any mistrust over the delay-plagued launch schedule.

Meanwhile, "The Cut" ("Haebuhak gyoshil", which means "Anatomy Class") in Korean, is drawing public attention as a well-made horror films. Depicting mysterious deaths that originate in a human anatomy lab of a medical college, the film's sharp-edged visuals are said to be on par with big-budget Hollywood horror flicks. The film, directed by Son Tae-woong, is scheduled to be released on July 12.

But Korean filmmakers are widely expected to face an uphill battle in the second half of this year as well, as high quality and numerous Hollywood movies are set to hit local theaters. The most immediate threat is "Die Hard 4.0" (also known as "Live Free or Die Hard"), which is armed with plenty of action sequences, showcasing the trademark blockbuster features of the die-hard film franchise.

The movie, scheduled to be released on July 19 in Korea, is directed by Len Wiseman, and features Bruce Willis as action hero John McClane.

"The Simpsons Movie", set to hit the theaters here on Aug. 23, is also a strong contender for Korean filmmakers. The animation features arguably the most popular sitcom family in history. Even a number of Korean viewers are familiar with Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie and their Springfield neighbors.

By Yang Sung-jin

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