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[Year-end Review : Movies] 'Sunshine' offers hope to Korean cinema in 2007

2007/12/24 | Permalink | Source

The Korean movie industry got off to a shaky start this year, due to the weakened market position of local flicks versus Hollywood blockbusters, but it received a big shining ray of hope from director Lee Chang-dong's thought-provoking drama, "Secret Sunshine".

Jeon Do-yeon, the heroine of "Secret Sunshine", grabbed the prestigious Best Actress award at the 60th Cannes Film Festival in May, setting the upbeat tone for the domestic film industry.

The 34-year-old actress won international acclaim for her brave and inspiring depiction of a grieving Korean woman struggling to rebuild her life in a new city in "Secret Sunshine", the first picture in four years by Lee Chang-dong, a former Korean culture minister.

Despite the positive turn on the filmfest front, the local movie market faced increasing pressure this year. Although the market volume of the Korean film industry remains relatively solid, with 104 films released between January and November this year, the number of moviegoers is steadily declining, and the profitability of major production houses is worsening, leaving a slew of projects stranded.

"The number of Korean movies with box-office influence is going down, and the campaign to export Korean films to foreign markets is nowhere near the target level", said Shim Young-seop, a leading movie critic. Meanwhile, Hollywood blockbusters led by "Transformers" and "Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End" made a strong comeback this year, mounting a strong competition against Korean counterparts at the box office.

Meanwhile, "D-War", a graphics-rich monster flick directed by Shim Hyung-rae, created plenty of ripples both in Korea and the United States. The film sold a whopping 8.43 million tickets here, setting a record as the biggest hit this year, thanks largely to director Shim's unabashed efforts to stress that it is the first-ever Korean film to achieve a wide release in the U.S. market.

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 to downtown Los Angeles in the hope of finding a girl destined to transform it into a dragon.

Film critic Kang Yu-jeong said, "The so-called 'D-War' phenomenon was a great chance to discuss the important issues facing the Korean movie industry, but it quickly fizzled out amid frivolous disputes about the movie's quality and national pride".

Another landmark was that Korea's top filmmaker Im Kwon-taek received the title of knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor by the French government, a recognition for his lifetime contribution in the field of visual arts. Im has already won numerous awards, including the Best Director award at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival, but he achieved another milestone by putting out his 100th film, "Beyond the Years", this year.

On the artistic front, maverick director Kim Ki-duk showcased his talent with "Breath", a peculiar story about love, starring Park Ji-ah and Chang Chen. Kim, who received numerous awards for his unique perspective, drew keen interest from critics and audiences with his softened approach in "Breath".

Another representative Korean stylist, Lee Myung-se, recently released "M", a psychodrama that featured top-rated stars such as Gang Dong-won. At the box office, much attention was given to Gang, a heartthrob who is highly popular in Korea, and critics also showed great interest in director Lee who has built up his fame through stylized features like "Nowhere To Hide" and "Duelist", but it was not a commercial success, suggesting that Korean audiences are still inclined to favor friendlier dramas like "Le Grand Chef", a cook-oriented drama that is based on a popular comics series. Directed by Jeon Yoon-soo, "Le Grand Chef" secured a solid spot, in terms of ticket sales.

Other notable films include "Voice of a Murderer", director Park Jin-pyo's sophisticated kidnapping drama that hit it big at the box office early this year. "Our Town", directed by Jeong Gil-yeong, handles a similarly gruesome topic with a style that accentuates the talent of Oh Man-seok, former musical actor.

Daniel Henney also proved his commercial appeal with his role in "My Father", a drama that pulled at the heartstrings of audiences by focusing on the universal theme of father-son affection that goes beyond borders and prison walls.

"Miss Gold Digger", starring Han Ye-seul, a bilingual actress, is also jockeying for position in the domestic film market toward the end of the year, highlighting Han's versatility and sex appeal.

By Yang Sung-jin

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