" ("Denseo-ui sunjeong"), released nationwide on April 28, topped the box office on the weekend, selling about 540,000 tickets. The one and only reason: Korea's new teen icon Moon Geun-young
is captivating audiences.
The film - portraying a Korean-Chinese girl who comes to Seoul for a sports dance competition and is forced to adapt to life here - is widely expected to perform well, largely because Moon's popularity is surging and advance ticket reservations hit a record 76 percent.
Even the official homepage of "Innocent Steps
" is struggling to handle soaring traffic as more than 2 million users have so far visited the Web site and uploaded their comments and reviews about the film.
Given that May is a slow season for movies and target audiences as teens and twenty-somethings are mostly in the midterm exam period, "Innocent Steps
" is showing greater-than-expected box office power.
The film is also forecast to infuse fresh energy into Korean cinema which has struggled a bit with a dearth of hit movies. This year, only two films bolstered the Korean film industry with respectable ticket sales: "Running Boy" - "Marathon
" featuring another pop icon Cho Seung-woo and "Public Enemy 2
", directed by Kang Woo-seok
Moon's rise to stardom started with her role in "My Little Bride
", a Romantic Comedy
which was released a year ago. At the time, few expected she would steal the show. After all, her counterpart Kim Rae-won
was a proven heartthrob. But it turned out that Moon out-charmed her co-star by an amazingly wide margin.
"My Little Bride
" sold more than 3 million tickets, becoming one of the biggest surprises last year, confusing critics and industry insiders who had largely failed to notice the potential of Moon's charm as a teen icon.
Now, critics and cinema insiders are furiously comparing "My Little Bride
" and "Innocent Steps
". The two films share the common ground in that Moon is the spotlight, and people are interested in how far she can go as a leading actress. But the difference is that a male character in the latter does not evoke as much interest as the former.
Another distinction is that Moon was chiefly viewed "cute and innocent" in "My Little Bride
" as a young teen, but in her new role in "Innocent Steps
" she has attempted to go beyond being just innocent. She is now 19 years old and is set to shed the title of the teen idol next year.
In the film, Moon plays the role of Jang Chae-rin, an ethnic Korean dancer from Yangbian, northeastern China. She has a dancing-queen sister, who is set to participate in a national sports dancing championship in Seoul.
For some reason, the sister cannot join the event, pushing Chae-rin to do the job instead. As a substitute, Chae-rin comes to Seoul on her sister's passport. The problem is that she doesn't know how to dance.
Na Young-sae (Park Gun-hyung
) is Chae-rin's dance partner for the competition. And it doesn't take much time to expect that they would not only dance together but also develop some romantic chemistry.
Cinematic artistry aside, Moon's efforts to learn dancing skills deserve credits. She shows off fine skills through her samba, cha-cha and rumba dancing. On top of this, Moon has learned Yangbian dialect, Chinese and a slightly deeper meaning of love than the previous film. The bulk of Moon's young fans that are eager to see her innocent charms will not be disappointed because the film showcases her progress as an actress.
Moon is known to have a strong curiosity; she always tries to order a food she hasn't tried yet. And that explains how and why Moon has upgraded her image a notch. Now all eyes are where this little-bride-to-dancing-queen will step forward next.
By Yang Sung-jin