Popcorn till the break of dawn

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Popcorn till the break of dawn

It is Friday in eastern Seoul, and the time is 11:30 p.m. A couple sits on a bench on the top floor of the Technomart building, surrounded by several other snuggling pairs, in a lobby bustling with twentysomethings. These two lovebirds are kicking off their weekend with a private party for two, complete with a tub of buttered popcorn, a gallon or so of Coke and a good-sized dose of Will Smith’s humor on the big screen.
O.K., maybe the party isn’t so private. Late-night moviegoing has been on the rise, with several theaters in Seoul meeting the demand of night owls like these by extending their schedules around-the-clock.
For Song Eui-gyu, 23, and Ok Kyung-sun, 25, awaiting the 12:50 a.m. show of “Bad Boys II,” this is nothing new or unusual. Midnight, or post-midnight, screenings in Seoul have been drawing audiences of people in their 20s for at least the past three years.
“It is a good excuse for people ― couples especially ― to stay out late and not have to part early to go home,” Ms. Ok said.
“It’s also convenient for people who prefer to meet up later in the evenings and at night to avoid the summer’s heat,” Mr. Song added.
Late-late-night movies and around-the-clock theater operations were introduced to Seoul in January of 2000 by the MMC theater, located in the Dongdaemun district. At the onset of the experiment, the theater drew only a handful of late-night shoppers and neighborhood merchants. It didn’t take long for news to spread, however, and the theater began to draw masses of young people enjoying a new reason to linger in the city until the break of dawn after spending most of the night in the famed shopping district.
Other theaters soon caught on to the idea, including CGV Gangbyeon and Megabox Cineplex in the COEX shopping mall in southern Seoul.
“These days, the theater is probably most packed between midnight and 4 a.m., and this holds especially true on weekends,” said Noh Sang Hun, 28, manager of Dongdaemun MMC. Mr. Noh noted that the staff of the 24-hour theater is always busy, for though there may be fewer administrative responsibilities at night, more security is sometimes necessary, as the late hours inevitably make for intoxicated people.
“People seem to hit the movies at night more frequently these days because they are on break from school,” said Kim Su-jin, waiting with her friend Koh Hae-mee, 22, for an 11:30 p.m. Monday-night feature at the Dongdaemun MMC. “There are also so many Korean films out this summer that are drawing many people to the theaters.”
Reduced ticket prices for late-night features is another incentive for cash-strapped young viewers. At CGV Gangbyeon, daytime ticket prices cost 7,000 won ($5.90), while features starting past 10 p.m. are 6,000 won, which can be further reduced by prepurchasing online or with discounts available from cell-phone companies.
With the plethora of horror films that usually hit the big screens during Seoul’s scorching summer, what better time to send a chill down your spine than at the movies tonight, just after the stroke of midnight?

by Stella Lee
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