Monday, January 29, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Jan. 26-28

Zhang Yimou takes the top spot this week with his latest costumed, schmuck-foo drama, CURSING THE GOLDEN, FLYING DAGGER FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES (or something like that), taking in a healthy 461,000 in admissions, or about $3.1 million. Someone should force Zhang and Hong Sang-soo to swap their next projects (two extremely talents directors who have both gone to the same well too often).

Once again showing us the Seoul/jibang effect, THE PERFECT COUPLE came in No. 2 in Seoul with 88,100 in attendance (24% behind GOLDEN FLOWER), even though it was No. 1 nationwide with 520,600 in attendance (13% ahead).

Huzzah. 200 POUND BEAUTY just passed MY BOSS, MY TEACHER to become the top comedy of all time in Korea (not to mention the ninth-biggest box office draw). With 6.16 million in attendance and still at No. 3 on the weekend chart, BEAUTY is certain to pass by SHIRI to become the eighth-biggest film ever in Korea. Next in line after SHIRI would be TAZZA, at around 6.8 million in attendance.

Korean animation continues its tepid run with the opening of Lee Sung-gang's YOBI: THE FIVE-TAILED FOX in No. 7, with 186,000 in attendance. While not a great opening, it already has beaten most Korean animation, though. AATCHI & SSIPAK pulled in just 107,154 in its run last year, EMPRESS CHUNG with 75,957, OSEAM with 60,000 (approx.) and HAMMERBOY with 47,502. WONDERFUL DAYS did around 400,000 or so back in 2003, but I am trying to track down the exact number. So there is still a chance that YOBI could become the biggest Korean animated film ever, or at least in recent memory, especially with the Seollal holidays still to come.

In the meantime, it looks like the biggest animated Korean film is the re-release of the 30-year-old ROBOT TAEKWON V, with 473,8000 in admissions this go-around alone.
(Btw, something I did not know, but apparently the Korean golden age movie great Yu Hyun-mok produced the film... kind of cool). I wish I knew how TAEKWON V did in its original release, but alas I do not.

This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
1.Curse of the Golden Flower1.25278116,200461,000
2.The Perfect Couple1.2528488,100520,600
3.200-Pound Beauty12.1423778,9006,157,900
4.Miss Potter1.2519665,300185,900
5.Mapado 21.1833763,0001,318,000
7.Yobi: The Five-Tailed Fox1.2510538,000186,000
8.Deja Vu1.1113437,400772,100
9.Robot Taekwon V1.1818936,600473,800
10.Blood Diamond1.119326,600441,300

(Source: Film2.0)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Random Notes - Vol 2, No. 2

Some random notes from around the media about Korean pop culture:

  • 200 POUND BEAUTY is now officially the 10th-biggest Korean movie of all time, beating out JSA for the No. 10 spot. Does it have what it takes to surpass MY BOSS, MY TEACHER? 200 POUND is still selling around 45,000 tickets a day (during the weekdays), but starting yesterday, a lot of new competition hit the screens.

  • Boa is now five for five in Japan, as her latest album there has gone No. 1. Too bad she is not selling much in her homeland any more (her last album, in 2005, was just the 14th-biggest seller of the year). Also funny that the reporter called her the "Korean Britney Spears". Too many inappropriate jokes there to even know where to start.

  • Singers Se7en and Rain both seem to be going through rough patches at the moment. Seven's new TV drama, GUNG S (aka PRINCE WHO), has kicked off with less-than-stellar ratings (remember, you can always read the cached version of any Korea Herald article, even after the link turns into a for-pay archive story). And Rain apparently did not impress several journalists in his recent swing through Singapore and Hong Kong. I can echo those comments. Rain came to the press club here in Seoul back in October to talk about his tour, but he was so vague, evasive and inarticulate in this answers, he really annoyed most of the foreign journalists who showed up. Nice of him to take the time, but if he is going to take the trouble, he really should come prepared.

  • Bae Yong-joon paid the most taxes of any Korean entertainer in 2006. Last year he made over $15 million (it is unclear in the article if they meant overall or just in Japan), despite not appearing in any movies or TV shows. Not bad for a down year. Look for his taxes to soar in 2007 as he appears in LEGEND (or what the KT calls "The Four Guardian Gods of the King Taewangsasingi"), beginning around May-ish. LEGEND should be the most expensive TV show ever made in Korea (topping $40 million), and a good chunk of that will be for the cast (of course, a much bigger chunk will go to sets and special effects).

  • Incheon airport the world's best? I think not. Nor do I put much faith in any survey that calls the desolate hole that is Narita the world's No. 7 airport. Incheon Airport is certainly clean and modern, but it has a lousy selection of restaurants (compare it to, say, O'Hare, which has a Wolfgang Puck's, Pizzeria Uno's, Quiznos and more), and ridiculously bad immigration queues. Nothing like waiting in one of the three huge lines for foreigners while Koreans zip through in one of 20 empty rows. Certainly lets you know your place in a hurry. Extra-annoying because it is such an easily solvable problem.

