Local adventures take on ‘Harry Potter’
Korean box office pundits are already guessing that “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” opening Dec. 1 in Korea, will likely be the most popular movie of the year, not just in Korea but around the world. They also see the Peter Jackson remake of “King Kong” (Dec. 14) and the “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe,” a fantasy story by C.S. Lewis (Dec. 30), being as big as “Harry Potter.”
Competing with these overseas fantasy films are a series of Korean adventure movies written with a certain local flair that is aimed to generate as much appeal to domestic audiences as their foreign rivals at the box office.
And they may have public opinion on their side. An ongoing poll on Cineseoul, a web site for movie information and reviews, found that typical male Korean moviegoers voted for the soon to be released “Typhoon” as the film they most wanted to see this winter. “Harry Potter” and “King Kong” came second and third, respectively.
Among female moviegoers, “King and the Clown,” a Korean film about a mysterious palace clown in the early Joseon dynasty, took first place followed by “Harry Potter” and then another Korean film, “The Beast.”
All the Korean releases feature members of the current hanryu wave sweeping Asia ― Jang Dong- gun in “Typhoon;” Kim Ju-hyuk, currently television’s hottest actor, in “Cheongyeon;” and fitness-buff Kwon Sang-woo in “The Beast.”
The films star three of Korea’s best-looking actors, which the producers obviously hope to utilize in overseas marketing ― the three have solid fan bases in Japan and China. The filmmakers have bet big, spending over 10 billion won ($9.6 million) on average on production, a large investment by Korean standards. “Taegukki,” Kang Jae-gyu’s 2003 hit film about two brothers fighting in the Korean War, had been the most expensive Korean film produced to date with a $14 million-budget.
But director Kwak Kyung-taek’s “Typhoon” is about to break that record as it cost $15.3 million to film a story that mainly takes place at sea. Its star, Mr. Jang, plays a North Korean defector-turned-pirate who robs ships leaving the peninsula, while co-star Lee Jung-jae plays a South Korean naval officer who lost a friend in a clash with the North Korean Navy.
Like many Korean blockbusters of the past, the film tries to depict the North-South conflict in a nationalistic light. But promoters say the film is different as Mr. Jang and Mr. Lee in their first outing together create a charismatic combination on the screen. The two did intensive martial arts training before shooting the film.
Based on the true story of Korea’s first female pilot, “Cheongyeon” takes place in Los Angeles, Nagano, Shanghai and Korea. Actress Jang Jin-young plays a 1920s aviator in love with flying, while Mr. Kim is the man hopelessly in love with her. The film cost over $9.6 million.
“The Beast,” a dark action thriller, was originally budgeted at $7.7 million. But an additional $5 million was spent promoting the film starring Mr. Kwon.
This winter it seems that Korean producers are betting the bank in their competition with Hollywood for box office returns.
by Lee Min-a