[ENTERTAINMENT]Two fantasy films square off

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Two fantasy films square off

Korean films have enjoyed a spectacular run this year, but the film industry is worrying nonetheless. Will the vigor of the Korean film industry endure, or will the power of Hollywood eventually reassert itself?

The publicity blitz for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is the most immediate concern. The film is due to open on Dec. 14. Already setting box office records in the West, the Potter franchise has a similarly frenzied fan base in Korea. Of the 100 million J.K. Rowling books sold around the world, well-over 4 million translated copies have been snapped up around the peninsula.

In order to avoid this stiff competition, the big-budget Korean film "Whasango," directed by Kim Tae-gyun, is set to open on Saturday, a week before the British wizard. Hopes are high for both movies, but only one can likely win out.

The plots are somewhat similar, but the styles are totally different. "Harry Potter" is a charming children's story. When a British boy is orphaned, he moves in with his mean aunt, uncle and cousin. They force him to live under the stairs and make his life miserable. Everything changes, however, when he discovers his secret legacy: He is a powerful wizard. His parents died while fighting evil. Harry Potter goes to wizard school, where he must make new friends and battle evil.

"Whasango" is more edgy, like the "Matrix." The story revolves around a 108-year-old high school whose students and teachers have supernatural powers. When a misfit enrolls, he challenges the old system.

Production costs of "Whasango" reached 6.3 billion won ($4.95 million), quite large for a Korean movie, but paltry compared to the $100 million-plus Hollywood films. Except for the actors and a few simple sets, pretty much the entire movie was computer-generated. There are plenty of flying scenes, spectacular special effects and Hong Kong-style, gravity-defying martial arts battles. Even the colors are computer generated.

The competition may seem formidable, but Korea has spent 2001 outdoing Hollywood. Of the 10 highest-grossing films in Korea so far this year, seven are Korean, including the top four.

"Friend" ("Chingu" in Korean), "Kick the Moon" ("Sillaeui Dalbam"), "My Eccentric Girlfriend" ("Yeobgijeokin Geunyeo") and "My Wife Is a Gangster" ("Jopok Manura") have each sold more than 4 million tickets, and it looks like the recently-released hit "Hi, Dharma" ("Dalma-ya Nolija") will soon join them). The biggest Western film so far this year has been "Shrek," with 2.4 million viewers.

Overall, Korean films are on track to comprise 40 percent of all tickets sold this year - until recently, an unimaginable number.

But there is more competition than simply between Korean and Hollywood movies - Korean movie companies are competing with each other, too. In addition to "Harry Potter" and "Whasango," "Doosaboo Ilche," a comedy, is also getting a big push. With each of theses three films claiming 100-180 screens (out of 700 in Korea), the country's cinemas will soon be dominated by this cinematic battle.

by Park Jeong-ho

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