Surprise hits such as "Singles"
kept the market share of Korean films high over the summer.
Korean films accounted for 47.9 percent of the domestic market through the third quarter of 2003, a significant achievement over a time frame that includes the summer months when they have traditionally performed poorly against Hollywood blockbusters, according to statistics compiled by the Korean Film Commission.
The figure represents a 3.9 percent rise from the same period last year and a 0.7 percent increase from the first half of this year.
Meanwhile, despite the onslaught of anticipated hits such as "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle", "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and "Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life", the market share of American films dropped below Korean films to 44.5 percent from the 49.1 percent recorded in the same period last year.
Surprise hits such as "Singles"
and "A Good Lawyer's Wife
", released in July and August, respectively, drew enough viewers to keep the market share of Korean films afloat in the 40 percent range over the summer months.
Korean films reasserted their strength in September, which includes the Chuseok holiday when they have traditionally performed well, by grabbing nearly 60 percent of the domestic market to improve their third quarter numbers. "Oh! Brothers
" led the charge, followed by "My Wife Is a Gangster 2
: Return of the Legend".
Concerns about cultural diversity remained, however, as Korean and American films combined to seize 92.4 percent of the domestic market. The market share of Japanese and Chinese films (including Hong Kong and Taiwan) reached 6.1 percent, leaving just 1.6 percent for films from all the other nations of the world.
Having claimed 47.9 percent of the domestic market through the third quarter, Korean films stand a decent chance of topping the 50 percent threshold for 2003. The numbers for major box office success "Untold Scandal"
, released in October, have yet to be calculated, and Korean films have traditionally performed well in the fourth quarter.
Film industry figures caution against taking the latest statistics as an indication that Korean films would continue to prosper without the screen quota system, however. They point to the practice of "package selling", or selling a sure box office sensation such as "The Matrix" series in a package with a less popular product, as one way Korean films could get the early hook.
In such a case, they argue, theaters would have no choice but to play both "The Matrix" series and its unwanted companion, even if it meant bumping a promising local feature to make room.
Distribution is already lopsided in favor of a few heavily marketed titles, checking the true function of a multiplex. "Untold Scandal"
boasted of having secured 260 screens upon its release, a record that soon ballooned to 280 screens nationwide. "The Matrix: Revolutions", being released today, has secured 364 screens.
Meanwhile, "The Road Taken", a Korean film about the world's longest-serving political prisoner, was shown on just 20 screens upon its release, and the number plummeted to just three screens nationwide after one week.
The fact that "The Road Taken" was an audience favorite at the Pusan International Film Festival in October lends credence to the notion that distributed films get popular as much as popular films get distributed.
By Kim Jin