Love and mothers are in but dried seafood is outIn 1993, Im Kwon-taek’s “Sopyonje” had been seen by 1 million people by the 204th day of its release, which was a stunning record back then. Thirteen years later Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” also reached the 1 million mark. But that took only two days (eventually 13 million viewers watched “The Host”).
But there is a secret that helps explain the difference between the two records. Consider the number of cinemas that were showing each film.
Dansungsa, a single-screen art house cinema in Jongno, was the only theater to show Im’s film about down and out pansori singers, while Bong’s mutant tadpole adventure opened in 620 multiplex theaters nationwide. The huge increase in the number of multiplex theaters has significantly reduced the number of days it takes films to reach a massive audience.
In the coming months, with another construction wave in progress, the the number of screens in Korea owned by the four major multiplex chains ― CGV, Lotte Cinema, Primus and Megabox ― is expected to reach more than 1,000.
Lotte Cinema will soon be opening another branch at Konkuk University in eastern Seoul, and CGV has plans to open new complexes early next year in Gangnam; Mia-dong, Sungbuk district; and Ilsan, north of Seoul. Just eight years after the first multiplex theater, CGV Gangbyeon, opened here, the country’s theater industry has seen striking growth.
Theaters Turning Private
At a Primus theater in Daegu, last October, the audience sat dumbfounded for several minutes. While waiting for “Georukhan Gyebo (The Great Genealogy)” to begin, an amateur video clip started rolling instead of the usual preview trailers.
It was a short video made by a college student who wanted to declare his love for his girlfriend in public. The young male appeared on the screen and said, “The only person I will ever love is you,” then a theater staff member delivered a bouquet of flowers to a girl in the audience. The rest of the audience then realized what was going on and started clapping.
The student, Cho Gwang-sik, 24, had wanted to make the 200th day anniversary of his relationship with Park Min-ju something special. He had heard that Primus theaters allowed screenings of personal films on special occasions so he made a 4 1/2 minute film confessing his love for his girlfriend. All he needed was a camcorder.
Multiplex theaters are coming up with new services like this and are evolving away from the traditional role conventional theaters once had. Moving away from simply screening movies to the public, they are becoming a more intimate place for dating couples or for smaller groups of people.
The theaters now suggest people hold their year-end gatherings and even birthday or alumni parties at their venues.
CGV Yongsan has a screening room called “Private Cinema,” where seats are limited to eight people at the most. Lotte Cinema’s Konkuk University branch is planning to build a “Seminar Room” for up to 20 people who make a group reservation.
CGV Apgujeong has seats called “Sweet Box” that have been installed to provide lovers with a soft 2-person couch and a partition, separating them from others. Megabox theaters in Sinchon and Mokdong also plan to come up with a “Love Theater” for dating pairs.
For More Comfort and Diversity
Chun Gye-yeong, 33, went to watch a movie with her 3-year-old son at Lotte Cinema’s Yeongdeungpo branch last month.
Her choice was the autumn romance “Gaeulo (Traces of Love).” It wasn’t the best choice to watch with her son, who did not stop running up and down the aisle throughout the film. But no one seemed to be disturbed as the screening room she chose was a “Mother and Baby” special, where only mothers with babies were allowed. Lotte Cinema is currently running the service every Tuesday in 14 of their branches, including Yeongdeungpo and Nowon.
At CGV Yatap in Bundang, theaters provide nursery rooms where staff baby-sit while mothers watch movies. At Primus’s Seomyun branch in Busan, a “Kids’ Cinema” is for children only and they are supervised by staff members.
There has also been more diversity in screening schedules of late. The earliest screening time was previously 11 a.m., but multiplex theaters are screening films as early as 8 a.m., while extending late night shows as well, some until 2 or 3 a.m.
Of course, the biggest change is the seats. New multiplex theaters now provide seats as wide as 92 centimeters (36 inches). A seat in an old single-screen art house in central Seoul was only 49 centimeters.
Some people miss their dried squid
Not everyone is happy with these new theaters, however. They might be comfortable ,but they limit the choice of films the audience can watch, critics say.
In the past, a theater downtown was usually the first to screen any new film. A few weeks later, a smaller theater would take the film as the bigger theater screened another new film. Later still, the film would move to smaller art house cinemas in smaller towns.
With the appearance of multiplex chains, major movies open at the same time nationwide. That benefits those who want to watch the movie immediately, but it is inevitable that certain films will monopolize the screens. For example, “The Host” was criticized for “hogging” all the theaters in Korea at the same time.
Some people say that they miss the old days when conventional theaters were more “friendly” toward moviegoers.
Most theaters no longer allow people to bring in their favorite snacks, such as roasted squid or roasted chestnuts, because of their pungent smell. The multiplex theaters say they now sell rather more pedestrian snacks in vacuum packs to reduce the odor.
Two popular Korean movies recently were “Samgeori Geukjang (Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater)” and “The Most Beautiful Week of My Life,” which both dealt with the old days of cinema. Apparently, there are people who are nostalgic for those times.
by Joo Jung-wan
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