[ENTERTAINMENT]Films Deep in Number, Say Critics, but Shallow

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Films Deep in Number, Say Critics, but Shallow

The Korean movie industry has had a good year so far. In the first half, Korean films attracted 39 percent of the market, significantly topping last year's 32 percent. The top 20 movies, ranked by audience figures, included nine Korean films.

But despite the boom, concerns have been raised that the quality of Korean films is declining. Critics - and some moviegoers - charge that recent productions have been culturally shallow and limited in scope. People are spending more to watch movies, they say, but they aren't getting any more for their money.

Seok Dong-jun, who is in charge of Korean films at distribution company CJ Entertainment, says that in terms of content, this year has so far been "a time of regression." The market has grown at a startling rate, as has public consciousness of Korean films, but experimentation is curtailed and content limp, he said.

Besides the usual romantic drama and action films, many moviegoers complain that there is not much to choose from. Film specialists agree. Kang Han-seok, professor at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, says, "When have Korean films been diverse? But this year's situation is by far the worst."

His criticism is that while visual effects and graphics have improved, overall quality is deteriorating, and commercial success is less and less correlated with quality.

"Chin-gu" ("Friends") and "Shilla-eui Dalbam" ("Kick the Moon") were box office hits, but "Number Three" and "Banchikwang" ("The Foul King"), which he believes were better in quality, were not as successful. Professor Kang observes, "As capital, planning, production and distribution becomes more integrated, control of the industry is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, making it more and more difficult for a film to get its foot in the door regardless of its quality."

The movie critic Chun Chan-il sees the problem differently: "Romantic drama and action may have choked out films of other genres out there. But the bigger problem lies in the fact that the films are stilted, out of touch with modern concerns."

But despite critical disdain for many of the recent blockbuster movies, some critics admit that they do serve an important purpose. "The success of our romantic and comedy movies may be strategic in keeping our industry competitive and successful," Mr. Kang said.

And perhaps the release later this year of epic and sci-fi movies such as "Musa" ("Warriors") and "Hwasan-go" ("Hwasang High School") will quiet critics who complain of the lack of diversity in themes.

Many believe that new policies are needed to safeguard the quality of new movies. Another movie critic, Lee Hyo-in, said, "It is imperative to use the profits reaped in the commercial movie market for developing film culture in general."

For just that purpose, the newly founded Korean Association of Film Art and Industry began on July 6 to work to bolster production and distribution of independent and short films.

by Park Jeong-ho

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