By Kim Tae-jong
It may be disappointing that there has not been a mega hit film this year nor any art films that have stood at the center of attention at renowned international film festivals.
Last year, big news often came out from the scene of the local movie industry, such as two blockbuster movies "Silmido
" and "Taegukgi
: The Brotherhood War" breaking the 11-million-viewer mark each for the first time and director Kim Ki-duk
receiving awards at Venice and Berlin with two different films.
Experts, however, say it is too early to forecast tough times ahead for the domestic movie industry.
"Films are not like products from a factory", said Park Hee-seong, a scholar from the researcher and development department at the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). "They are a cultural product so you can't simply judge how successful the film industry is based only on films' box office performance".
She agreed that such blockbusters as "Rikidozan
", "Crying Fist
" and "Antarctic Journal
" with high expectations for commercial success ended up even missing the break-even point during their domestic run, contributing to the gloomy forecasts.
But she pointed out the fact people miss is that six films drew more than 3 million moviegoers each, three more than last year and much anticipated blockbusters are slated for the latter part this year.
"Despite the commercial failure of blockbusters in the first half, local films have maintained slightly over a 50-percent seat occupation rate competing with Hollywood films thanks to the unexpected success of various other films", Park said.
"Welcome to Dongmakgol
", "Running Boy" - "Marathon
", "Marrying the Mafia II
" and "Mapado
" all drew 3 million moviegoers and helped diversify the spectrum of local movies, many of which tended to rely only on the attraction of big stars, she said.
The strong lineup for later this year which increases the expectation for the growth of local films includes "The Typhoon
(Taepung)" directed by Kwak Gyeong-taek
starring Jang Dong-gun
; "Blue Swallow
(Chongyon)", co-production between Japan and South Korea; and "Running Wild
(Yasu)" starring Kwon Sang-woo
and Yoo Ji-tae
Success of Local Films Abroad
Regarding the failure of big budget releases, many believe that since the size of the local market is limited, it is inevitable for competition to be fierce and it seems that many local film companies have tried to find a way to open a new market in other countries.
According to one report from KOFIC, the growth in Korean film exports has expanded rapidly over the last few years but has slowed during the first half of 2005 with only a slight increase over the last year.
In the period, a total of 153 local films were exported to 52 countries, which totaled about $ 41,809,976, a 28.6-percent increase over the previous year.
"It's true that the outcome has not yet been satisfying. But we believe Korean films are becoming like a brand, which can generally appeal to international audiences", Park said.
But, it is no doubt that this year's most successful Korean film abroad is "April Snow
", which was released Sept. 17 in 10 different Asian countries.
In Japan, which is regarded as the biggest film market in Asia, the film attracted 2 million moviegoers as of Oct. 25 and will likely be the most successful Korean film there.
The huge popularity of main actor Bae Yong-joon
, who is affectionately called "Yonsama" among Japanese fans, surely contributed to its international success, but people behind the success say there was much preparation needed to make it successful.
"You can't make a film successful only with a star", Michelle Son, head of international business at Show East, which is in charge of international marketing for "April Snow
". "First of all, the film should be good enough to appeal to international audiences".
In the beginning of the film project, even when main actors weren't cast, they had to prepare for international sales by understanding characteristics of each market and target audiences, she added.
She mentioned that they usually need a longer period of time for promotion of a film in Japan adding they had to book theaters one year and started to promote the film six months earlier before its release. For the Chinese market, they also had to be aware of China's foreign film quota system.
Opening simultaneously in other Asian countries is a way to help minimize illegal downloading and the pirating of DVDs, but it can be only possible when fuller understanding of each market is completed and when suitable marketing strategies are set up, she emphasized.
The industry is looking at international markets and various ways to make film distribution and promotion easier in the targeted countries.
One of the most anticipated films Daisy
, for example, is in production with a locally raised budget, starring such big local actors as Jun Ji-hyun and Jung Woo-sung, but it is directed by internationally acclaimed director Andrew Lau
of the "Infernal Affair" series to appeal the film to international audiences.
"We now considered of how to appeal to international audiences in the project stage", said a staff from iFilm, company behind Daisy
. "We thought that not only big stars but also a famous director is needed for its international release".
But as Korean film exports heavily depend on the Japanese market, which makes up 74.1 percent of the total international sales, it is also said that varying markets is needed.
"We find that Korean films started to appeal to international audiences with its distinguishable characteristics from Hollywood films", Park said. "That can now help the local film industry vary its marketing in other countries".