Korean films taking the holiday goldThe high-demand summer season had always been Hollywood’s time in the spotlight. This year, however, that was not the case. Korean movies such as “The Tale of Two Sisters,” “Singles” and “Wishing Stairs” held the top rungs from June through August, with “Crazy First Love” and “A Good Lawyer’s Wife” backing them up. Korean films’ market share for July rose from 27.7 percent last year to 45.9 percent in 2003. Meanwhile, except for a few hits like “Matrix 2: Reloaded” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Hollywood suffered a blockbuster drought.
With the year’s end nearing, all eyes in Chungmuro are on whether the market share of Korean movies can break the 50 percent mark or not. According to the industry group IMPictures, if December’s monthly share breaks 54 percent, the Korean film industry will surpass the 50-percent mark for 2003.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. The fantasy masterpiece “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which hit theaters Wednesday, poses a significant barrier. The fact that the 50-percent mark has never been broken is also certainly depressing. The question is, how much of a fight will “Nangman Jagaek,” “Happy, Erotic Christmas,” “Silmido” and “Donghaemulgwa Baekdusan” put up?
The latest spark to the Korean industry’s fire has been the online adaptation genre, and it shows no signs of flickering out since average audience age continues to drop. Bringing new recognition to the saying, “Internet story equals jackpot” were this year’s “My Tutor Friend” and 2001’s “My Sassy Girl.” Nowadays, the teenage author Guiyeoni’s “That Guy Was Cute” and “Seduction of a Wolf” are on the docket for a 2004 release. “The Love of a College Applicant,” starring Lee Hyo-lee, and “My Love is a Jerk,” with Ha Ji-won and Kim Jae-won are other online films.
Another highlight this year, director Bong Jun-ho’s “Memories of Murder” won plaudits from audiences and critics alike to end Chungmuro’s unbalanced diet of comedies. It even revived interest in the unsolved Hwasung serial murder case. By now, just about every TV comedy show has featured an imitation of the films’ dim-witted suspect, Baek Kwang-ho.
One sticky point hovering around the industry is the government’s screen quota, the requirement that individual theaters show Korean movies for at least 146 days a year. This has been hard-fought between the government and the movie industry. The movie bigwigs have armed themselves for battle by forming a Korea-America Investment Agreement and screen quota retention organization. President Roh Moo-hyun has tried to pacify them by saying, “The screen quota will not be reduced if the movie people oppose it.” Nonetheless, it’s an area that’s sure to be primed again.
On a positive note, there are signs that new sources of investment are reaching filmmakers’ budgets. “A Good Lawyer’s Wife,” a Venice Film Festival entry from director Lim Sang-soo, was unique in that common investors, not a company, were its financial backers. This Internet-based investment system created a new sensation by increasing this movie’s budget by 79 percent in just four hours of running time online.
by Ki Sun-min