‘How are Korean cinemas doing?’

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‘How are Korean cinemas doing?’

The author is a deputy editor of the popular culture team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Are movie theaters in North America and Europe waking up after three-month closures due to Covivd-19? Cineworld Group, the second largest cinema chain in the world, is to reopen starting next week. CEO Mooky Greidinger said, “We are thrilled to be back” in a statement on June 16 announcing reopening in 10 countries, starting with the Czech Republic and Slovakia on June 26 and the United States and the United Kingdom on July 10.

Of course, theaters are to follow disease control guidelines in each country. AMC, the biggest theater chain in the world, is to reopen next month, in time for the releases of major Hollywood projects like Mulan, Wonder Woman 1984 and Tenet.

It is a strange “thrill” as theaters never closed completely in Korea. In other words, Korea is the only country where the box office is tallied and new releases are screened, despite massive drop in ticket sales. The theater industry and the Korea Film Council (KFC) distributed 6,000 won ($5) discount tickets, but the total number of viewers over last weekend was only 500,000 nationwide.

“How’s Korea doing? Is it safe to open theaters?” The international exchange team at the KFC is often asked these questions during online meetings with other countries.

Recently, Singapore and Malaysia showed interests and asked about reopening theaters. “They are also curious about viewers’ responses and actual effect of antibacterial films,” said a CGV employee about responses from India.

According to foreign media, Cineworld and AMC announced hygienic guidelines such as seat reservation with distancing and the use of masks as they prepare for reopening. While I am not sure whether they took a cue from Korean cinemas, no other country presented disease control measures beyond Korea as far as I know.

“We don’t know, but we just can’t leave the industry to die,” industry insiders lamented when asked about safety. Some say, “It is no time to enjoy culture,” but it is about life for the people in the industry. Last month, a KFC report showed that when theater revenue drastically declined due to Covid-19, about 20,000 of the 30,000 film industry workers have become exposed to the risk of unemployment this year.

Consumption in retail stores and restaurants around multiplex cinemas is also affected. While it is hard to make a simple comparison, some theaters were open even during the Korean War, and new films were produced. The world is watching the careful path that the Korean film industry is taking amid the unprecedented war against Covid-19.
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