Scandalous period hit breaks records

'Untold' pic unfolds on records amount of screens

SEOUL — A playboy with charisma irresistible to women and a conscience that doesn’t acknowledge guilt, a sexy seductress who manipulates lovers like a game of chess, and a moral beauty who becomes an unwitting victim of their vicious game.

Though the Hollywood audience has long been familiar with the pics based on the French classic “Dangerous Liaisons” and update “Cruel Intentions,” Koreans were enthralled when their own version opened Oct. 2.

“Untold Scandals,” produced by BOM Film Prod. and distributed by CJ Entertainment, unspooled on a record 260 screens its opening weeked (Oct. 2-5), attracting 1.125 million filmgoers and boasting the highest ticket reservation rate.

Now the local film industry is wondering if the hit will become the B.O. chart leader of the year, beating “Memories of Murder,” which had 5.4 million admissions totaling $27 million.

In its fourth week, “Scandals’ ” national take reached $2.8 million on 222 screens.

Until now, Korean historical dramas told quaint folk tales or covered the power struggles for kingship in the royal palace. “Untold,” however, explores the lifestyles of the nobility of the 18th century Chosun dynasty, whose members were accustomed to extravagance in both fashion and amorous rendezvous.

“I wanted to tell the story of the elite of the popular period, but from a different perspective and through spectacularly beautiful visuals,” says director Lee J-yong. He spent almost 40% of the $4.2 million budget on visuals, producing a colorful picture filled with scrumptious traditional costumes and rich sets.

The pic’s success must also hinge on its star-studded cast, featuring heartthrob Bae Yong-jun, veteran Lee Mi-sook and one of the most in-demand actresses Jeon Do-yeon.

“I think one of the reasons the picture is so popular is that, though set in conservative Chosun period, the story does not feel archaic, but current and sophisticated. The main characters are the progressives of their era, the next-generation of the Chosun dynasty, who live by their own rules,” explains June Lee of CJ’s international marketing team.

Meanwhile, the success of the film virtually guarantees CJ Entertainment the top slot this year.

“We knew we could take the market with just the upcoming films ‘The Greatest Expectation’ (due Oct. 24), ‘Romantic Killers’ (Dec. 5) and the conclusion of ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but the unexpected success of ‘Scandal’ basically seals our victory,” according to Kang Won-sook, CJ’s film production and finance manager.

CJ’s “My Tutor Friend” dominated the first quarter with 4.83 million admissions, and “Memories of Murder” topped the second quarter with 5.3 million. CJ expects “Lord of the Rings” to sell a minimum of 5 million tickets this December.