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

'Snowpiercer,' 'Mr. Go': Marketing Tells the Tale Two Korean Films

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.