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Global film projects fail to be hits in Korea

Dec 17,2010
Recent global film projects have hefty production budgets and star-studded, pan-Asian casts, but none have become box office hits in Korea. Both “Ghost: In Your Arms Again,” above left, and “Fetish” were pulled from Korean theaters within two weeks of their release. Provided by the distributors

Local production companies have been teaming up with their counterparts abroad over the past couple of years to make films with global appeal. In the last month alone, three films born from multinational collaborations have been released, including “The Warrior’s Way,” “Ghost: In Your Arms Again” and “Fetish.”

These international film projects have a few characteristics in common: a cast of A-list actors and a hefty production budget. “The Warrior’s Way” features Korean heartthrob Jang Dong-gun and American beauty Kate Bosworth. “Ghost: In Your Arms Again” has Song Seung-heon and “Fetish” stars Song Hye-kyo.

But the most striking feature of these global film projects is that none of them have become global hits and all of them have had low to underwhelming ticket sales in Korea.

According to the Korean Film Council, the nation’s governing body for film, “Ghost: In Your Arms Again,” a remake of Jerry Zucker’s smash hit from 1990, “Ghost,” was released in Korea on Nov. 25 but was pulled out of theaters less than two weeks after its release, attracting just 6,763 moviegoers. It was an incredible flop, given the fact that the film’s star has a huge fan base here.

The movie was a collaboration between Korean and Japanese production companies.

More shocking are the audience numbers for “Fetish.” Although the film was shown in eight theaters across the nation, only 802 people watched it. The film, a collaboration between a Korean and U.S. production company, was released in 2008 in the United States.

“Fetish” tells the story of Sookhy (Song Hye-kyo) who runs away from Korea to the United States to avoid inheriting the shamanism that runs in her family. “Fetish,” too, came to an end within two weeks of its release.

“The Warrior’s Way” is still showing at 302 theaters across the nation but the film, which had a budget of $52 million, was fifth in ticket sales last weekend, according to the Korean Film Council. The movie is a project of three production companies from Korea, New Zealand and the United States.

Previous global collaborations have also struggled to find audiences in Korea. “Sophie’s Revenge” (2009), “A Good Rain Knows” (2009) and “Sayonara Itsuka” (2009) were all star-studded films with pan-Asian casts but none of them were box-office hits.

Pop culture critic Jeong Deok-hyun has an idea about why these films fail.

“They focus too much on attracting a broad audience [in multiple countries] and they lose their personalities in the process,” he said.

Sean Shin, a Korean-New Zealand producer based in Japan, agrees with Jeong and said global projects often bring mediocre results. Shin has participated in many collaborations between Korean and Japanese production companies, including “Higanjima” (2009) and “Boat” (2009).

“It’s hard to overcome cultural and systemic differences [when you work with production teams in other countries],” Shin told the JoongAng Ilbo earlier this month. “Despite the disappointing results, however, we should keep doing this because the Korean film market is way too small.”


By Sung So-young [so@joongang.co.kr]



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