Korea slashes local pic quota

Move allows U.S. pics to compete on a fairer basis

HONG KONG AND SEOUL — South Korea is to slash theatrical quotas for local pics in half, a move likely to boost the fortunes of U.S. pics in the world’s fifth biggest B.O. market.

MPAA prexy Dan Glickman applauded the decision. “We look forward to having the opportunity to bring more U.S. films to more Korean audiences and the opportunity to compete on a fairer basis with the growing Korean industry,” he said.

Quotas currently require movie theaters to show local pic for 146 days, which reps 40% of the year. Starting from July, this will be cut to 73 days, it emerged Thursday (Jan. 26). An official statement from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture is expected Friday (Jan. 27).

The quotas have come under significant pressure from other parts of the Korean government, notably the finance ministry, which is seeking to sign a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. in the coming year. American opposition to the quota system has been one of the final issues holding up trade talks.

“We support this choice for a myriad of reasons, with the foremost being that Korean films are now equally competitive as foreign ones. Another is the pressing need to embrace the global trade liberalization trend,” said finance minister Han Duck-soo in a weekly press conference.

Local film industry reaction is expected to be extremely angry. “The government’s move signifies a cultural coup d’etat,” said Yang Ki-hwan of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images.

“This is nonsense,” said filmmaker Chung Ji-young, the org’s co-chairman. “We will continue to fight this until the decision to weaken the quota is reversed.”

The CDMI, which for years has organized to support the quota system, has requested a meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun and plans to hold a major demo against the move Feb. 8.

The screen quota system was introduced in 1966, but it was only when import quotas were dropped in the late 1980s that the screen quotas became the local industry’s first line of defense against imports. In 1998, the Korean government announced its intention to reduce the quota but later backed down in the face of strong opposition from the local biz.

The issue has remained a constant source of controversy since then, however as local films entered a boom period from 2001 that has seen their market share climb to as high as 60%, the formerly near-unanimous support for the quota among the local populace has begun to wane.

Last year, South Korea overtook Germany to become one of the world’s top five box office territories, chasing the U.S., Japan, the U.K. and France. After its ninth consecutive year of growth, the Korean theatrical market closed 2005 with 143 million admissions and $890 million in receipts. Local pics grabbed 59% of the theatrical market.

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