Koreans go to the vault for B.O.

Older films like 'Sa-Kwa' finally get a chance

SEOUL — Thanks to a lackluster movie crop, older Korean films are finally getting their chance at the local box office — some several years after they were completed.

Helmer Kang Yi-kwan’s “Sa-Kwa” opened Oct. 16 through co-distributors Chungeorahm and Showbox, while helmer Bae Hyung-joon’s “Once Upon a Time in Seoul” will be released Nov. 6 by distributor Studio2.0.

“Sa-Kwa” wrapped in December 2004 and premiered in several international film festivals, but didn’t get a local theatrical release. Pic won the new screenwriter award at San Sebastian, and Fipresci Prize at Toronto in 2005.

The melodrama was originally skedded for a 2005 release, but was repeatedly delayed by distributor Showbox, which instead focused its efforts on helmer Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host.”

Produced by MK Pictures, “Once Upon a Time in Seoul” also wrapped at the end of 2006. Recalling megahit “Taegukgi,” which scored more than 10 million admissions in 2004, “Seoul” is the story of two boys who suffered during the Korean War.

According to sources, the production team had confidence in the pic’s box office potential when it was developed — even though it stars relatively unknown young actors.

But once the Korean Wave peaked, the pic was regarded as too risky and lacking in marketing hooks. MK Pictures instead concentrated on “Forever the Moment” — a hit earlier this year — and kept “Seoul” waiting. Originally called “Boys Don’t Cry,” pic has also been retitled and is now distributed locally and internationally by Studio2.0.

The older films are getting their chance as there is a scarcity of big local films this fall in South Korea.

“The total amount of investment and production in domestic industry has conspicuously decreased since last year. That is causing the shortage of local film for distributors,” said Lee Sang-moo, head of Korean film marketing and PR at CJ.

CJ this week releases romantic comedy “My Wife Got Married” and a low-budget independent feature “Summer Whispers.” Except for a period drama “Portrait of a Beauty” on Nov. 13, the company hasn’t confirmed distribution of any other local films until its in-house-produced romantic comedy “Lost and Found,” in mid-December.

Showbox also is desperately hoping that the industry’s fortunes will turn around. It is only planning to release only one local film, “Antique” on Nov. 13, before the end of this year. Helmer Yoo Ha’s epic movie “A Frozen Flower” had been set for the end of the year, but post-production procedures issues may change that.    

“There were too many local films considering the size of Korean market in the previous couple of years,” says Park Jin-wii, PR team chief of Showbox. “Now it’s time to adapt. The important thing is to distribute well-made quality pictures into the market, rather than volume or quantity.”