Korea’s ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘Mr. Go’: Marketing Tells the Tale of Two Films

Post-apocalyptic drama hits for CJ, but Showbox strikes out in Korea with baseball-playing gorilla

While many people argue that Korean film funding is now more cautious and professional, and therefore less likely to leverage the industry into another boom-and-bust cycle, two big companies did make very large bets this year: CJ on “Snowpiercer” and Showbox on “Mr. Go.” Only one paid off in a big way.

Budgeted at more than $20 million, “Mr. Go” is about a baseball-playing Chinese gorilla recruited to join a Korean major league team. With an experienced director and a huge vfx component, the film was set as a summer feel-good release. It had good pre-release tracking, but struck out when Korean audiences found it too tame. In China, the film was released by co-investor Huayi Brothers as more of a kids’ movie, and it batted in a very solid $17.9 million.

Post-apocalyptic drama “Snowpiercer,” made for approximately $45 million, fared much better, though the odds were stacked against the project in that it is essentially an arthouse movie produced at a blockbuster price.

“Making a Korean movie in English was a big worry, especially as English-language films are not doing particularly well (in Korea) these days,” says Lee Taehun of Opus Pictures, which produced the genre film.

To ease its profile, CJ laid off a substantial amount of its risk through a relationship with a government fund and very substantial international pre-sales. The film was sold to more than 160 territories for an unconfirmed $20 million total.

Ultimately, “Snowpiercer” took in $62 million. In success, it has been likened to the 2013 equivalent of “D War” (aka “Dragon Wars”), a 2007 monster pic in which a mutant dragon attacks Los Angeles. Both were films with budgets far in excess of what the domestic Korean market would normally be calculated to sustain; in both cases the distributor/investor ended up having to fi nance far more than planned; and both had significant English-language components. Also in each case, curiosity value and huge marketing efforts delivered outstanding results.

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