[ENTERTAINMENT]Surging local movie scene becomes truly animated

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Surging local movie scene becomes truly animated

After a quiet month during the World Cup, the Korean movie scene is back in high gear, continuing its record-setting pace. Since the end of June, distributors have been releasing some of their biggest films of the year, overwhelming cinephiles with joy.

First up was "Champion," the tragic tale of the Korean boxer Kim Duk-koo, released June 28. With the same director, cast and crew as "Chingu" (Friend, 2001), the most successful Korean film ever, much was expected of the boxer biopic. Indeed, it started strong, selling 1.2 million tickets in just its first two weeks.

But less than a week later came "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones." Opening July 3, the film pulled in 500,000 viewers in its opening long-weekend alone.

The local movie industry was ready for a hot fight between the boxer and the Jedi. It did not, however, expect a third party to enter the fray -- "Spirited Away," a Japanese animated movie.

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki the Japanimation opened the same weekend as "Champion, finishing a strong second. But the next week, when "Attack of the Clones" opened, "Spirited Away" kept the No. 2 spot, pushing "Champion" to No. 3.

"Spirited Away" (titled "Sen-gwa Chihiro-ui Haengbangbulmyeong" in Korean) won the Golden Bear Award at this year's Berlin International Festival. In Japan, it took in 24 million viewers, breaking all attendance records.

Few expected, however, that it would be a success in Korea as well. The Korean government has allowed select, award-winning Japanese films into Korea since the late 1990s, but few have done very well at the box office, including other animated films by Miyazaki. But his previous films, such as "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Princess Mononoke" have long been available on black market video. "'Spirited Away' is the latest work from Miyazaki, not yet readily available in pirate versions," said Kim Gwang-hyeon, the publicist for the film.

Overall for the first half of 2002, the Korean film market is having its best year ever, according to the Korean Film Commission. The overall market is up 17 percent from the same period in 2001, and Korean films are up over 40 percent.

Led by "Jibeuro" (The Way Home) with over 1.4 million tickets sold, local films have captured 46 percent of the market so far this year, up from 38 percent in 2001.

by Chun Su-jin

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