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Blockbusters flop as star marketing fails

2007/01/08 Source

Lee Byung-hun, Chung Ji-hoon (Rain), Daniel Henney and Jung Woo-sung share two things. First, they are indisputably top Korean actors commanding high casting fees. Second, their latest films all flopped at the box office.

"Once in a Summer", a melodrama starring Lee along with Soo Ae, failed to meet box-office expectations. "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK", a much-touted film by world-renowned director Park Chan-wook, was far from OK in terms of ticket sales, despite Chung (Rain)'s growing international reputation. Even though Daniel Henney revealed his sexy chest in "Seducing Mr. Perfect", theaters closed down the film hurriedly. "The Restless", a big-budget Chinese-Korean joint flick, was also sucked into the growing list of box-office failures.

What went wrong? The primary reason, of course, is that big-name stars do not necessarily bring box-office profits - unless the films involved are high quality or at least appealing to mainstream moviegoers in Korea. "Once in a Summer", released on Nov. 30, featured solid storytelling and a high-profile cast including Lee. Strangely enough, local audiences did not respond enthusiastically, with just 300,000 tickets sold.

The lackluster response came as a puzzling development for local filmmakers, who focused on Lee's soaring popularity in Japan and Southeast Asia.

More unsettling were reactions to director Park's "Cyborg". As he has commanded international fame with his award-winning "Old Boy", the local press did not spare coverage on his next project, which had been kept under the wraps right before its formal release.

As the film featured Chung (Rain), one of the biggest Korean Wave stars, and Lim Soo-jung, also a leading actress here, critics expected Park's love story to see another commercial success. Chung (Rain) also frantically promoted the film since it was his silver screen debut.

But the film sold just 730,000 tickets, a crushing defeat for the celebrated Park and Chung (Rain). Although Park held on to a smidgeon of dignity with the film being invited to compete in the 57th Berlin Film Festival, its commercial failure sent a clear message: his not-so-spectacular storytelling left local audiences unimpressed.

"Seducing Mr. Perfect", with Daniel Henney, was largely designed to capture the hearts of female viewers. But the film sold just 700,000 tickets across the nation, failing to break even.

The major reason was that the production team relied too much on Henney's charms, while ignoring other negative factors. The film's basic storyline - a female worker falling in love with a handsome boss - was far from innovative, and too many English conversations baffled some Korean audiences.

"The Restless" was a huge flop considering that production and marketing costs reached a whopping 10.9 billion won ($12 million). The film boasted top stars including Jung Woo-sung and Kim Tae-hee, as well as high-quality computer graphics.

But it sold just 1.44 million tickets in the box office, far lower than the needed breakeven of 4 million viewers.

Meanwhile, the relatively low-budget "200 Pounds Beauty", featuring Kim Ah-joong, is staging a strong performance at the box office, attracting more than 4.5 million audiences across the nation, thanks largely to its tacky plastic surgery theme.

By Yang Sung-jin

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