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Bringing Korean Films back to Korean Theaters

Bringing Korean Films back to Korean Theaters

Korean cinema is lagging behind Hollywood and Japanese titles which have continued high records at the local box office in the first quarter of 2023. The number one and two films in February were Japanese anime "The First Slam Dunk" and Marvel superhero film "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania." They racked up ticket sales while homegrown films failed to break even.

According to the Korean Film Council's (KOFIC) monthly report on the local film industry, Korean films accounted for 19.8 percent of total box office sales last month at 13.4 billion won ($10.3 million). That is the lowest level since KOFIC started compiling data in 2004. By contrast, foreign films posted stronger performances, posting 55.6 million won in sales.

One notable factor in the poor Korean score was the lack of hit films, along with changing audience tastes, fragmentation in viewership between theaters and streaming services and expensive ticket prices. Much anticipated films like "The Point Men" and "Phantom" flopped at the box office, only attracting 1.72 million and 660,000 moviegoers, respectively.

The local movies slated for April are expected to perform relatively weakly. "April is usually a low season in the local theater industry, and many studios are delaying releases due to the poor performances of local films at the box office since the Lunar New Year holidays. Overall, the film industry is dying as movie attendance is declining," the Korea Cinema Industry Association official said.

While there may not be many big hit films in theaters over the next few weeks, all eyes, with nowhere else to look, are currently on April releases.

The sports drama film "Rebound" opens on April 5. Directed by Jang Hang-jun, the film follows enthusiastic basketball coach Kang Yang-hyun (Ahn Jae-hong) as he tries to rally a struggling team. It is penned by Kim Eun-hee and Kwon Sung-hui, who wrote the Netflix series "Kingdom" and "Narco-Saints," respectively.

The comedy film "Killing Romance," starring Lee Sun-kyun and Lee Ha-nee, revolves around a retired actress named Yeo-rae who marries a chaebol family member named Jonathan and meets her avid fan Beon-woo who lives next door to her. 

Sports drama film "Dream" is directed by Lee Byeong-heon, whose previous film "Extreme Job" surpassed the 10 billion mark. It tells the story of a former football coach training a team of homeless people to compete in the Homeless World Cup. Park Seo-joon and Lee Ji-eun, also known as IU, star as leads.

Recently, three major multiplexes ― CGV, Lotte Cinema and Megabox ― announced they will support homegrown films with the aim of reviving the film industry. They will subsidize distributors of three films ― "Rebound," "Killing Romance" and "Dream" ― at 2,000 won per audience member in April.

"We will continue to support homegrown films so that more viewers will return to cinemas and watch local films. We are also desperately in need of government aid," the Korea Cinema Industry Association official said.


Source: Kwak Yeon-soo, The Korea Times, 2023 

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