Korean top spot spurs spat

Box office estimates include good news, bad news

Official 2006 box office figures for South Korea are not in yet, but some early estimates have provided a mixture of good news and controversy.

Leading distributors CJ Entertainment and Showbox are engaged in a public spat over which of the two firms stands at the top of distributor rankings.

On Jan. 4, CJ Entertainment cited a report by the Korean Film Council (Kofic) that gave it 30,563,462 admissions for the year, compared to 29,885,188 for Showbox.

Nonetheless on the following day, Showbox noted that five releases included in CJ’s total were in fact co-distributed by CJ and Cinema Service. Awarding 50% credit for such releases to CJ puts it at 29,882,398 admissions, a shade behind Showbox.

The Kofic report is based on its real-time database of ticket sales, which are linked to 91% of the nation’s screens. System is a work in progress, however, and is believed to skew figures toward certain types of releases. A more comprehensive report from Kofic is expected later this month.

One thing observers agree on is that 2006 appeared to offer an improved environment for arthouse and independent film. Leading multiplex chain CGV noted that its four screening halls devoted exclusively to arthouse and independent pics drew 305,000 admissions in 2006, a 37% rise over the previous year.

Six individual releases passed the 10,000 admissions mark on these four screens, compared to two in 2005. The six include two Japanese pics (“Maison de Himiko” and “Sway”), two Korean documentaries (“Between” and soccer doc “Bisang”), and two low-budget Korean films (Leesong Hee-il’s “No Regrets” and Kim Ki-duk’s “Time”).

CGV says it plans to add a fifth indie screen in the first half of this year.

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