S. Korea tix tax to console filmmakers

Imposition likely to provoke strong opposition

SEOUL — South Korea’s ministry of culture and tourism has unveiled a five-year, $400 million film development fund, to be half-funded by a new 5% surcharge on film tickets.

The measure is a carrot to the local film industry in the wake of Thursday’s announcement that the number of days per year on which Korea’s exhibs must show local pics is being slashed from 146 to 73 days.

“The government will move beyond passive market protection to help the film industry emerge as a core export business,” said minister of culture and tourism Chung Dong-chea.

Nonetheless, the imposition of a new tax on admissions, set to go into effect from 2007, is likely to provoke strong opposition from local exhibitors and consumers, not to mention the Motion Picture Assn of America.

In 2003, a one-peso (10 cent) tax levied on film tickets in Mexico drew strong objections from the MPAA, with then-prexy Jack Valenti writing to Mexican president Vicente Fox in protest.

In Korea, a longstanding 6.5% tax on admissions to films and other cultural attractions was repealed in 2004 after the Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional. 

The ministry contends that it will structure the new tax to avoid any legal issues with the court, but public opinion and pressure from exhibitors could be a stronger deterrent.

The proposed fund is to be earmarked for a variety of projects, including support for independent film, tax breaks for film investment, improved working conditions for production crews, expansion of a nationwide chain of arthouse cinemas from 10 to 100 and the creation of a center for film export strategies and international co-productions.

The plans appear to have been made independently of the Korean Film Council (Kofic), which usually draws up film policy.

The screen quotas cut was also announced without involving Kofic, whose annual budget of $52 million (including $12 million for investment in film funds and $11.6 million for loans to filmmakers), is dwarfed by the new funds at $80 million a year.

Supporters of the screen quota lashed out against the ministry, calling for the resignation of culture minister Chung and vowing to press ahead with rallies against the quota reduction.

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