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South Korea

Locals upstage Hollywood hits

SEOUL — Local pics are continuing to rule the box office in South Korea, even outpacing the record pull of last year. But the topsy-turvy fluctuations of the local market are making projections difficult.

The year has been full of ups and downs in the world’s seventh-biggest territory. Homegrown fare grabbed an astounding 73% market share in the first quarter, and observers said there was no looking back.

Then the market share of local pics plummeted to 34% for June, the lowest figure in 22 months, and all of a sudden the summer belonged to Hollywood. Then, in August, the share shot back up to 59%, the best summer month for homegrown fare in five years.

Just what is going on in South Korea? Although the numbers seem to be all over the place, the overall picture is rosy for indie cinema. Through September, the market share of local pics stood at 58% and is likely to end the year the highest ever. In the first nine months, the local market also grew by 12% vs. the same period last year, maintaining a steep curve that has seen the nation’s total grosses nearly triple since 1998.

“I think the ups and downs should be seen as part of a natural tuning process for the film industry,” says Lewis Kim, head of international at Chungeorahm, a local distrib that handles only Korean films. “It’s usually just one or two big movies that are responsible for the erratic numbers.”

Meanwhile, an entertainment superpower is on the verge of emerging in the distrib scene, as CJ Entertainment acquired a 40% stake in major rival Cinema Service to become its second-largest shareholder. “The Big Three (CJ, Cinema Service and Showbox) that have dominated the local market will now shift to a competition between CJ and all the non-CJ companies,” one insider says.

The homevideo market in South Korea remains lackluster. The number of Korean films actually decreased this year, largely because of a reduction in straight-to-video pics. The DVD market also is struggling, with just 20% of households owning a DVD player. Many believe South Korea’s ubiquitous high-speed Internet access has negatively impacted DVD sales by making it easy to download movie files.

South Korea at a glance
B.O.: $582 million*
Top title: “Taegukgi” (Showbox, $55 million*)
Recent pickups:
“Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” (Daiwon C&A)
“If Only” (CJ Entertainment)
“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” (Taewon Entertainment)
“Super Size Me” (Tube Entertainment)
“21 Grams” (Hwain Prods.)

Titles at AFM
Rikidozan: Anticipated pic features one of South Korea’s most respected actors, Sol Kyung-gu (“Silmido”), as legendary Korean-Japanese wrestler Rikidozan, who became a national hero in Japan before getting murdered at a nightclub. Song Hae-sung, who helmed the 2001 cult favorite “Failan,” directs. (CJ Entertainment)
Some: Helmer Jang Yoon-hyun’s comeback effort after five years hews closely to the bloody thriller spirit of 1999’s “Tell Me Something,” but now the whole case must be solved in just 24 hours. (Cinema Service)
Springtime: Choi Min-shik, last seen as the loud-mouthed protagonist in “Old Boy,” shifts gears as a subdued country music teacher inspiring kids while finding his purpose in life. (Tube Ent.)

* through September 2004

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