A proven formula: Bring movie stars to Korea, put people in seats

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A proven formula: Bring movie stars to Korea, put people in seats


Richard Gere / Brad Pitt / Tang Wei / Isabelle Huppert / Tom Cruise

Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Isabelle Huppert, Logan Lerman, Gong Li and Tang Wei were some of the big-name stars who visited Korea this year. As the year comes to an end, The Korea JoongAng Daily shares behind-the-scene episodes of some of these stars and how they affected box office sales in Korea.

In the sea of hundreds of new films that are released every year, the arrival of high-profile stars is, in fact, the most effective marketing strategy, according to industry officials.

“There are few things you can do [when promoting] foreign films unless the star comes to Korea,” said Gang Hyo-mi, team head at First Look, the promotion company that promoted “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”

“If the actors are not here, they can’t be featured in talk shows and interviews. But if they can come, it becomes a different story. Even before they arrive, you can draw more publicity than any other domestic film,” added Gang.

From the day of his arrival last Friday, about 1,200 articles about Tom Cruise were published online and offline by major and even budding newspapers in seven days.

Cruise’s sweet and gentle manner towards his Korean fans also brought him a new nickname “Kind Uncle Tom.” Unlike most Hollywood actors who are often hours late for official meetings, Cruise arrived at the red carpet event an hour earlier than scheduled.

It took him about 80 minutes to walk the red carpet as he took photos and shook hands with fans. The media and his fans were impressed by the actor. Now the public relations team and the film’s Korean distributor, CJ Entertainment, anxiously await the opening of the film on Dec. 15.

Another industry official from All That Cinema, which recently promoted the Hollywood film “Moneyball,” agrees with Gang.

“If a foreign star visits Korea, his or her every move is published by the local media in a short period of time, which brings intense marketing effects,” said the official who wanted to remain anonymous.

In order to promote “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt paid a visit to Korea last month. Because it was his first time here, Pitt and his new film were the most-searched keywords at major Web portals during his two-day stay.

Pitt’s visit was short but it worked. His baseball film topped the box office in the first week of its release last month.

Richard Gere also paid his first visit to Korea in June.

Although the actor no longer remains active in the film scene, his visit to Korea excited many of his fans who still remember him and Julia Roberts from the 1990 hit “Pretty Woman.”

Gere came to Seoul to promote his black-and-white photography exhibition documenting the suffering of Tibetans. Entitled “Pilgrim: Photographs by Richard Gere,” the long-time Buddhist and an advocate for Tibet shared his photos.

The press conference was held by a Korean exhibition organizer that asked reporters to refrain from asking political questions regarding Tibet, which resulted in soft questions from reporters like “What’s your secret to staying young at such an age?”

It turned out that the Korean organizer was trying too hard to protect its guest. Gere told reporters that he was willing to answer any political question when the press conference was nearing the end.

But the exhibition organizer abruptly put an end to the press conference, citing limited time.

It must have been a bitter press conference for Gere, who flew to Korea in hopes of raising awareness about Tibetans.

Even if actors from overseas make time to visit Seoul to promote films, not every foreign film becomes a box-office hit.

Chinese actress Tang Wei (“Lust, Caution” 2007) came to Seoul for the first time earlier this year to promote “Late Autumn,” where she paired up with Korean actor Hyun Bin.

The film, however, failed to become a hit but Tang Wei, who wasn’t well known to many Korean movie fans at the time, grabbed media attention with her sweet and down-to-earth manner.

The Chinese actress came to Seoul in February when Hyun had just finished his hit drama series “Secret Garden.” Due to the success of the drama, Hyun’s popularity was at its peak. In addition to that, he was about to join the Marine Corps.

Of course, the Korean actor was the center of the press conference but Tang Wei wasn’t worried about being overshadowed by her counterpart.

Rather she showed off with a phrase she practiced from Hyun’s “Secret Garden” when she said hi to the press and fans.

After her first visit, Tang Wei made a name for herself in Korea. She was featured in TV commercials, a sure-fire measure of popularity, and she also grabbed three awards with “Late Autumn” from Korean authoritative film festivals, including the best actress award from the Korean Association of Film Critics.

By Sung So-young [so@joongang.co.kr]
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