After 10 years of unbroken growth, Korea’s theatrical market has finally leveled off in 2007, causing furrowed brows among the nation’s indie distributors. Although Hollywood studio arms are enjoying a strong year, the market share of local films has declined from 60% to 50%, and this is reflected in distributor rankings. CJ Entertainment stands head and shoulders above the rest, with a strong local lineup and a distribution deal with Paramount, giving it a 29% share.
Rival Showbox scored big with local hit “D-War,” the highest-grossing film of the year, but other releases have disappointed. Cinema Service also has seen many of its big-budget local releases flounder. Overall, theatrical box office to the end of August stood at about $750 million, roughly 4% below last year’s record-breaking run. Several new players are set to enter the fray, however. In July, production house Chungeorahm resurrected its long-dormant distribution arm in partnership with investor M&FC, while top producer Sidus FNH is planning to start distributing its own films beginning in November. A bigger wild card is massive SK Telecom, which is prepping a move into film investment and distribution starting next year.
Topper: Kim Joo-sung
B.O.: $227 million (Seoul market share 29%)
Top pic: “Transformers” ($51 million)
In brief: With 28 releases, CJ Entertainment has been by far the most active distributor of 2007 and has netted the second and third best grossing films of the year in “Transformers” and big-budget local hit “May 18” ($50 million).
Latter film’s strong performance came as a relief to many in the company, given a string of expensive box office disappointments in the past few years. Deal with Paramount, sealed last December, and its continued good relationship with DreamWorks (CJ is a former shareholder) gives distrib a lineup that no one is expected to match anytime soon.
Topper: Kim Woo-taek
B.O.: $128 million (Seoul market share 14%)
Top pic: “D-War” ($57.8 million)
In brief: Showbox has shown a knack for breakout hits, boasting the top grosser 2004-06 and also year to date (English-language monster film “D-War”). Nonetheless this has been a transition year, as company sold its exhibition chain Megabox and shifted resources and staff to new production arm Motion 101, which will release its first films in late 2008.
Topper: Kim In-soo, Kang Woo-suk
B.O.: $53 million (Seoul market share 7.2%)
Top pic: “A Day for an Affair” ($12.9 million)
In brief: Cinema Service has the most ambitious local lineup of any indie in 2007, but the flop of big-budget “Hwang jin yi” and the weak performance of midsized works like “Soo” and “My Son” have dulled company’s shine. Next six months will be crucial, with more big-budget works like the $10 million “Shin ki jeon” set to hit screens.
Topper: Kim Kwang-seop
B.O.: $52 million (Seoul market share 6.7%)
Top pic: “Unstoppable Marriage” ($9 million)
In brief: After several years, well-backed conglomerate is still trying to reach its potential, as none of the 14 films released to the end of August caught fire. Local pic “The Show Must Go On” hoped to do much better than the $7 million it eventually took in, though import “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” which earned the same amount, was considered a pleasant surprise.
Topper: Lee Eun, Kang Je-gyu
B.O.: $17 million (Seoul market share 2.3%)
Top pic: “Paradise Murdered” $15.3 million
In brief: With only four releases in 2007 and sale to a consortium led by regional broadcaster Kangwon TV, MK Pictures’ future as an influential distributor remains in doubt. Company still has several high-profile local titles in the pipeline including Korean War massacre pic “The Bridge at Nogunri.”
Topper: Kim Seung-beom
B.O.: $17 million (Seoul market share 2.2%)
Top pic: “Highway Star,” $11.1 million
In brief: It’s been a quiet year for Studio 2.0 with only seven releases, headed by local comedy “Highway Star” and critics favorite “Epitaph” ($4 million). Company is one of several firms that engineered a stock market listing in the boom years of 2005-06.
Topper: Kim Sang-il
B.O.: $13 million
Top pic: “The Evil Twin” ($2.8 million)
In brief: The 13 releases in the year to date have been unlucky for Prime, with none even qualifying as a midlevel hit. Kim Sang-il, the respected former head of BVI’s Korea branch, took charge of the company in April but has yet to turn things around. Distrib is part of a massive construction conglomerate.
Note: 2007 B.O. through Aug. 31