After-Hours Screenings Are a Box Office BoonHave you ever cuddled up in front of the television, completely absorbed by a late-night movie, only to realize suddenly that the sun was rising outside? Well, there seem to be plenty of night owls in Korea who are willing to sacrifice a little sleep for a good flick. And they are abandoning late-night TV offerings in favor of their local movie theaters. Taking full advantage of this trend, more movie theater owners are scheduling midnight screenings to sell-out crowds.
Of the variety of night-time activities available in Seoul, many film buffs and avid moviegoers are choosing to spend their late evenings in the many theaters that dot the urban landscape. To accommodate an increasing number of late-night moviegoers, screening times now continue into the early morning hours. Kangnam, the upscale district in southern Seoul, boasts over 30 theaters with screenings past 11 p.m. on Saturday nights. One young couple said that they enjoyed midnight movies because "it's cheaper to spend 6,000 won ($5) on watching a good movie than to spend a lot more than that on liquor or visiting karaoke parlors. And after 10 p.m. in Korea, there's not much to do in terms of entertainment, except drink!"
Also popular among late-night moviegoers are drive-in theaters. Currently, there are over 20 drive-ins in Korea, including four theaters in Seoul itself and seven in the city's suburbs. As drive-ins only operate after dark, owners are taking full advantage of the increased popularity of post-midnight screenings.
Popularized in the United States in the 1950s, drive-ins are a favorite hang-out for couples whose interest in the film being shown is sometimes less obvious than their interest in each other. There is indeed something intimate about viewing a movie in the privacy of a parked car.
Late-night screenings are also frequent highlights at film festivals. At the Pusan and Puchon international film festivals, packed houses enjoyed movies that were screened until dawn. Recently, Resfest 2000 Seoul Digital Film Festival showed a record 76 short films in one night, finishing at 7 a.m.!
How to explain the popularity of midnight movies? For one thing, many Koreans find going to movies on weeknights difficult because of long work hours. As most people have only Sundays off, they like to make up for lost time at the movies by squeezing in some late showings. Moreover, tickets for the late shows are often discounted.
One Kangnam theater owner thinks midnight screenings are here to stay. "We started off scheduling midnight shows on special occasions," the owner said. "The first of these events were film retrospectives or screenings of genre films like sci-fi or horror. To my surprise, all the shows sold out, and that prompted me to schedule them regularly on Saturday nights. People don't work on Sundays, so they can sleep in."
So the next time you're suffering from a bout of insomnia, or like the idea of watching a film in the cozy confines of your car, visit your local movie house or drive-in for some late-night film fare.
The writer is a professor in the film department of the Seoul Institute of the Arts.