Feature boosts struggling film market

SEOUL — Chinese-U.S. co-production “The Forbidden Kingdom” brought some fresh air to the struggling Korean box office last weekend.

The Jet Li-Jackie Chan starrer opened Thursday on 313 screens and topped the chart, grossing $2.6 million on 402,613 admissions.

The numbers are fair, but Chinese-themed, pan-Asian blockbusters have struggled to define a much-needed new paradigm. So far this year, four have been released in South Korea.

“Three Kingdoms,” which counts Korean production coin from Taewon Entertainment, has cumed a satisfactory, but not stellar, $6.38 million from nearly 1 million admissions after four weeks. Opened on April 9 and ranked at No. 6 in its first weekend, “An Empress and the Warriors” has grossed only $1.2 million to date for distributor CJ Entertainment.

“The Warlords” in January and “Assembly” in March ended with 380,000 and 700,000 admissions, respectively.

This trend may be worth noting for distributor Showbox, which has invested a substantial sum in John Woo’s upcoming “Red Cliff.” The mega-budget pic will be released across Asia in two parts, in late summer and in December.

Top financial daily Maeil Business said local critics blamed the sluggish perfs of Chinese blockbusters on similar casts and Sino nationalist themes that don’t resonate with Korean audiences.

After topping for two consecutive weeks, Liam Neeson starrer “Taken” slipped to No. 2 over the weekend, leaving the surprise hit with a $8.1 million cume for distributor Studio 2.0. Pic has showed consistently high advance ticket sales since its release and has surpassed 1.25 million admissions. 

Keanu Reeves starrer “Street Kings” ranked at No. 3 in its second weekend with a disappointing $1.4 million gross. The star came to Seoul to promote the film, but at a tense press conference, he struggled to explain the pic’s negative portrayal of Korean gangsters in L.A. in the film’s opening scenes.

Released on 171 screens by a new distributor, M-Plus, helmer Gregory Hoblit’s “Untraceable” ranked at No. 4 in its second weekend, grossing $1.07 million, while Rob Reiner’s “The Bucket List” at No. 5 continued to do steady business with $1.24 million to date.   

Without any strong domestic title to chase them off screens, Korean-made pics “GP506″ and “The Chaser” held on to seventh and eighth places, respectively. Released on the same day as “Three Kingdoms,” “GP506″ has now cumed $5.9 million. Still playing on 101 screens two months after release, “The Chaser” has run off with $32.2 million to date.

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