You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

AFM: Korean Film Biz Bounces Back

This has been a year of local domestic success stories. All that’s missing is an international blockbuster

Things are looking up for Korean cinema, which has emerged stronger and more energetic after a weak patch that lasted from 2007 to 2010. In those four years, local films lost ground at the Korean box office and exports tumbled.

Some filmmakers were quick to blame the halving of South Korea’s “screen quotas” scheme. But with hindsight, the protective system that regulated the number of days Korean films must be shown in cinemas seems less to blame than the fact that directors risked too much on high budgets and paid too little attention to understanding their auds.

The problem reached its peak in 2010-11 when too many Korean films attempted to outgun Hollywood vfx movies and flopped at the box office, while at the same time several more modestly budgeted local stories surpassed the 2 million ticket sales that generally defines a hit in South Korea.

That lesson appears to have been learned and the results have been on-screen in 2013. This year has seen a succession of local stories that emerged from indie roots (“The Terror: Live”), films made by first- or second-time directors (“Hide and Seek”) and pics that became hits without recognizable stars.

Historical dramas, notably “The Face Reader,” (pictured) with a $61 million B.O., and last year’s “Masquerade” defied their familiar genre credentials through production quality and bravura scripting and performances.

While nobody has yet topped mighty CJ Entertainment, the vertically integrated group that’s the market’s distribution leader, the new order has caused a shake-up.

Hollywood studios and their movies were pushed into deep second place, taking a 39% B.O. share. That figure falls to only 24% when the Hollywood films sub-distributed, acquired or co-financed by CJ and its biggest rival Lotte are stripped out.

And 6-year-old distributor Next Entertainment World, which unlike Lotte and CJ can’t lean on an exhibition chain, confirmed its status as the smartest kid on the block. Not only is it this year’s No. 2 distributor, but it also achieved that status with films by new directors and budgets that were mostly kept under $5 million.

Success, however, has its limits.

International sales, for example, have yet to return to the bonanza heights enjoyed by the first Korean wave in the past decade. When Korean movies — especially star-driven melodramas — were a new taste for foreign audiences, Japanese distribs were known to pay as much for single territory rights as the film’s production budget. Similarly, distributors in the big European territories swept up films that they thought could do theatrical biz. But when mass audiences failed to respond sales slipped and are only now recovering.

In other ways too, the Korean film industry is trying to redefine itself as an international player. Top filmmakers such as Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon have each now delivered debut films in English — with different degrees of success.

The film production and exhibition divisions of CJ and Lotte are playing corporate catch-up with their parent companies’ pre-existing overseas forays. The two are already the No. 1 and No. 2 exhibitors in Vietnam, and both have their sights set firmly on Indonesia. And China exhibition expansion is on the cards for Lotte and Megabox following CJ-CGV’s substantial outreach.

CJ and Showbox are both producing in China, expanding on the popularity of Korean talent and accessing a far larger market than small, saturated South Korea. It’s still early, but “Wedding Invitation” has met with success; results are uneven for “Mr. Go.”

All eyes are now on “Snowpiercer.” It may be too much to expect that it will succeed in every market, but one thing that would help define South Korea’s new era is a genuine global blockbuster.

More Biz

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Signs of Solidarity and Strain Emerge as Week 2 of WGA-Talent Agency Standoff Begins

    Hundreds of WGA members rallied solidly behind their union last week as the industry grappled with uncertainties spurred by the sudden break between writers and their talent agency representatives. But as the standoff heads into its second week, signs of strain among some WGA members are beginning to emerge. Shalom Auslander, author and creator of [...]

  • Woodstock 50 Festival Postpones Ticket On-Sale

    Woodstock 50 Festival Postpones Ticket On-Sale Date

    UPDATED: The troubled Woodstock 50 festival has run into more difficulties, as multiple sources told Variety late Friday that the April 22 on-sale date for the event has been postponed. Agents for artists scheduled to perform at the festival — which include Jay-Z, Dead & Company, Chance the Rapper, Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons and Halsey [...]

  • National Enquirer - Jeff Bezos

    Hudson Media CEO James Cohen Purchases the National Enquirer

    Hudson Media’s CEO James Cohen announced Thursday that he will purchase the National Enquirer as well as American Media’s other tabloids, the Globe and the National Examiner. With the purchase of the National Enquirer, which Cohen reportedly bought for $100 million, he plans to strengthen their collaborative efforts, documentary shows, weekly podcasts, and theme parks. [...]

  • Amazon

    Amazon Music’s Free Tier Is More Advertising Play Than Spotify Killer, Analysts Say

    When news began to spread last week that Amazon Music’s long-anticipated free streaming tier was imminent, headlines emerged about its threat to Spotify and Apple Music, with some stories saying that Spotify’s stock price dropped in response to the news. But not only was today’s launch of the free tier basically a soft one — [...]

  • Nicki MinajCFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Dinner,

    Nicki Minaj Parts Ways With Longtime Managers (EXCLUSIVE)

    Nicki Minaj has parted ways with Gee Roberson and Cortez Bryant and Blueprint/ Maverick Management, a source close to the situation confirms to Variety. She had worked with the pair for the majority of her career. The source says the decision was mutual and amicable, and there was no specific reason for the split, adding [...]

  • Amazon

    Amazon Music Launches Free Streaming Tier, Through Alexa Only (for Now)

    Amazon Music today basically soft-launched its free streaming tier, in which U.S. customers of its Alexa voice assistant will have access to top Amazon Music playlists and thousands of stations, at no cost. The limited access that the new free service provides — it’s only available through Alexa, and when the listener requests a song, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content