‘Passion’ takes Korean box office by storm“The Passion of the Christ,” a film by Mel Gibson that depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ, is creating a spiritual fervor among the religious communities in Korea, just as it did in the States.
The movie opened Friday in 180 theaters across the nation, coming in on top of the box office over the weekend, the first foreign film to do so in 13 weeks.
According to Fox Korea, the local distributor of “The Passion,” the movie drew more than 263,550 viewers in Seoul in just four days, attracting more than 706,640 nationwide. In its first two days, the film attracted 351,000 visitors nationwide.
The success of the film was predicted before it had even opened here. Fox Korea arranged a series of special screenings for religious leaders last week, aiming to cultivate the movie’s following among evangelical Christians. This group in the United States, in particular, enthusiastically supported the movie when it opened there in January.
On March 29, more than 1,200 Protestant church leaders filled the auditorium of Seoul’s Onnuri Church in Seobingo-dong for a special premiere hosted by Fox, which was also attended by politicians and celebrities who are practicing Christians.
On March 31, about 800 Catholic church leaders, priests and nuns were invited to a screening at Joongang Cinema, which drew loud applause at the end.
Cardinal Kim Su-hwan, who attended the Wednesday showing, praised the film, saying, “It was filled with emotional moments that allow the audience to participate in Jesus’ suffering during Lent.”
Jung Jin-seok, the Catholic archbishop of Seoul, who sat next to Cardinal Kim at the screening, also embraced “The Passion” as a truthful account of the crucifixion, saying the film was the best he has ever seen.
The archbishop also said he was “immensely touched” by the film’s spiritual maturity and that he would recommend that all Catholics go see it.
Ha Yong-jo, a senior pastor of Onnuri Church, who organized Monday’s screening, also said he was willing to act as “the movie’s missionary.”
Local Christians’ reactions to “The Passion” were similar to that of American Christians. Despite the controversy the movie has generated, with critics saying it vilifies Jews and encourages anti-Semitism, it has grossed more than $315 million in the United States alone.
Many of the viewers are coming in huge groups.
A couple from a Baptist church in Texas bought 6,000 tickets for “The Passion,” and their group occupied 20 screens at a multiplex theater. Anglican churches in Kent, England, bought ?20,000 ($37,000) worth of tickets to the movie last month.
According to Fox Korea, a wave of requests flooded into both the company and movie theaters during the past week from church leaders asking for group reservations.
Interest in “The Passion” is building among the general public in Korea as well. According to Max Movie, an online movie site, 74 percent of all ticket reservations on the site on Friday were for “The Passion.”
“The Passion” also accounted for more than 70 percent of reservations at other online movie sites, including Ticketlink and Daum.
April is usually a slow season for movie producers. Local distributors often wait until the summer for the release of big Hollywood blockbusters, while Korean movies are normally targeted for Chuseok, the Korean thanksgiving.
However, “The Passion” broke local box office records for opening weekends in the month of April.
“We are expecting that ‘The Passion’ fervor will continue throughout this week as we near Easter,” said a representative at Fox. “We are getting a lot of audience in their 30s and 40s, which was a similar phenomenon we had with major hits like ‘Taegukgi’ and ‘Silmido.’”
Despite the graphic violence of the film, the Korea Media Rating Board gave it a 15-and-over rating without cutting any scenes. It said the brutality of the crucifixion is based on historical fact and is “essential for understanding the movie.”
by Park Soo-mee