Financiers wary of local investment

'Tutor,' 'Murder,' 'Wild' only recent local hits

SEOUL — It was a generally disappointing first half for South Korea’s box office, with only four big local hits, two each from the country’s main distributors, CJ Entertainment and Cinema Service.

Romantic comedy “My Tutor Friend” (CJ) sold 5.1 million tickets, and currently running “Memories of Murder” (CJ) and “Wild Card” are expected to draw 5 million and 2 million moviegoers, respectively.

With investment funds already scarce after last year’s mega-failure “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl,” which flopped despite its then-record high budget of $8.5 million, the shrinking number of hits can only worry filmmakers.

Accordingly, experts say what happens in the second half could determine whether money will continue to flow into filmmaking. This is a particularly crucial time, as the country is debating whether to do away with its screen quota system. Local pics’ share in May hit a record-high 50.3%.

“While investors are certainly showing greater interest in quality films like ‘Memories of Murder’ and ‘Wild Card’ due to their high success, we will need to see a few more blockbusters in the second half to ensure continued investments in the field,” says Kim Jang-wook, director of Show East, an investment/distributor firm.

All eyes are on KangJeGyu Film’s still-shooting “Tae Guk Gi,” which will break budget records at close to $11 million. Scheduled to open early next year, the film, along with Cinema Service’s “Shilmi Island,” also is expected to help determine the fate of the local film industry, as yet another high-cost failure would dampen the investing spirit for a long time.

“We are very well aware of the risks of the film, but remain confident of its success given its quality content and high-profile actors,” says Cody Kim, marketing officer at KangJeGyu Film. The company also is preparing the eagerly awaited sequels to 1998 blockbuster “Shiri” and last year’s hit sex comedy “Wet Dreams.”