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Korea Unveils Measures to Help Coronavirus-Hit Film Industry

Parasite
Courtesy of Neon CJ Entertainment

The South Korean government has unveiled a package of measures to help the local film industry, which is currently reeling from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Chief among the measures is the decision to exempt multiplex chains from having to contribute to the country’s movie development fund. This normally operates as a mandatory contribution equivalent to 3% of gross box office, and in the past three years has been worth more than $40 million annually. The government said that the exemption would apply retroactively from the beginning of February.

Other measures include: subsidy for the marketing costs of 20 selected movies which had to cancel their theatrical releases in February and March, when audience numbers were rapidly dwindling; cash injections into 20 selected movie productions, where filming was halted due to the virus outbreak; provision of vocational training for 400 casual workers who have lost jobs due to the crisis.

The Korean cultural industries have enjoyed great success in recent years, powered by K-pop, export of TV dramas, and by high-profile movies such as Cannes- and Oscar-winner “Parasite.” And the cinema industry enjoyed a record year at the box office in 2019. But since the virus outbreak, takings have plumbed new lows.

According to the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), just over 1.83 million tickets were sold in March. That compared with 14.7 million in the same month last year, and with an already depressed 7.37 million total in February.

The measures, announced by deputy Prime Minister and finance minister Hong Nam-ki, however drew a mixed response. That was acknowledged by official news agency Yonhap in a report which asked “whether (the measures) are effective and realistic enough for theaters and filmmakers to get over the crisis.

The fund contribution exemption only helps the industry’s largest companies – as small exhibitors are already exempt from contributions. Moreover, as the fund contribution is a percentage of ticket revenue, not a flat fee, the plunging box office would already have slashed the big chains’ requirement to pay out.

KOFIC is expected to soon announce its own set of measures to support Korean film.