SEOUL — It was an ambitious project, hoping to make both history and money, but the dream was very short-lived — seven days, to be exact.
South Korea’s Siori Entertainment produced “Arirang,” remake of 1926 classic about the suffering of Koreans during the Japanese Occupation, hoping for release in both North and South Korea, which have had little cultural exchange since they were divided after the 1950-53 Korean War.
It certainly made history. The film opened simultaneously in the two Koreas on May 30, showing in two theaters in the north and on 45 screens in the south. This was the first time a movie made in either country opened in both countries, let alone at the same time.
But money didn’t follow. Response was cold in the south, drawing little more than 5,000 viewers nationwide in the seven days it played. Reception was reportedly warmer in the north, though specific figures are not available and the showings were free.
“We simply did not have enough theaters willing to show this work, especially since it opened the same day as ‘Matrix 2.’ This proves that there is no room in Korea but for commercial films,” says Seo Ji-young, planning director at Siori.
“Arirang” is the latest remake of the classic by South Korean filmmaker Na Woon-gu, released in time for the 100th anniversary of the director’s birth this year.
In the tale, a young man, driven insane from torture by the Japanese, regains his sanity when a Japan sympathizer tries to rape his sister and commits murder, thereby losing his freedom forever.
The 2003 version by director Lee Doo-yong, first Korean director to compete in the Venice Film Festival, attempted to preserve much of the style of the original version while adding modern touches.
With such a poor turnout at the theaters, however, yet another dream may have burst: The filmmakers hoped the film’s success would be a springboard to launch a national movement to retrieve the original “Arirang” and other cinematic treasures.
“It is sad to think that even Koreans are shunning the classics that capture such integral parts of their history. We hope the film will receive more attention in upcoming foreign film festivals,” Siori president Lee Chul-min says.