By Song Ho-jin
Following its November 2010 opening, “Villain and Widow,” starring Han Seok-kyu and Kim Hye-soo, drew just 600 thousand viewers. Some said that while the performers showed good comic chemistry, the two leads failed to draw in the younger viewers in their 20s.
Still, its numbers were stronger than the 430 thousand viewers drawn a month later by “Warrior’s Way,” starring Jang Dong-kun. The film was heavily publicized as Jang’s Hollywood breakthrough, but its performance was abysmal.
Debuting in February, “Late Autumn” was said to have been able to enjoy a premiere and increased awareness thanks to a timely mania for star Hyun Bin, but it still failed to clear the million-viewer mark, pulling in an audience of 840 thousand.
In contrast, “Late Blossom,” starring actors of advanced age in Lee Soon-jae, Yoon So-jeong, Song Jae-ho, and Kim Soo-mi, drew a full 1.64 million viewers after its February premiere. The film, which twice saw its production fall through as investors questioned its ability to turn a profit, ended up lapping its break-even audience of 800 thousand.
Another film without big stars, “Sunny,” has rode a wave of popularity since its May 4 premiere. The film, directed by Kang Hyung-chul, has a mixture of over ten moderately well-known actors and newcomers sharing lead duties. On Friday morning, it passed the seven million viewer mark with an audience of 7,023,310. This comes eighty days after the film’s opening.
The lead roles in the film are played by seven adult actors, including Yoo Ho-jeong and Jin Hee-kyung, as well as seven newcomers in their 20s playing the same characters in their high school days, among them Sim Eun-gyeong and Gang So-ra.
Producer Lee An-na assessed the film's box office strengths, saying, “Most of them are not top-class actors, but they blended into the movie in a way that was just right for the characters.”
The year has seen strong performances by films without top Chungmuro stars, including “Sunny” and “Late Blossom” as well as “Dangerous Meeting,” which stars Song Sae-byeok and Lee Si-yeong. The fading of “ticket power,” where star actors’ name value guaranteed box office performance, has been in even clearer evidence in 2011.
“Star actors still have the publicity and marketing power to increase awareness of a film before its premiere, but this does not lead to ticket sales in itself,” said LJ Films president Lee Seung-jae. “Ultimately, the enjoyment and emotional power of the film itself are important factors.”
Indeed, in a January survey conducted by the Korean Film Council asking 2,000 men and women nationwide aged 15 to 49 about their standards for choosing films, the most frequently given response was the film’s content and plotline (90.9 percent), followed by the genre (81.2 percent), the opinions of friends and acquaintances (72.7 percent), the actors (71.6 percent), and the film’s box office performance and ranking (59 percent).
Another major factor in the waning influence of actors on commercial success is the fact that viewers determine the enjoyment and production quality of films through reviews over the Internet and Twitter.
Myung Films President Shim Jae-myeong said, 'With word of mouth about films spreading over a more diverse range of information channels, the ability to rely on star marketing alone has diminished in recent years.”
Surveys like those conducted by the Korean Film Council found the Internet to be the main channel for obtaining information about films, with 56.1 percent of respondents. This marks an increase of some 20 percentage points over last year. Both “Late Blossom” and “Sunny” represent cases of films that enjoyed long runs as word of mouth spread over the Internet and other media.
Also, some are contending that with the 2000s seeing the death of market for pre-selling video rights prior to the premiere based on the names in the cast, any basis for a concrete determination of actors’ “ticket power” has disappeared.
“It is too difficult to get exposure for a film if it does not have star actors and a recognized director,” said an official at a large investment and distribution company.
“In some respects, it is difficult to let go once you have got that audience expectation of ‘It must be something at least if it has that actor and that director,’” the official explained.
The head of another production company said, “A lot of the blame falls on investors who are conservative about profitability decisions and would like the safe bet of a star actor.”
“But as viewer standards rise, the name value of a star actor loses meaning the moment you are going over the same genre or the film’s quality is no good.”
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