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‘F9’ Seizes Record as Hollywood Expands Recovery Role at Korea Box Office

Michelle Fast and Furious 9 F9as
Giles Keyte/Universal

F9” became the most-watched foreign film in South Korea since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic on another weekend where Hollywood and Japanese titles dominated the South Korean box office.

The weekend box office chart was headed by “Cruella,” which held strong in its third frame and swapped places with newer “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.”

“Cruella” scored $1.82 million according to data from Kobis, the Korean Film Council’s film tracking service, down just 17% from its second outing. Since release on May 26, “Cruella” has accumulated $8.29 million.

“The Conjuring 2” earned $1.45 million, a 46% drop compared with its opening weekend. Since June 3, it has earned $5.51 million.

New release, “Wrath of Man” came in third. It took $967,000 between Friday and Sunday and $1.44 million since opening in Korean cinemas on June 9.

“F9” slipped another gear and shifted down from third place to fourth with $746,000 over the weekend. But its racy performance now makes it the biggest film of 2021 in Korea. It has accumulated $18.9 million from 2.19 million ticket sales since release on May 19.

In doing so, it has overtaken “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train” and “Soul” the previous top-scoring films of 2021. It is also ahead of “Tenet,” the previous post-pandemic front-runner among imported titles. The top titles in Korea since the pandemic are both Korean – “Peninsula” and “Deliver Us From Evil” – both with more than three million tickets sold.

(“The Fast And The Furious,” the fist film in the franchise, will be re-released in Korea on Wednesday in a 4D version with 3D and added atmospheric effects.)

Japanese animation title “Earwig And The Witch” was released on Thursday and took fifth place on the weekend box office chart, albeit a significant distance behind the front four. It earned $135,000 between Friday and Sunday and $153,000 over four days.

Previews of “A Quiet Place: Part II” were good enough to give the film sixth place. It has now earned $131,000, ahead of its official June 16 release.

“Demon Slayer” placed seventh with $74,000 on the weekend, for a cumulative of $18.2 million since reaching Korean screens in late January.

The top Korean-made film was “Pipeline” in eighth position. It earned $30,700, tipping its cumulative over $1 million in its third weekend since a May 26 release.

Distributors of locally-made films have been hesitant to commit to release dates at a time when Korean audiences this year have appeared nervous about in-person screenings. That has meant that Korean cinemas have not participated in a box office recovery being enjoyed in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

Without compelling local titles, the box office in Korea has failed to rebuild strongly. And this weekend’s $5.63 million nationwide aggregate is the fourth highest weekend total of 2021.

The contrast between the approaches of the Korean titles and the Hollywood releases is notable. But a crucial difference is that whereas the Hollywood titles are opening as part of wider, international release campaigns, the local films still rely heavily on their home market and failure at the box office would be costly.

Several theaters across Korea have been closed and exhibition chains are creaking. In the last few days, number two chain Lotte announced its second ticket price increase of the pandemic era. It is adding KRW1000 ($0.90) to ticket prices, meaning that tickets sold at the weekend will cost KRW14,000 $12.55) apiece from July 1.

The company, which was loss-making in 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, previously increased turnstile prices in December and again it argues that it needs to improve revenues in order to survive. Marker leader, CJ-CGV raised prices in October 2020 and April 2021.

Korean films could be back next month. Lotte recently reported that its Ryoo Seung-wan-directed “Escape From Mogadishu” will open this summer. Next Entertainment World says its “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” is also eying a summer holiday release.