[VIEWPOINT]Right movie, wrong marketingThe movie “The Host,” has attracted more than 10 million people to the box office. In order to become so successful, a movie must be equipped with enough money, good ideas and the spirits of the time. When a film satisfies those conditions, it can cross over a realm of culture and become a social phenomenon. I congratulate the director of “The Host,” Bong Joon-ho, and the producer, Choi Yong-bae, for making a movie that will be remembered in Korea’s social history.
However, that’s all the praise that I can give. “The Host” violated the coexistence rule of the Korean film and culture industry.
It was released simultaneously on 620 screens across the country, almost half of all screens nationwide. It also took possession of 68 percent of all the seats. This is an unprecedented oligopoly.
These scandalous figures could be recorded in the Guinness book of World Records. Even in capitalist heaven, the United States, people just don’t cross certain lines. “The Lord of the Rings” is a centennial piece that was the subject of much conversation, but it was released only on 3,703 screens throughout the United States, less than 10 percent of the 38,000 screens in the country.
It is not just because of ethical reasons that advanced countries regulate a monopoly and oligopoly of a market, punishing violators with astronomical fines and/or prison terms.
A monopoly or an oligopoly causes serious damage to the development of a market. A monopoly or an oligopoly is a selfish act of expelling and restricting competitors from entering the market.
Therefore, instead of making an effort to increase creativity, it relies more on strategies such as occupying all the screens of the nation and launching carpet-bomb style marketing. In the end, the whole film market stops growing ― resulting in the shrinking of the market ― because the creativity of films goes down and moviegoers have a hard time finding good films to see.
“The Host” did not begin the monopoly or oligopoly. The Korean movie boom, which started with the success of the film “Swiri” in 1999, is actually the history of the growth of a “monster” named screen oligopoly. Consequently, the Korean movie boom could end up an illusion. After all, the number of people who went to the cinema has grown three times during the boom, but the video and DVD market, which was five times bigger than box office sales, has shrunk by 60 percent.
Yet there are still many specialists who back up oligopoly, saying it is the dynamics of the Korean film industry or a strategy to win over foreign films. Capital tames people to think of making one big hit, which actually is the worst and most feared evil of oligopoly. “Big hit syndrome” is a term used to define a phenomenon in which distorted values prevail and people who enjoy wealth and fame from success are seen as great and “right” people. And people like film director Kim Ki-duk, who is acknowledged internationally as an artist but has failed to record a box office success, are considered self-righteous and “wrong.”
The new economics theory in the limelight, the “rule of the dinosaur’s long tail,” says that the long tail of a dinosaur, the sales, exceeds the length of its body. More than half of the profits of the U.S. company Amazon come from 80 percent of its customers, who buy just one or two books a year. Therefore, in this age of a software economy, the slogan is changing from “Selling More of Less” to “Selling Less of More.” In baseball terminology, the focus is changing from “clear the bases with one home run” to “get one more run by hitting a base hit.”
The Korean Film Council is pursuing the “economy of size” and “expansion of diversity” policies. The goals of both policies are not being met at the moment. Industrialization in other words is “a policy of encouraging oligopoly and greed.” It has two faces, of good and evil. Therefore, an effective policy of banning oligopoly should be implemented together with industrialization.
Limiting the number of screens or number of seats to each film is the most effective system that can save both expansion and diversity of the market. Of course, an exception clause applicable to peak season could be added.
Anybody can see that the Korean movie market is a failed one. Now is the time for the government to intervene in order to secure diversity and overall development of Korean movies. Even through government intervention, an arena for fair competition should be provided in the Korean film industry.
* The writer is a professor at the Seoul Institute of the Arts and a movie critic. Translated by staff writer.
by Kahng Han-sup