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Hard Lessons for Big Budget Films

2005/06/13 | 5376 views | Permalink | Source

By Kim Tae-jong
Staff Reporter

After a series of commercial failures of local blockbusters, many are starting to think tough times are ahead for the domestic movie industry.

Many local news media have reported the domestic movie industry is facing a crisis, citing that the number of moviegoers watching local films decreased compared to the same period last year.

However, most of these critical reports ignore the fact that 2004 was an exceptionally good year for local movies, mostly thanks to the two blockbuster films _ "Taegukgi" and "Silmido" _ which drew more than 10 million moviegoers each.

And while there may be no film comparable to those two record-setting films this year, the size of the market and the number of moviegoers for local films have continued to grow in the past five years.

"It's only because there hasn't been a mega hit blockbuster this year so far," said Kim Mee-hyun, director of the policy research and development department at the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). "People with high expectations for local blockbusters may get the impression that local films are not doing well, but in fact they have maintained slightly over a 50 percent seat occupation rate, which is not low at all."

As Kim pointed out, the woes about the local film industry came after this year's films have so far failed to attract large audiences. Such films as "Rikidozan," "Crying Fist," "A Bittersweet Life" and "Antarctic Journal" were released with high expectations but all ended up even missing the break-even point during their domestic run.

Compared to last year's average film production cost of 4.3 billion won, the four films were all made with much larger budgets _ "Rikidozan" with about 11 billion won, "Crying Fist" with 6 billion won, "A Bittersweet Life" with 6.5 billion won and "Antarctic Journal" with 9 billion won _ so their losses were even more noticeable.

However, despite such failures, a recent report from KOFIC said that the actual number of total moviegoers in the same first quarter have increased although there was a slight decline from last year.

A recent survey conducted by Hankook Research also said that the number of moviegoers has doubled in the past 10 years, and there is a big increase especially in the number of moviegoers in their 30s to 50s.

More modestly budgeted films that targeted more general audiences such as "Marathon," "Mapado" and "Hello, Brother" fared unexpectedly well, attracting millions of moviegoers.

Regarding the failure of big budget releases, Kim also mentioned that since the size of the local market is limited, it is inevitable for competition to be fierce. However, Kim said she believed that this year is more of a transition period for local blockbusters to learn market trends and qualities to appeal to audiences.

"It's only been five years for local production companies to start making big budget films," Kim said. "They are still not good at managing their budgets efficiently. So it may be too early to start worrying about the local film industry."

Profits of local movies largely rely on their theatrical release since pirated copies of videotapes and DVDs are so prevalent. So to reduce the risk elements and earn stable profits, many filmmakers are now trying to release their movies in other countries, co-produce films with foreign companies or receive funds from foreign investment firms.

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