Gangsters ruled 2001; now the cops are in pursuit

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Gangsters ruled 2001; now the cops are in pursuit

The surprising success of the Korean film industry in 2001 comes just a few years after its arguable nadir in the mid-to-late 1990s, but now the industry is going gangbusters.

The year 2001 indeed marked a dramatic achievement: The top five most popular films in Korea, and 7 of the top 10, are all local productions (not counting the just-released "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which is also setting records).

Another notable facet of Korean films' success is the predominance of a single theme - gangsters.

Although the styles of the individual films varied - from dramas like "Chingu" ("Friend") to slapstick comedies like "Shillaeui Dalbam" ("Kick the Moon") - they all centered on mobsters. There was even a woman mob-boss in "Jopok Manura" ("My Wife Is a Gangster").

"Doosabu Ilchea" ("My Boss, My Hero") is threatening to bring an end to the gangster trend, which has been much criticized for its shallowness. In fact, the tag line on the poster for "My Boss, My Hero" poster admitted, "Yes, we are another gangster film. What's wrong with that?"

Gangster movies were not the first trend in Korean films. In the late 1990s, screens were dominated by horror movies, such as "Gawi" ("Nightmare"), "Yeogo Goedam" ("Whispering Corridors") and "Joyonghan Gajok" ("The Silent Family").

Coming up next: police films.

The classic team of the director Bae Chang-ho and the actor Ahn Sung-ki kicked off the trend with "Heuksuseon" ("The Last Witness"), which opened in November, attracting slightly over 1 million viewers. You can expect a lot more police-related films soon.

According to Cho Sung-kyu, a movie distributor, the change was not unexpected. "Everyone knew that the gangster movies would not last longer than one year, and the director Bae started the new trend of cop movies with 'The Last Witness.'"

The coming police films will vary in styles just like the gangster fad did, from drama to fantasy to mystery. "Igeosi Beobida" ("This Is Law") just opened last Saturday, starring Shin Eun-gyeong, who played the lead in "My Wife Is a Gangster," as Detective Kang, fighting against the problems of society along with two other detectives.

Next will come "Gonggongeui Jeok" ("Public Enemy"), to be released Jan. 15, which focuses on the fatal relationship of a persistent cop and an evil and smart criminal. "Public Enemy" is more of a psychological thriller rather than an action film.

"Lost Memories 2009" is a science fiction film starring the good-looking Jang Dong-gun (from "Friend") as a secret agent hunting down a mystery in 2009 Seoul, "the third city of Japan," a world at once similar but very different from our own. "Lost Memories 2009" is a collaboration with Japanese filmmakers, and is slated for a February release.

"Yesterday," a mix of fantasy and action starring Kim Yun-jin, the heroine of "Shiri," is tentatively scheduled for release in March. "H," which is aiming to be an "intelligent thriller" about special police operatives, began filming Dec. 15.

Considering all the police movies that are about to be released or in production, law enforcement tales are likely to occupy Korean theaters for much of next year.

According to Mr. Cho, the trends of gangster and police movies mirror the difficulties that Koreans are now facing. "What people need when they go to movies," he said, "is some loud action or comedy that would help them to forget their harsh reality. The form of action was first gangster movies, and next will be cop movies."

by Chun Su-jin

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