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Korean movies falter in first half of 2007

2007/07/16 Source

In the first half of this year, the combined share of Korean films fell to 47.3 percent, marking the lowest level since 2001. The continued drop in market share, partly prompted by the relatively stronger performance of Hollywood blockbusters, is now sounding alarms in the domestic film industry.

According to CGV, a major film distributor, the dominance of Korean films reached a peak in 2004 when they carved out a 66.8 percent share, outsmarting Hollywood competitors by a wide margin. The share, however, dropped to 55.8 percent in 2005 before slightly gaining ground to 59.5 percent last year.

But the share in the first half of this year showed a pronounced weakness, raising concerns about whether the Korean film industry could defend its share. The negative development came after Korean movies had witnessed an impressive growth in the early 2000s, fueled by the Korean Wave that helped spread Korean movies, dramas and music across Asia.

In contrast, Hollywood blockbusters are flexing more powerful box-office muscles here. Five out of top-ten box-office hits during the six-month period came from Hollywood, scoring a dramatic recovery. Although the No. 1 box-office hit was the Korean film "200 Pounds Beauty", a plastic surgery transformation drama that attracted 6.3 million moviegoers across the nation, the No. 2 slot went to "Spider-Man 3" (4.94 million), No. 3 to "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (4.92 million) and No. 4 to "Night at the Museum" (4.60 million).

The other two Hollywood films, "300" and "Shrek the Third" also performed far better than expected, selling 2.98 million and 2.63 million tickets, respectively.

CGV said that only four Korean films including "200 Pounds Beauty" managed to attract more than 2 million viewers in the first half this year, significantly down from seven in 2006.

During the six-month period, a total of 72 million people watched movies, down 10.8 percent from the year-earlier period. CGV said the difference came largely from the wildly popular Korean hit "The King and the Clown", which recorded 11.46 million viewers in the first half of 2006.

The weaker performance of Korean films was widely expected. In the past couple of years, local productions and filmmakers invested heavily in new projects, encouraged by the phenomenal success of select Korean films at home and abroad. As one project after another failed to post a profit, major investors quickly pulled out from the market and brought many ongoing movie projects to an abrupt, leading to the dearth of new releases this year.

Korean filmmakers face a grim outlook for the crucial summer season. Already "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", released on July 11, is dominating the box office, and another Hollywood summer action fare "Die Hard 4.0" is scheduled to hit local theaters today.

Hollywood is also steering more marketing resources to Korea. For instance, "Transformers", directed by Michael Bay, held a world premiere press preview in Seoul, an unprecedented move considering that Hollywood had never before offered such a generous treat to Korean fans.

A noticeable trend in the first half of this year is that actresses increasingly played greater roles in pulling off box-office success. Kim A-jung emerged as a big-time star thanks to the success of "200 Pounds Beauty", and film marketing firms focused on the popularity of top-rated actresses Kim Hye-soo in promoting "A Good Day to Have an Affair" and Song Hye-kyo for "Hwang Jin Yi".

Despite the gloom that plagued the movie industry, there were a couple of positive developments for Korean filmmakers and actors in the first half. First, Jeon Do-yeon won the prestigious best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in May for her role in "Secret Sunshine", directed by Lee Chang-dong, a former culture minister and a veteran director.

Thanks to the publicity generated by the Cannes award, "Secret Sunshine" sold more than 1.6 million tickets across the nation, despite its serious subject matter and gloomy depiction of the tragic heroine.

Another positive development is that director Bong Joon-ho's monster pic "The Host" received positive reviews from American critics when it made its U.S. debut and earned $2.18 million playing for 105 days in 35 cities.

By Yang Sung-jin

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