Korean box office gets boost

'May 18' opens to $10.1 million

South Korean cinema received a much-needed shot in the arm this weekend as CJ Entertainment’s big-budget “May 18” opened to $10.1 million – a massive result equivalent to a $60 million B.O. in the U.S.

With generally positive word of mouth, pic seems a good bet to become the first blockbuster hit in what has been a disappointing year for local films. Five-day opening tally, estimated by the distributor at 1.45 million admissions, narrowly beat out CJ’s own “Voice of a Murderer” (1.41 million) for Korean cinema’s strongest opening of the year.

Pic easily topped “Live Free or Die Hard” in its second frame, as well as “Ratatouille” in its first, to take No. 1.

Directed by Kim Ji-hoon, “May 18” is based on a real-life pro-democracy uprising in the city of Gwangju in 1980 in which perhaps thousands of civilians were killed by soldiers sent in by the authoritarian government.

Given its poor track record in big-budget ($10 million-plus) productions over the past couple years, CJ Entertainment was said to be facing an internal shakeup in the event that “May 18” failed to perform.

But with market share for local films dipping to a six-year low of 41%, even rival companies have been hoping for CJ to score a hit to reassure nervous investors.

Meanwhile, rival studio Showbox is preparing to go wide with its own do-or-die project, “D-War,” on Wednesday.

English-language pic starring Jason Behr and concerning a giant serpent that smashes up Los Angeles has been the subject of an unprecedented media blitz. Director-comedian Shim Hyung-rae has staked his reputation on film’s U.S. bow on Sept. 14 via Freestyle Releasing.

Any failure to recoup pic’s stated $35 million budget (at one time pegged at $70 million, including start up costs for f/x company Younggu Art) could have dire consequences for Showbox, which has been one of the most active investors in local films over the past few years.

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