Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chuseok Is Coming...

Well, it looks like Chuseok (Korea's fall harvest festival) is going to be rather unusual this year. Since it is a holiday determined by the lunar calendar, it moves around each year, and this year it falls on Oct. 5-7. But Oct. 3 is Korea's National Foundation Day, to celebrate the founding of Korea by Dangun, the son of a god and a bear-woman, in 2333 BC (could have happened).

Anyhow, with Tuesday, Thursday and Friday already holidays, a good chunk of Korea is taking Monday and Wednesday off, too, and basically having a big vacation from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8. A nice eight or nine days off.

The reason I mention this is that Chuseok is also usually the biggest movie-going season in Korea. And they do not just go to any old movie -- usually this is one of the strongest seasons for local movies. Last year, when Chuseok was a more normal five days, 3.5 million people went to the movies (assuming no one went more than once). With a big 10 days off, the movie industry is practically giddy at the thought of how many tickets they might be able to sell. 10 million? 11 million? 12? Considering that Korea is on track to sell around 160 million tickets this year, conceivably around 8% of the year's box office could be decided over this 10-day stretch.

Which is why so many movies are coming out right now. You have RADIO STAR, the new movie by Lee Joon-ik (the guy who made THE KING AND THE CLOWN, the surprise hit of last winter which was until recently the most successful Korean film of all time). This story, starring two of the biggest names from the 1990s, Park Joong-hoon and Ahn Sung-gi, about a washed up rock star becoming a radio deejay out in the countryside, seemed pretty dubious to me. A real retro, Chungmuro story, the kind of thing that the Korean film industry would have made 10 years ago.

However, the film has been getting great buzz from its preview screenings. So who knows?

Another big film will be WAR OF FLOWERS (which I think CJ Entertainment has renamed, but I cannot find the new name, if it exists), a crime-noir thriller sort of thing about some card sharks. WAR OF FLOWERS is based on a popular newspaper comic strip from the 1990s, and it is directed by Choi Dong-hoon, the guy behind THE BIG SWINDLE, a film that did well among critics, even though it kind of flailed at the box office.

WAR OF FLOWERS is getting pretty good buzz, but more importantly, it is being distributed by CJ Entertainment. Why is that important? Because with so many films coming out right now, getting access to screens is incredibly competitive. And since CJE runs the CJ CGV, the biggest multiplex chain in Korea, that gives their movies an instant leg up.

Other films? Well, MARRYING THE MAFIA 3 and MAUNDY THURSDAY are both still doing well, and will fight to keep their screens. And there is some sort of Kim Jung-eun "comedy" called JAL SALABOSE ("Let's Get Better," a very famous song from the Saemaeul movement in the 1970s). There is also THE FOX FAMILY, a comedy-horror based on Korea's folktale of the nine-tailed foxes.

Buena Vista Korea is distributing the new Jackie Chan film ROB-B-HOOD. While I am not a huge fan of Mr. Chan's recent films, nor of films revolving around cute babies, Jackie often does okay in Korea, and BV has got around 165 screens for the film, so who knows, it could do well (I'm told they are tracking 400,000 or so over this opening weekend).

And believe it or not, there is more. Altogether, around 11 movies make their debuts over this weekend.

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