Year-end competition at the box office is intensifying with Korea's generally weak celluloid offerings faced with losing market share to foreign movies.
A noticeable change in December has foreign films faring quite well, while home-grown movies are struggling to bolster sagging ticket sales - an unsettling development for local studios which have relied on the unwavering appeal of Korean stars and filmmakers among audiences.
On Saturday and Sunday, three foreign films, "The Holiday", "Night at the Museum" and "Casino Royale" posted strong ticket sales, dominating the box office, while their Korean counterparts struggled to keep pace.
Although "200 Pound Beauty" performed well at the box office, other major releases such as "The Restless
" were stuck with disappointing results.
With Korean movies losing steam, well-made foreign films are reasserting their storytelling power. "The Holiday" is a striking example. Released on Dec. 14, the romantic comedy about a wedding columnist (Kate Winslet) in England and a movie-trailer producer (Cameron Diaz) in Los Angeles is continuing to win the hearts of Korean moviegoers.
In the film, the two women with failed romances opt for the idea of swapping homes with each other. Jack Black and Jude Law play their counterparts, setting the tone for the movie as mostly amicable and occasionally comedic.
In addition to the solid script, director Nancy Meyers creates a drama where the main characters are encouraged to deliver heartfelt performances. The movie also offers a strong affirmation of family and concern for the elderly - a key factor that seems to strike chords with Korean audiences interested in feel-good films toward the end of the year.
Another box-office frontrunner is "Night at the Museum", also a safe choice for those who want a family-oriented entertainment piece. Ben Stiller, a museum night watchman, deals with exhibits that come alive at night.
The major selling point is a collection of slapstick vignettes as the dopey night watchman battles a mischievous monkey, tiny cowboys and Roman soldiers and other figures from museum exhibits.
But the comedy from director Shawn Levy is labeled by critics as "unimaginative", so the final score at the box office remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, critics largely hail "Casino Royale" as a successful effort to extend the James Bond franchise. The new installment reinvents its iconic hero, bringing him back to square one by following the exploits of a leaner, meaner, younger Bond (Daniel Craig) as he embarks upon his first big case.
Most of the 007 elements are here but its 2-hour, 24-minute running time is likely to exhaust some movie fans, except for the series' biggest fans.
For parents with younger children, "Happy Feet" is a good choice. Like The Classic
animated Disney movies from decades ago - "Bambi", for example - "Happy Feet" does not hesitate to explore a little bit serious subject. But its strength lies in a clever combination of substance and style, making it different from other cookie-cutter computer-animated movies that have come storming into theaters this year.
Notable is the all-star voice cast (Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman), and soundtrack is also chock-full of pop tunes -and talking animals.
Another foreign film that takes a stab at the Christmas box office is "The Nativity Story", which is based on the birth of Christ. Displaying an innovative approach, the film portrays Mary and Joseph as a confused, newly married couple trying to comprehend the fact that they're about to become parents of the Messiah.
Competing with these foreign films is "200 Pounds Beauty
", directed by Kim Yong-hwa
"). Based on a Japanese comic, the film features how an overweight girl changes herself into a gorgeous temptress, helped by today's incredibly advanced plastic surgery.
Some female viewers feel uncomfortable with Kim Ah-joong
who plays the title role, partly because many male viewers tend to focus on Kim's slim and sexy appearance. The movie also has a coherent message: lose weight or lose everything.
While Kim Ah-joong
's Han-na goes through a dramatic transformation, Choi Mi-ja (Ye Ji-won
) in "Old Miss Diary - Movie
", a comedy directed by Kim Seok-yoon
, sticks to herself throughout the film.
The 32-year-old spinster yearns for a handsome boyfriend, leading to mostly slapstick situations with actress Ye Ji-won
showing no qualms about portraying the character as miserably as possible.
More unsettling than Mi-ja's romantic journey is a tepid reception of the big-budget fantasy, "The Restless
". Although the film has cast big-name stars such as Jung Woo-sung
and Kim Tae-hee
and spared no money on upscale computer graphics, critics point to its weak storytelling, and movie fans seem to agree, considering less-than-remarkable box-office results.
The film, which cost a whopping 10.9 billion won ($11.6 million), features Lee Kwak who makes it to a sort of purgatory where souls wait for 49 days before climbing to a new stage - the place where he meets his deceased lover.
With about a week to go before the New Year's Day, uncertainty still shrouds the cutthroat competition between foreign and Korean films. What's certain, however, is that most people are likely to have no time to pick and choose because tickets for even unpopular films, regardless of their nationality, are expected to be scarce this week.
By Yang Sung-jin