SEOUL — The Korean film industry, led by the Korean Film Commission (Kofic), is working to save the local art film industry, fueled by a sense of urgency after several critically praised movies flopped in cinemas last year.
The commission began accepting applications Sept. 9 from movie theaters looking to receive low-interest loans and financial breaks if they show art films. The applicants need to operate at least seven theaters in major cities.
According to the program, the theaters willing to give Korean art movies a minimum 40% and foreign art movies 20% of their annual schedule will be eligible for loans of up to about $11.67 million at a yearly interest rate of only 1%.
This would be in addition to the 6.5% refund of the culture and arts promotion fund levied on movie theaters.
“We have realized that there is a serious shortage of theaters that are willing to show the less-commercial movies. We are hoping to designate at least seven art film cinemas in every large city within the year through this program,” says a film commish official.
Though the commission will not say how may applications it has received so far, industry sources guess that the silence is certain proof of a poor turnout.
In pointing out problems with Kofic’s plan, critics note that even with the financial incentives, owners are not sufficiently compensated for losses when an art film bomb at the box office.
For example, “Raybang,” a dark comedy about the seedy side of society seen through the eyes of a taxi driver, earned unanimous praise for its social awareness and artistic craft. But after opening in 28 theaters, it was pulled after only two days. Total admissions were 3,700.
Three other highly acclaimed flops — “Waikiki Brothers,” “Nabi” (Butterfly) and “Take Care of My Cat” — spurred the small population of art movie buffs and critics to action.
While the average number of viewers for Korean movies last year was 1.2 million apiece, officials say art films’ market share so far this year is about 2%, a significant decrease from last year’s 18%.
Yet another obvious problem is the shortage of art films, meaning it will be difficult to fill the required quota being required by the commission. More 60 Korean movies are produced on average each year, but only a small number are categorized as art movies.
“If we really want to help the art film industry, we will have to offer more than just the exclusive theaters. We should arrange financial support of the production side,” says Yoo Chang-seo of the Korean Assn. of Film Art and Industry.
If worst comes to worst, the commission says it may seek contracts with individual theaters and compensate them for any monetary losses. The commission has 700 million won ($573,000) in its budget available for such use.