Screen monopoly debate is reignited

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Screen monopoly debate is reignited


Lately, the Korean film industry is enjoying great success. More than 100 million tickets to Korean movies are sold in a year, and two Korean movies - “Snowpiercer” and “The Terror Live” - are emerging as box office hits this summer, a period traditionally dominated by Hollywood blockbusters. “Snowpiercer” has mixed reviews, largely due to great expectations for the $38.7 million global project, but has proven the brand power of director Bong Joon-ho, famous for his 1996 thriller “The Host,” which sold 13 million tickets. The remarkable success of 33-year-old filmmaker Kim Byeong-woo’s “The Terror Live” also shows the discovery of a young, new talent.

Meanwhile, the film industry is swept up in a hot controversy. Early in spring, “Iron Man 3” and the Korean action comedy “Secretly, Greatly” led to a debate over the monopoly of big screens. Backed by major distributors, the two films took up 70 percent of all screens in Korea, taking away chances for smaller movies to be viewed.

Film industry insiders made a series of statements. Fifty-six film professors, including Seoul Institute of the Arts professor Kang Han-sub, called for legal regulations. The professors said that even in the United States, Hollywood blockbusters are played on only 20 percent of all screens. The Film Critics Association called for an immediate negotiation between the government and the film industry.

The internal debate over screen monopoly is interesting. A critic said that so-called progressive and leftist filmmakers are especially passive over screen monopoly. He argued that it is not just a self-contradiction but also proof that no producer, director or critic can survive when he is stigmatized by major distributors.

In fact, screen monopoly is an old issue. Also, it is a chicken-or-egg question originating from the gap between what is ideal and what is reality. While legal regulations are needed to secure the audience’s right to choose, theaters defend that they had to play movies according to demands. Of course, those who champion regulation claim that the “preference” of the audience is manipulated by the theaters.

In the end, the audience has the power. The consumers need to stand up. Independent documentary director Lee Sung-gyu wrote on his Facebook page: “If a supermarket sells instant noodles from only two makers, it would be a big issue. Media would have heavy coverage and consumer groups would issue statements. The same thing is happening in the film industry, and people are not responding. The Korean audience can only watch the movies that are selected by the capital. Why are we not resisting?”

In other words, a consumers’ movement is needed for movies. We need to show that the viewers’ fury over infringement of their rights to watch a variety of films is real, and that selection variety is not an empty slogan but a true right and desire of the consumers.

* The author is a deputy sports and culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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