Actor Choi Min-sik
returns a cultural decoration to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Tuesday to protest the halving of the screen quota. /Yonhap
By Kim Tae-jong
One of Asia's best known movie stars stood in front of the National Assembly in Yoido, Seoul, holding a picket which read: "Be a friend of the screen quota system and we will flap Taegukgi
in the world".
Actor Jang Dong-gun
stood there on Monday for about three hours as a protest against the government's recent decision to halve the screen quota system. The current system requires local theaters to show homemade films for 146 days a year.
"Without the quota system, there would no such successful films as The King and the Clown
, " Jang told reporters who had flocked there.
As the phrase in the picket _ written using the titles of his hit films Friend
: The Brotherhood of War" _ suggested, he was appealing for the public to help keep the screen quota system at the current level so that they can introduce quality films overseas.
Jang was the third actor to participate in one-man relay demonstration, first started by Ahn Sung-ki
on Saturday, and followed by Park Joong-hoon
on Sunday in the Kanghwmun area.
Tuesday joined the rally, but before the protest, he returned the Okgwan Order of Culture Merit, the fourth highest honor, to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which he had received for his contribution in the film industry.
"I think the cultural decoration means nothing if it was given by the country which gave up its cultural independence", Choi told reporters.
They have strongly argued that the government's decision is groundless, and merely an act to accept the arrogant request of the United States to facilitate the free trade agreement (FTA) with them, the benefits of which are vague or trivial.
But the government has maintained its strong stance, asserting the agreement will boost the nation's sluggish economy by helping increase exports to the U.S.
"The expected benefits are numerous", said Jeong Jae-hwa, FTA team manager at the Korea International Trade Association. "But for the agreement, whose core and essential emphasis is free trade without any regulations, the reduction of the (screen) quota system is indispensable".
Some of the benefits include about a 2 percent increase in the rate of the nation's economic growth, 100,000 new jobs, and 0.96 million won of direct investment from the U.S., he added.
But some experts are skeptical about the expected benefits an FTA with the U.S. will bring.
"If the local film industry can be successful in the international market, it will give the impression that Korea is a "nice country" and will help boost exports of the local products not only in the U.S. but also in other countries", Chang Ha-joon, economics professor at University of Cambridge was quoted in an SBS news program.
Since films are one of the strategic industries of the future, he claimed Korea could incur great losses by pursuing a small profit and the expected benefits are so trivial in return for possible damages.
Meanwhile, theater owners and moviegoers, who can actually determine the effect, were receptive to the planned reduction.
"Basically, we're happy with the reduction of the quota as we will have more freedom", said Choi Baek-soon, managing director of the Seoul Theaters Association. "But we don't think we'll screen only Hollywood films because local movies are much more popular".
The situation would have been different in the past, but the emergence of multiplex theaters enables them to screen Hollywood films as well as local films at the same time, he added. "Most importantly, moviegoers will decide what we will screen at a theater".
Recent surveys show the public's changing views and approaches on the reduction of the screen quota system.
According to one by SBS's Sisibibi program, 54.1 percent of the respondents opposed the quota reduction while 42.1 percent agreed with it. Yet, 62.9 percent said the film industry should accept the government's decision and the government should come up with supporting plans. For some, 24.9 percent, the government should withdraw its decision.
"If the FTA is part of globalization and helps boost the local economy, I would say the reduction should be accepted", said Lee Hyun-joo, 26, office worker.
Lee used to strongly support the maintenance of the screen quota system in the past, but changed her mind because she believes that local films have obtained a competitive edge and certain qualities. "I'll see local films regardless of the reduction of the quota", she said.