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Ferry Disaster Weighs on Korean Media

Distributors have trio of nautical-themed movies set for second half release

SEOUL – As rescue efforts continue at the site of the Sewol ferry disaster, the Korean entertainment industry has taken a self-imposed break from day-to-day business.

The sinking and the huge loss of life are considered as a national tragedy.

The country’s three terrestrial channels, KBS, MBC and SBS, and many cable networks have ditched their regular programming, replacing them with live coverage of the relief measures.

The nationwide feeling of sadness and loss has halted production of many non-news programs.

It may also have weighed on the theatrical box office. Cinema ticket sales in the five days since the sinking were only 1.35 million, compared with 1.75 million in the five prior days – a drop of 23%. Forecasts are for attendance to remain soft through the upcoming May Day holiday (May 3-7), but for figures to recover.

Press and VIP screenings of forthcoming Korean titles were cancelled last week but some may resume this week. Talent, however, has cancelled many public appearances as signs of respect, sadness and anger.

Longer term impact is moot. Three of the leading distributors each have nautical-themed films scheduled for the second half of the year – CJ Entertainment has “Roaring Currents,” Lotte has “The Pirates,” and NEW has “Sea Fog” – suggesting that marketing and promotional efforts may have to be rethought.

K-pop musicians have cancelled or postponed the release of their latest singles and concerts. Some have urged online financial donations to the families of the victims.

Speaking to Variety, Lee Jun-dong, producer of Cannes-bound film “A Girl at My Door,” likened the national mood to that which followed the beheading of a Korean hostage in Iraq in 2004.

Some industry figures are considering not attending the forthcoming Jeonju film festival (May 1-10) as the festival takes place close to the shipwreck. But others suggest that Jeonju should be a national rallying point.

“All the effort that went into the Olympics, the World Cup and all the promotion for K-pop, all that has gone down the drain. The whole world knows how inadequate Korean officials are in the aftermath of the Sewol disaster. I am so ashamed,” said Jung Sang-jin, CEO of At Nine Film.

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