Mid-Budget Film Gives Hope to Local Cinema

January 23, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Posted in Movies | Leave a comment
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The South Korean film industry had already been staggering for over two years and was hit especially hard by the global economic crisis. But the 2009 season begins hopefully, as “Scandal Makers,” a mid-budget film, continues to top the box office for a whopping seventh week and signals positive market trends.

As of Wednesday, the family comedy has attracted over 6.59 million viewers since its release Dec. 3, according to Lotte Entertainment. It is expected to sell more tickets over the Seollal (Lunar New Year) holiday, and perhaps break the 6.62 million record for domestic comedies set by “200-Pound Beauty” in 2006.

The feat, in terms of numbers, may not seem big when compared to homegrown blockbusters that brought in over 10 million viewers. But “Scandal Makers” points to something significant: first, it is a smaller franchise starring familiar faces rather than superstars, being thus an unexpected hit with a snowballing effect like the 2005 dark horse “King and the Clown.” Second, it signals market trends that are expected to endure.

“Scandal Makers” is about a star DJ (played by funnyman Cha Tae-hyun) that must face unforeseen consequences of his adolescent philandering when he discovers that he already has a daughter and a grandson at the age of 30. This past weekend (Jan. 17-18), the low-key film reclaimed the top box office spot in three weeks, beating the big budget epic “A Frozen Flower” starring superstars Jo In-sung and Joo Jin-mo.

This indicates how star power does not guarantee success. Even Hollywood imports starring top stars like Keanu Reeves failed to attract a sizeable audience last year. One of the latest problems with the Korean film industry, many critics pointed out, was that it tried to win viewers with the same formula that worked for films like “Silmido” _ big actors, big budget and intense action. The success of “Scandal Makers” and other such films encourage filmmakers to become more creative again.

Like past Korean blockbusters, “Scandal Makers” enjoyed a popularity that went up with time rather than making a one-weekend hit as new releases often do. It climbed up the box office ladder and ranked first for four consecutive weeks. The success was mostly due to word of mouth, and moviegoers, becoming increasingly diverse in demographics, flocked to theaters even on weekdays according to major movie portal site Maxmovie.com. Ticket sales, despite having dipped, naturally, due to new releases, remains strong. With no major domestic contenders opening for Seollal, sales are expected to continue.

This is great news for the industry, as it signals the return of movies that have an enduring presence in the box office. What does this mean for local cinema at large?

The past couple of years were like the Great Depression for Korean cinema, with production cut to half, investment dwindling and pirating up. “The Korean film market couldn’t get any worse, and many said it hit rock bottom,” Yoo Hyeong-jin, a researcher at the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) told The Korea Times. Last year, the number of moviegoers was also quite low, for both domestic and foreign films.

But the latter half of 2008 gave reason to hope, with mid-size franchises like “Portrait of a Beauty” fairing well in theaters. Year-end records are particularly important, said Yoo, since they set the foundation for the following season.

The bad economy also proved to have some positive effects as well. “Producers and actors were more careful about making films, and chose scripts with the utmost care,” said the KOFIC researcher, suggesting that quality made up for quantity. Because of limited resources, mid-budget movies that pose lower risks have returned. “Scandal Makers” is one such example.

“There was also a lot of inflation in the industry, and with the crisis star actors have voluntarily cut down their salaries,” said Yoo. One instance is Kwon Sang-woo, who invested his entire paycheck into the upcoming film “More Than Blue” (working title “A Sad Story”). The government has also stepped up, providing not only funds to support filmmaking but guarantee systems as well.

However, one must not overlook the fact that many skilled filmmaking staff have lost their jobs, and the pool of professional cineastes that had just begun to emerge is at risk. Nevertheless, “`Scandal Makers” opens 2009 on a bright note, and the positive trend is expected to continue with anticipated blockbusters like “Marine Boy,” coming to theaters Feb. 5.

“Scandal Makers” will make it across the Pacific to be screened in Los Angeles, Jan. 28, said Lotte Entertainment. The screening will take place with English subtitles at 8 p.m. (local time) in the multiplex theater Mpark-4. Members of the local Korean community, embassy, chamber of commerce and industry and Veterans Association as well as Hollywood producers and buyers will attend the screening.

Source: Korea Times
Credit: seoulfull.wordpress.com

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