A new milestoneThe movie “Ode to My Father” became the 11th Korean blockbuster to exceed the 10 million admissions mark at local movie theaters as of Jan. 13. The Busan-based movie drew mixed reviews and raised controversy about political implications, but the audience was unfazed. Viewers were more drawn by the plot - an epic family story spanning tumultuous times during Korea’s modernization when the country achieved its rags-to-riches miracle. Director Yoon Je-kyun has been deemed a blockbuster moviemaker - his 2009 natural disaster film “Haeundae” also drew in more than 10 million viewers.
“Ode to My Father” also set a new record. It became the first blockbuster - with a budget of 14 billion won ($12.9 million) - to be made based on a standard labor contract with the crew. Under the contract, workers could not work for more than 12 hours a day. They were given overtime pay and a full day off once a week.
The cultural, arts and entertainment fields have so far ignored labor laws and regulations. People in the arts have often been deprived of minimum rights. Young staff members are rarely paid for their hard labor while the other side argues that they get the privilege of gaining experience in the field. Their bosses exploit them. Because such a tradition is so deeply rooted, the novices have to suffer without any question. Aspiring young scriptwriters starve and talented creators have to give up their dreams to earn bread for their families.
After a long campaign, the movie-making industry finally saw the first film made based on a standard labor contract, “Venus Talk” in 2013. But “Ode” went even further. The contract was used from the planning stage and all throughout the film-making process. Even the film’s youngest crew member had to sign it. Bonuses will be distributed equally to the entire staff after the movie set the audience record.
Yoon said production costs rose by 300 million won because of the contracts but that people worked harder and more willingly, which ended up elevating the quality of the work.
The film’s distributor, CJ E&M, said it has been applying the system to all the films it produces since August. Such a system should catch on in other fields - TV, drama, stage performance, animation and the fashion industry. We often credit Korean brand power to Hallyu - the popularity of Korean content overseas. But Hallyu cannot be kept alive unless the hard work behind it is rightly rewarded and protected.JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 14, Page 30