‘Handball’ scores top spot in Korea

Yim film based on women's Olympic team

SEOUL — Korean cinema has produced its first hit of 2008 in “Women’s Team Handball,” a sports pic from femme helmer Yim Soon-rye.

Based on the story of the Korean team that competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics, pic bowed at No. 1, earning $5.3 million in its opening weekend thanks to strong word of mouth. With its release expanding from 410 to 440 prints over the weekend, new distributor Sidus is predicting a lengthy run.

“Handball” is produced by MK Pictures, which last year transferred ownership to a consortium headed by regional broadcaster Kangwon TV. With MK having shuttered its international sales division, pic is repped internationally by Hong Kong-based Golden Network.

Hefty box office returns are a change of pace for director Yim, a favorite among local critics for arthouse works “Three Friends” (1996) and “Waikiki Brothers” (2001). Moon So-ri and Kim Jung-eun headline the ensemble cast.

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Performing almost as well was urban pickpocketing drama “Open City” with $3.8 million on 358 screens to take the No. 2 slot. Featuring Son Ye-jin in her first turn as a femme fatale, pic is released by CJ Entertainment.

Hollywood films dominate the rest of the chart, with “The Golden Compass” taking a hefty $20.7 million in four weeks and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” passing the $12 million mark.