Independent films reign at summer box office

Posted on : 2011-07-04 11:13 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
As indie films collect awards and steady viewership, 3D films have experienced a mixed reception

By Song Ho-jin 


Those who read “125” as “one hundred twenty-five” rather than “one-two-five” have yet to see the film that has been the talk of South Korea and elsewhere in the first half of 2011. The domestic film industry finished up the months from January to June amid a wave of independent film success and an overall slump in commercial film, with the summer box office battle now getting under way. The first six months of the year saw 68.5 million viewers in theaters, a drop of 940 thousand from the same period in 2010.


These numbers appear at the beginning of the second half of North Korean defectors’ resident registration numbers. Park Jung-bum’s “The Journals of Musan,” which depicts a North Korean defector with a “125” number living in South Korean society, has picked up thirteen awards at film festivals in South Korea and overseas, including the top prize at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. With 10,852 viewers to date, it has passed the ten thousand viewer mark that represents the standard for success for a low-budget independent film.

With audiences of 11,029 and 20,311, respectively, Min Yong-geun’s “Re-Encounter” and Yun Seong-hyun’s “Bleak Night” have also had viewers raving about the new directors with independent films out this year. Kim Jae-hwan‘s documentary “True Maht Show,” an indictment of the practice of restaurants paying to appear on TV shows as top establishments, made its premiere after a court ruling dismissing an MBC suit for an injunction against its screening.


This is the combined age of the four stars of “I Love You,” a film version of Kangfull’s graphic novel: Lee Soon-jae, 76, Yoon So-jeong, 67, Song Jae-ho, 72, and Kim Soo-mi, 60. The film, which was almost not made after it failed to attract much investment due to the absence of young stars, has since drawn over 1.6 million viewers.


This is the number of main characters in “Sunny,” which recently passed the 6 million viewer mark. At a time when it has become difficult to draw audiences with the name value of one or two lead actors, “Sunny” has enjoyed the top box office success of any of the domestic or foreign debuts this year with fourteen performers sharing the “lead.” In contrast, Kang Woo-suk’s “Glove” and Lee Joon-ik’s “Battlefield Heroes,” as well as “Mama,” “Arrest King,” and “The Most Beautiful Goodbye,” failed to recoup their investment, exacerbating the slump in commercial film.


“Arirang,” presented by Kim Ki-duk as his sixteenth film, picked up an Un Certain Regard prize at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. With this, Kim became the first Korean director to win prizes at the top three international film festivals, following directing honors at the 2004 Venice Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival.


One 3D film after another has been coming out, with admissions costing 5,000 won ($4.70) more than ordinary films, but the results have been decidedly mixed. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” drew a mere 3.13 million viewers amid harsh reviews, with some saying they “stayed only for the mermaids.” In contrast, “Kung Fu Panda 2” broke the 4.67 million viewer domestic premiere record previously held by the first installment, despite viewers saying that it lacked much of the kung fu technique and charm of the first film. The Chinese adult film “Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy,” which reportedly had mainland Chinese viewers traveling all the way to Hong Kong to watch it, was ignored by South Korean viewers, with only 80,906 turning out to see it.


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