Korean films rocket toward record box office numbers

Domestic films are set to break the 100-million mark in attendance since January this year by next month, according to the state-run Korean Film Council.

Local films exceeded the 100 million-viewer mark for the first time in November 2012. The milestone meant Koreans saw at least two local films on average last year.

A new box office record is about to be set, beating last year's performance by almost three months. In the month of August alone ― from Aug. 1 to 25 ― Korean films drew 24.36 million viewers to local theatres.

A number of hit films contributed to this month's box office success, including Bong Joon-ho's blockbuster "Snowpiercer." The dystopian sci-fi flick, starring Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris, has drawn 8.8 million viewers since its release on Aug. 1.

Emerging director Kim Byung-woo's disaster thriller "The Terror Live," starring Ha Jung-woo, has drawn 5.4 million viewers. Meanwhile, "Hide and Seek," another thriller also directed by rookie filmmaker Huh Jung, has attracted 4.07 million. "The Flu," a pandemic thriller by Kim Seong-soo, was seen by 2.7 million. The market share of locally produced films this month reached 78.4 per cent.

The 24.36 million-viewer record beats the one set in February, which stood at 18.09 million viewers with the popularity of Ryu Seung-wan's star-studded North Korean spy flick "The Berlin File" and tearjerker drama "Miracle in Cell No. 7."

The number of domestic film releases has been increasing as well in the past four years. In 2009, a total of 118 Korean films were released, 140 in 2010, 150 in 2011 and 175 in 2012. As of August, a total of 98 local movies have hit theatres so far this year.

The Korean movie industry also enjoyed significant success away from the box office last year. Director Kim Ki-duk won the Golden Lion Award for his bleak morality tale "Pieta" at the Venice Film Festival, becoming the first Korean filmmaker to win the honour. Domestic films' market share hit 59 per cent as well, up 7 percentage points from the previous year.

This year's local movie lineup included movies by the country's most prominent directors, including Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon and Bong Joon-ho.

Park and Kim made their Hollywood debuts this year, Park with the psychological thriller "Stoker" and Kim with the action flick "The Last Stand." Bong's "Snowpiercer," co-produced by Korea's CJ Entertainment and Park Chan-wook among others, is the most expensive film in Korean movie history.

Korean films, both commercial and independent, were also diverse in genres and style, appealing to a wide spectrum of viewers. Jang Cheol-soo's hit film "Secretly Greatly," for one, was based on the popular 2010 webtoon series "Convertness" by artist HUN.

The film, starring national heartthrob Kim Soo-hyun as an attractive North Korean spy disguised as an intellectually disabled person in South Korea, was especially popular among the young viewers. Another hit film "Cold Eyes" was about a group of detectives specialising in surveillance of high profile criminals. Independent movie "Pluto," which critically deals with Korea's competition-oriented education system, also received positive reviews from the audience and the press.

Rookie directors Huh Jung and Kim Byung-woo also produced unexpected hits with their highly successful thrillers "Hide and Seek" and "The Terror Live."

"The number of movie theatres did not increase much compared to the year before, so it's not the venues," said Kim Young-gi from the Korean Film Council. "So I'd have to say the box office success of domestic movies really has to do with their substance and quality. I think a lot of great, quality movies came out this year and the audience took notice of them."

The local press and industry insiders predict that the films could even reach the 200 million mark by the end of this year, as a number of highly anticipated films are still to be released, including "The Spy" which co-stars Sol Kyung-gu, Moon So-ri and Daniel Henney, and "The Face Reader" which stars some of the country's biggest stars including Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae and Song Kang-ho.

Hong Sang-soo's latest work "Our Sunhi" and Kim Ki-duk's controversial drama "Moebius" are set to be released in September as well.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)