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Korean movies may be headed for one of worst slumps since ’90s

By Yoon Min-sik

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Published : Jun 13, 2018 - 15:49 / Updated : Jun 13, 2018 - 15:49

Between upcoming Hollywood blockbusters and a lack of home-grown megahits, Korean movies look set for one of the worst years in the box office here since the 1990s, when imported films dominated the industry.

As of Wednesday, half of the top 10 films in the box office were made outside of Korea. This may not sound bad, considering that the number of foreign films in the top 10 were four in 2014 and 2015, two in 2016 and three in 2017, but the ticket sales by foreign films currently dominate that of local films.

The Korean box office ranks the movies in the order of tickets sold, not total revenue.

In May, foreign films accounted for 67.6 percent of tickets sales, marking the lowest figure since May 2014.

“Avengers: Infinity War” remains the No. 1 film of the year at 11.18 million tickets sold, while its MCU little brother “Black Panther” sits at the No. 4 spot with 5.4 million.

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“Avengers: Infinity War” remains the only film of 2018 to surpass 10 million ticket sales. (Walt Disney Korea)


“Along with the Gods: the Two Worlds” and “1987: When the Day Comes” sit at the second and third spot at 5.8 million and 5.29 million tickets sold, although technically they were released last year.

The highest grossing 2018-released Korean film is “Believer,” which sold 4.6 million tickets, at No. 5. However, it may not be for much longer as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” -- with ticket sales of 3.55 million -- is rising fast by topping the daily tickets sales for two straight weeks.

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“Believer” is so far one of the most popular Korean films of 2018. (Cineguru / Kidari ENT)


With “Believer” notably slowing down in terms of ticket sales, it is possible that this year may be the first since 2011 that no Korean film has surpassed the 10 million mark -- the number of tickets needed to be sold to be considered a megahit here. Just three years ago, both “Veteran” and “Assassination” broke the mark, and “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” in 2014 became the biggest hit in the country’s history with a whopping 17.6 million tickets sold.

What happened? The simple explanation is that most Korean films have been commercial flops this year.

“Golden Slumber” starring Gang Dong-won and Han Hyo-ju, was a critical and commercial disappointment with just over 1 million tickets sold. “Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead” became the only one in the comical “Detective K” series to lose money with just 2.44 million.

“The Princess and the Matchmaker” also ended up losing money after attracting less than 1.4 million viewers to theaters. “Seven Years of Night” had accomplished actors like Jang Dong-gun and Ryu Seung-ryong but ended up a box office tragedy with less than 600,000 tickets sold.

After a series of flops, it was reported earlier that 20th Century Fox is pulling away of movie-making business in Korea, although the company swiftly denied that such move was in place.

While Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning” received praise from the critics, it completely failed commercially.

With many of the big films underperforming, small-budget films like “Little Forest” -- 1.5 million tickets sold -- and “Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum” -- 2.6 million tickets sold -- were relative jackpots.

If the box office scores stay on course, it will mark the first time since 1998 that a Korean film has failed to take the No. 1 spot in the yearly box office. Prior to 2000, foreign films always dominated the theaters.

In order to protect the local film industry, it was decreed in 1967 that theaters are legally mandated to play a Korean film for least 146 days per year. But with a surge of Korean films after the 1999 hit “Shiri,” and master auteurs like Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho becoming hit directors, the screen quota was reduced in 2006 to 73 days.

Local filmmakers face further challenges down the road with Hollywood blockbusters “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Mission: Impossible -- Fallout,” and “Venom,” set to be released between July and October.

The good news for avid fans of Korean films is that movies like “The Spy Gone North” -- directed by Yoon Jong-bin who is behind hits like “The Berlin File” and “Nameless Gangste: Rules of the Time” -- is on the way. Its main attraction Hwang Jung-min definitely sells tickets here, and Cho Jin-woong and Ju Ji-hoon are solid actors.

“Drug King,” starring the biggest ticket-seller in the country Song Kang-ho, is also slated for this year, but it may not make much impact on this year’s box office as its release date was pushed back to winter.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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