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'Red Cliff' dominates holiday box office

2009/01/29 Source

"Red Cliff: Part 2", the long-awaited conclusion of the Chinese historical blockbuster, dominated the Lunar New Year's holiday, outsmarting other Korean and American competitors by a wide margin.

"Red Cliff", directed by John Woo, sold more than 1 million tickets within five days since of its Jan. 22 release in Korea, its distributor Showbox said yesterday.

The historical movie features a number of special effects depicting the famous battle near the end of the China's Han Dynasty, a tale widely known among Koreans.

If the current trend continues, "Red Cliff" is expected to easily surpass the box-office performance of the first installment, which sold 1.57 million tickets last year.

As "Red Cliff" swept the theaters with a 30 percent share in the total ticket sales from Jan. 22-26, "Valkyrie" trailed with a 22 percent share, and Korean gangster comedy "City of Damnation" (Yugamseureoun-dosi) ranked third with a 18 percent share, according to the Korean Film Council.

"Valkyrie" is based on a true story involving German military personnel who attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Its outlook for Korea was far from bright, largely because it struggled at the North American box office. But its box-office scores were better than expected, helped by Tom Cruise's visit to Seoul two weeks earlier.

The Lunar New Year's holiday is usually a big season for film distributors in Korea, but ticket sales this year were 1.4 million, almost half last year's due to the lack of smash hits.

Fewer Korean films competed during the holiday period while foreign films, except "Red Cliff", did not draw much attention from Korean audiences. The market share of Korean films for the Lunar New Year holiday is estimated at about 36 percent. Korean movies, which used to control more than half of the domestic market, are struggling to fight off Hollywood flicks in recent years.

The most frustrating development for Korean filmmakers involved "City of Damnation", a gangster-oriented comedy that relies heavily on Jung Joon-ho, a leading Korean actor behind the huge success of "My Boss, My Hero" in 2002.

The failure of "City of Damnation" illustrates the steady decline of gangster-themed comic films at the box office. Although Jeong represents the heyday of Korean gangster comedy, local audiences seemed tired of the same old tricks.

"Speedy Scandal", meanwhile, reached the 7 million mark in ticket sales as of Monday, a breakthrough for a relatively small-budget Korean drama starring Cha Tae-hyun. Released on Dec. 3, "Speedy Scandal" emerged as the biggest hit in early 2009 on the strength of Cha's refined acting and a well-developed storyline.

"A Frozen Flower", a provocative historical drama, sold 3.5 million tickets as of Monday, reaching the break-even point, defying the limitations as a serious melodrama targeted at an adult-only audience. The movie earned plenty of media coverage thanks to several sexually explicit scenes and its subject matter of homosexuality at a royal court.

By Yang Sung-jin

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