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‘Snowpiercer’ Triumphs Atop Korean Box Office

Record breaking local performance justifies CJ Ent.’s doubled up bet on English-language debut

HONG KONG – “Snowpiercer” dominated the South Korean box office charts for the second successive weekend — justifying CJ Entertainment’s considerable gamble on the English-language debut of Korean director Bong Joon-ho.

Released on Aug 1, the film passed the 6 million admissions mark in the small hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning and finished the weekend with a cumulative ticket sales total of 6.445 million. According to KOBIS box office data that is a gross of $41.05 million (KRW46.32 billion) in ten days.

Earlier last week the film became the quickest on record to pass the 4 million ticket sales mark in South Korea. It was second quickest to 6 million behind last year’s “The Thieves.”

Snowpiercer” accounted for 44% of the total weekend B.O., ahead of another local title, Lotte Entertainment’s “The Terror Live” which claimed 29% of the weekend total. Released a day earlier than “Snowpiercer,” on July 31, “The Terror Live” has an 11 day cume of $24.5 million (KRW27.48 billion).

The strong performance of the two Korean titles kept Fox’s “Epic” as the highest grossing Hollywood title, in third place with $2.459m from the weekend. Fox also had DreamWorks Animation’s “Turbo” in fifth place with $1.08 million from the weekend, and $10.5 million from ten days. While that represented a steep 61% tumble from its opening weekend, it was still this weekend’s second ranked Hollywood title in South Korea.

Fourth place on Saturday and Sunday was taken by paid previews of another Korean film “The Flu” which releases on Aug 14, though the 2005 Japanese animation “Detective Conan: Strategy Above The Depths” claimed the number four slot over the full Friday to Sunday period.

With “Smurfs 2” also in seventh place, the top ten included four animated features.

The stellar performance of “Snowpiercer” in home theaters does much to justify CJ Entertainment’s faith in Bong and his long cherished passion project. But it was far from a no-brainer.

When a key element of the financing fell apart just weeks ahead of shooting, the company was faced with the choice of postponing production (and trying to reassemble the multinational cast at a later date), or significantly increasing its investment in the picture.

Costing over $40 million, largely financed by the Korean major, “Snowpiercer” is the biggest budget Korean-made movie of all time – but it was made in English, rather than in Korean. While that may have increased its sales potential in international markets (CJ’s international sales department reports 167 territories licensed,) it was feared that the movie might struggle at home.

CJ addressed that with a long teaser campaign featuring dark, brooding images and by emphasizing the Korean hit-making heritage of Bong, who previously delivered “Mother” and “The Host,” still Korea’s all time top performing film.

It remains to be seen whether the Korean B.O. success of “Snowpiercer” has an influence on U.S. distributor The Weinstein Company. Numerous unconfirmed reports have emerged suggesting that Weinstein Co. is seeking to cut 20 minutes from “Snowpiercer” in order to make it more comprehensible to Middle America. That is a strategy previously employed by the company for the release of several Asian titles, albeit ones presented in Asian languages.

Possibly influencing Weinstein Co.’s thinking is how the film should be positioned for an Oscar run. As an English-language production, “Snowpiercer” has already been ruled ineligible by the Korean Film Council, which is now examining a shortlist of nine candidates for Korea’s foreign-language candidacy. However, if the film receives a U.S. release in time, it can still be a contender in most major awards categories.

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