Korean movies leap into box-office fray

In late April, Iron Man arrived in the Korean cinema, smashing the box office into very profitable pieces. In mid-May, Prince Caspian took the baton and kept up the pressure on Korean competitors. Last weekend, whip-wielding Indy joined the Hollywood-only party, roped in plenty of movie tickets sales.

The bombardment of Hollywood films dragged down the share of Korean films to a record low. But the bleak development was widely predicted since only a couple of new Korean releases were made. June might be slightly different, as eight Korean movies are set for release.

"Girl Scout", directed by Kim Sang-man, will hit theaters on June 5, featuring well-known actors such as Kim Sun-ah, Na Moon-hee, Lee Kyung-shil. The film will test whether the audiences still have an appetite for a chase-the-money drama with fewer funny moments than publicized.

Waiting in line for the June 12 release are four Korean films: "Life is Cool", "Beyond All Magic", "Spare" and "Like Father, Like Son". "Life is Cool", directed by Choi Ik-hwan, will introduce a love story where three men fall in love with the same woman. The film uses "anigraphics", putting together conventional shooting of real actors and animation. Kim Soo-ro, Kang Sung-jin, Kim Jin-soo play three close friends competing for the affection of a woman played by Park Ye-jin.

While "Life is Cool" is about three men, "Beyond All Magic" (Heuksim-monyeo) is about three women falling for the same good-looking guy (played by Lee Sang-woo). Directed by Jo Nam-ho, this comic fantasy relies on the reputations of veteran actors, such as Shim Hye-jin and Kim Soo-mi.

"Spare", first introduced at the Pusan International Film Festival last year, will feature well-organized action performances from the Korean and Japanese cast. Director Lee Seong-han, who started to work on the film in 2006, finally brings his debut feature to theaters, but the competition will be tough.

"Like Father, Like Son", director Lee Moo-yeong's third film, portrays a rock musician who reunites with his son after a 15-year separation. A real drama begins to unfold when the two characters have to live together with a woman named 'Marie'. The film stars Kim Sang-joong as the father and Kim Heung-soo as his son, and Yoo In-young plays Marie.

A bigger Korean film project will come out on June 19. "Public Enemy Returns", the third installment of the police action series helmed by director Kang Woo-seok, will bring back the foul-mouthed yet justice-obsessed police detective Gang Cheol-jung played by Sol Kyung-gu. The original "Public Enemy" was a commercial hit in 2002, and the sequel "Another Public Enemy" ("Another Public Enemy" in 2005 fared relatively well. Expectations for the third one are building, not least because it has a solid supporting cast, including Jung Jae-young, Lee Moon-sik and Yoo Hae-jin, and the screenplay is written by Jang Jin, a popular filmmaker.

"Crossing", to be released on June 26, is one of the most notable Korean films this summer, largely due to its realistic depiction of North Korean defectors. Directed by Kim Tae-gyoon, the film stars Cha In-pyo as a North Korean who crosses the Chinese border to get food and medicine for his ailing wife, only to find himself on the run. His 11-year-old son (Shin Myung-chul) also risks his life to trace his father in China. Shot in Korea, Mongolia and China between July and September last year, "Crossing" portrays the plight of North Koreans desperate to survive in a way that raises the awareness about this serious issue.

Set for release on the same day as "Crossing" but with a far brighter tone is "My Mighty Princess". Directed by Kwak Jae-yong, this romantic comedy stars Shin Min-a as a female college student armed with unexpectedly good skills in martial arts, and the storyline revolves around her topsy-turvy quest for her Mr. Right.

The eight Korean films will surely make some headway in their concerted efforts to fight off the attacks from their Hollywood counterparts, but the fight will be nothing if not tantalizing and cutthroat.

The tantalizing aspect will come from "Sex and the City: The Movie", which makes its debut June 5. The big-screen adaptation of the hit HBO series will reunite Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis, and given that Korea has a solid female fan base for the four fashionable New Yorkers, the R-rated film is expected to sashay the box-office runway with some confidence.

The cutthroat front has two muscular players: "Kung Fu Panda" and "The Incredible Hulk". The most feared adversary of the two is a pot-bellied panda named Po. The podgy panda turns into an unlikely kung fu hero in a clever animated marital arts adventure by the DreamWorks Animation team known for its "Shrek" franchise. The beautifully rendered graphics and intricately organized animated sequences give the film enhanced dramatic effect, and it will strongly appeal to audiences of all age groups when it opens on June 5.

"The Incredible Hulk", based on the classic Marvel Comics superhero, depicts Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), a mild-mannered scientist who has been traveling the world to find an antidote that will allow him to break free from his primal alter ego.

For better or worse, Panda and the Hulk will not pay much attention to the eight Korean films opening in June. Their focus will be on Iron Man, Prince Caspian and Indy. The three movies took a combined 81 percent share of ticket sales last weekend, according to the Korean Film Council.

By Yang Sung-jin