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Korean Film Sets Sights on the World

2006/03/28 Source

In 1988 the Korean film industry was on the verge of failing. In accordance with trade liberalization, United International Pictures (UIP) announced the direct distribution of films in Korea. Due to the direct distribution, Hollywood films in Korea have increased twice as much as the previous year (around 175 films).

Some in the Korean film industry resisted the increasing screening of Hollywood movies by setting fires in the theaters. After about two years, UIP has broadened its distribution range from suburban to city areas, augmenting the market share of foreign films to 81.2%. In 1993, the rate of foreign film's market share went up to 85%.

The surprising turn over in the market share of the Korean film industry began in late 1990s. Starting from Kang Jae-kyu's film "Shiri" in 1999, the market share of Korean films had increased from 39.7% to 50.1% by the year 2001. The breakthrough of 50% in Korean film market share was a striking phenomenon at that time. The people of the Korean film industry had hope only to reach 30% of the market share; however, the market share of the Korean movies is steadily marinating its rate as 50~60%.

Only in a few years, the position of the Korean film industry had gone from the bottom to the top. According to the Korean Film Council, 25 Korean films won 50 awards in 36 international film festivals in a single year of 2004.

In about 5 years, Korea became a film exporting country. 9 yeasr of consecutive growth in the total export of the Korean films resulted in $97 million USD. The breakthrough of the $100 million USD will come quite soon. Kim dong-ju, one of the Korean film industry distributors and the chairman of Show-East, won the honor of 2006 Promotion of Foreign Trade Award due to his efforts in exporting $14 million USD of Korean films.

This remarkable growth in the Korean film industry was once believed as temporary happening by many of Korean film industry people. Despite the great hit of Korean movies and serial drama like JSA, Shiri and The Winter Sonata, people still had doubts in the Korean Wave.

The negative side of the Korean Wave in film industry is that the market is too concentrated in the Asian countries. The ratio of total export in Asian countries in the year 2004 is 77.8%. And it had increased to 87% last year. Among the other Asian countries, Japan takes a huge role by rate of 43.8% of total export. Currently, the markets in South American region show the positive changes. Even though the amount of the export is not significantly high, recently the rate of the Korean film export has increased by 66.5%. Considering the former market share of the Korean movies in that region, the rate of export is high.

The great success of the Korean movies in Asian countries is due to those countries' cultural similarity. However, it is hard to expect the same cultural affinity in the United States. For this reason, the Korean film industry is trying to approach to the American market with the industrial aspects rather than the contents. In other words, the Korean film industry is looking its way through the combination of multinational capital and labor. Movies like "Seven Swords", The Promise and "Shadowless Sword" are the example of the new approach of the Korean film industry.

The movie, "Seven Swords" was produced by a Korean film company and directed by a Chinese director, and also presents both Korean and Chinese movie stars. The other movies also have multinational producers, directors and movie stars. Some films have American distributors due to their entering of new business markets in the United States.

The Korean film industry has invested in multiplex theaters around the world as well. CGV, the biggest multiplex cinema chain in Korea, plans a serious entry into the U.S. market, starting this October, and Korea's movie distributors MK Pictures also signed a contract last Dec. 27 with the Chinese film companies to establish a joint venture for multiplex cinemas in China.

With all this foreign expansion, the Korean film industry is facing some challenges in South American market. One of the issues is creating a Korean film's own genre. The reason that the most of the multinational production based movies have the same heroism genre shows the limit of the Korean movies. Another issue is how to succeed in the market where the Korean Wave has already been expanded, such as Asian Market in the U.S and the one of South America.

The future success of the Korean film industry in foreign markets depends on how these issues are resolved.

By Jon Hwi-gon

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