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What Do Koreans Love About Domestic Movies?

2005/09/09 Source

With the addition of "Welcome to Dongmakgol", there are now 10 Korean films that have drawn audiences of more than 5 million at home. Considering the size of the domestic film market, that must be due to more than the allure of individual films. A comparative analysis of the Top 10 blockbusters in Korea, Japan, and the United States throws some light on audience preferences.

◆ Koreans relate well to North Korea

Five out of 10 films that drew over 5 million viewers dealt with the division of North and South Korea. "Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War" and "Welcome to Dongmakgol" both portrayed the time of the Korean War, and "Silmido", "Shiri" and "JSA - Joint Security Area" deal with tragedies resulting from the division. Both are dramatic in themselves and therefore a good source of stories, but it seems Koreans take the division of the Korean Peninsula particularly to heart. Neither in Japan nor the U.S. did a movie dealing with a national historical event make it into the Top 10 list.

◆ True stories move the audience

Friend, "Silmido", "Memories of Murder" and "Marathon" are all based on true stories. Including realistic films that fictionalize the division of the Korean peninsula, all of the movies within the Top Eight dramatize real events or deal with social issues. In the case of the U.S. and Japan, only two to three works were based on true stories in a broad sense. Realistic human drama is particularly apt to captivate the hearts of the Korean people.

◆ Fantasy - too distant to be approached

Korean movie-goers tend to be lukewarm about genre films, especially fantasy and science fiction. In the U.S., eight out of the Top 10 -- seven live-action and one animation -- are fantasy. In Japan, three fantasy animations made it to the list. Of course, there are commercial aspects to the phenomenon; fantasy is something that Hollywood studios with a lot of money love to focus on, and Japan has been traditionally strong in the field of animation. But the fact that Korean fantasy films or animations have not been able to produce a box-office hit, even if there are now many directors and producers making them on a large scale, shows the propensity of Korean audiences to concentrate on the many issues in Korea's reality that can be adapted for film.

◆ No sequels, please

Five out of the American Top 10 are sequels. "Titanic", "E.T". and "The Passion of the Christ" are the only movies not in a series. In the case of Japan, there is one sequel in the Top 10 list, but three animations made by the great director Hayao Miyazaki, which form a kind of series, are on the list. "My Wife Is a Gangster" and "Marrying the Mafia", both on the list in Korea, saw sequels later on, but these did not have the same appeal. Koreans watch enough series and soap operas on TV, so it seems in the theater they prefer to see a comprehensive whole. The many real-life stories in Korean cinema also do not easily lend themselves to sequels.

◆ A growing hunger for movies

In Japan's all-time blockbuster list, there are three films that were produced before the 1990s. In the U.S. chart, there are two. In Korea's case, the oldest film in the Top 10 list, "Shiri", was released in 1999. That mirrors the development of the industry in Korea, where multiplexes did not arrive until 1998. It is also related to the fact that "Shiri" was the first Korean movie that attracted the international spotlight for its commercial potential. One look at the lists shows that Korea's film industry is hotter and more dynamic than those of Japan and the U.S. Koreans love the Korean movies that are gaining increasing recognition from international critics.

Top Ten Korean Movies at the Korean Box Office

Rank / Title / Tickets Sold
1. Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War / 11.75 million
2. Silmido / 11.08 million
3. Friend / 8.20 million
4. Welcome to Dongmakgol / 6.58 million as of Sept. 8
5. Joint Security Area / 5.82 million
6. Swiri / 5.80 million
7. Memories of Murder / 5.21 million
8. Marathon / 5.18 million
9. My Wife is a Gangster / 5.07 million
10. Marrying the Mafia / 5.02 million

Top Ten U.S. Movies at the U.S. Box Office

Rank / Title / Box-Office Earnings
1. Titanic / US$600 million
2. Star Wars / US$460 million
3. Shrek / US$440 million
4. E.T. / US$440 million
5. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace / US$430 million
6. Spider Man / US$400 million
7. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith / US$380 million
8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King / US$380 million
9. Spider Man 2 / US$370 million
10. The Passion of the Christ / US$370 million

Top 10 Japanese Movies at the Japanese Box Office

Rank / Title / Box-Office Earnings
1. Spirited Away / 30.4 billion yen
2. Howl's Moving Castle / 20 billion yen
3. Princess Mononoke / 19.3 billion yen
4. Bayside Shakedown 2 / 14.3 billion yen
5. Antarctica / 10.1 billion yen
6. Koneko Monogatari / 9.2 billion yen
7. Haven and Earth / 8.8 billion yen
8. Crying Out Love in the Center of the World / 8.5 billion yen
9. Bayside Shakedown / 8.5 billion yen
10. Dunhuang / 7.7 billion yen

Source :

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