Global Box Office Report: South Korea

Local faves seize movie crown

South Korea is the prime example of a market in which Hollywood kingpins have lost their crowns to local films. Latter will rep 61% of total grosses compared to 34% for U.S. films.

Theatrical receipts in 2006 were boosted by two record-breakers: gay-themed period drama “King and the Clown,” which took $84 million after being released on Dec. 29, 2005; and monster movie “The Host,” which pulled in $90 million after its July 27 release.

The contrasts between the two — a drama based on local history vs. an innovative effects-heavy genre film — point to Korean cinema’s success in a diversity of styles. Other strong local performers include gambling film “Tazza: The High Rollers” with $47 million and comedy sequel “My Boss, My Teacher” with $42 million.

With admissions turning in their 10th consecutive year of growth (up 7% in the year through November) — and the Korean won strengthening against the dollar — overall B.O. will likely squeak past the $1 billion admissions mark.

Last year, the theatrical market peaked at $890 million, passing Germany for the first time.

Despite a disappointing cume in some parts of the world, “Mission: Impossible 3” ranked first among Hollywood imports with $40 million, followed by BVI’s “Pirates” at $32 million and “Da Vinci Code” at $23 million.

These three — the only U.S. titles to crack the year’s top 10 — accounted for 33% of admissions garnered by the five locally operating Hollywood distribs to the end of November.

Only nine Hollywood films passed $7 million (1 million admissions), compared to 24 Korean films — although “Happy Feet” and “Casino Royale,” both released Dec. 21, look to have strong potential.

Hollywood also hit some embarrassing lows, accounting for only 5% of the market in September (compared to 83% for Korean and 7% for Japanese films), and 13% in October (compared to 83% for Korean films).

So, has Hollywood benefited or suffered from the boom in Korean cinema? Over the past decade, total B.O. has risen from 42 million admissions to 143 million.

Factoring out local films, imports have also seen a gradual rise in ticket sales, from 42 million admissions in 2000 to 59 million in 2005.

Nonetheless, the profits of Hollywood branch offices in Korea have stagnated as the cost of releasing films has shot up. More significantly, Korea’s DVD market has shrunk one-third since 2001.

This has led many companies to rethink their presence in Korea.

Sony and BVI merged their theatrical distribution operations in late fall; UIP will split effective Jan. 1, with Universal launching its own Korean operations and Paramount releasing its titles through local player CJ Entertainment. On the DVD front, U signed its releases over to Sony in April, Par teamed with CJ in June and Fox pacted with local company Bitwin in December.

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Main story: Hollywood vs. home movies