  • Too much negativity in today's post? Sorry about that. So do yourself a favor and check out the new Lee Sung-gang animated film, YOBI (or YEUWOOBI, depending on who you ask). It is a little childish, but, still, Lee Sung-gang does good stuff.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My Award Show Has a First Name,
It's O-S-C-A-R

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 79th Academy Awards a few hours ago. In general, I am not a fan of the Oscars and think it is a big mistake to put much stock into the awards; however, I must say I am fairly pleased with this year's nominees. All five Best Picture films seem quite solid (even THE DEPARTED, despite my griping).

Two favorites, PAN'S LABYRINTH and CHILDREN OF MEN, both received several nominations. Hopefully these awards will spur local distributors here in South Korea to release some of those movies a little quicker (I'm talking to you Warner Bros, and I'm talking about LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA). FYI, THE QUEEN comes out Feb. 15, BABEL on Feb. 22, and LAST KING OF SCOTLAND on March 8.

No big surprises that Korea's nominee, THE KING AND THE CLOWN, did not get a nod for Best Foreign Language Film. I thought that was an incredibly weak selection that had no chance (it did not even make the short list, announced a few weeks ago). Not sure if THE HOST would have done any better... could not have done worse, I guess. In general, I thought 2006 a pretty weak year for Korean movies (artistically, anyhow).

But as I indicated in the beginning of this post, I am not a big Oscar fan, especially for the Best Foreign Language Film category, and I think we would be far better off if we ignored the whole silly thing.

Nikki Finke, as always, has all of the political and box office analyses, while completely ignoring any thought of art or quality (worse, she actively campaigns against such considerations, as in the middle of that link when she says that UNITED 93 did not deserve a nomination, despite being well-directed and having a great script, just because it had no A-list actors in it).

Oh, nearly forgot, if I am going to mention Korean movies getting the love from foreign critics (as I did here), then it seems only fair to mention when they get the raspberries, too. Japan's Bunshin Raspberry Awards named one Korean movie to their list of the 10-worst films of 2006 -- Choi Ji-woo's silly melodrama NOW AND FOREVER, which was ranked No. 7 among the most rank. TALES OF EARTHSEA was the runaway winner (loser?) of this year's Raspberries.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Jan. 19-21

A remarkably stable weekend at the box office. Despite having a new No. 1 film, many films in the top-10 experienced very little drop-off from last week. 200 POUND BEAUTY took in just 200 fewer viewers last weekend in Seoul compared to the previous weekend. Not bad for a movie that has been out for a month and a half.

DEJA VU and BLOOD DIAMOND also experienced only small declines, BLOOD DIAMOND so much so that it rose from seventh to sixth. ERAGON, on the other hand, did have a pretty substantial drop, falling from first to fifth.

The new No. 1 movie is MAPADO 2. Did not see it. But it is interesting to see how its Seoul weekend box office was only a little more than ERAGON did last week, but its national attendance since Thursday was more than 200,000 bigger. Just another sign of how tastes differ between Seoul and the countryside in Korea.

The restored print of ROBOT TAEKWON V made its debut in eighth (well, almost debut, since it was first screened at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2005). Not great, but not bad for a 30-year-old movie that most people already now. In fact, if you look at the nationwide numbers, it opened in fifth (same effect as MAPADO 2). Incidentally, the nice people at RTV's production company rediscovered the English subtitles for the movie, so the next time it comes out on DVD, it should include them.

Michel Gondry's SCIENCE OF SLEEP may be all the way down at No. 17 last weekend, but the film has now sold just over 40,000 tickets, or a little over $425,000. Not bad for an odd little film on so few screens. And the Japanese film HONEY AND CLOVER has now sold over 32,000 tickets.

This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
1.Mapado 21.18385110,000737,000
2.200-Pound Beauty12.14262101,4005,718,700
4.Deja Vu1.1118269,000583,500
6.Blood Diamond1.1112042,600338,100
7.Night at the Museum12.2119642,3004,476,200
8.Robot Taekwon V1.1820941,800230,100
9.Deathnote: The Last Name1.1120025,900546,100

(Source: Film2.0)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Take My Breath Away,
A Kim Ki-duk Set Visit

Local journalists (even myself) were invited on Thursday to the set of Kim Ki-duk's latest film, BREATH (숨), to get an early glimpse at the movie, talk to the actors, and see how Korea's arthouse bad boy is doing these days. Around 50 of us press types showed up, despite the-less-than-stellar commercial appeal of Kim these days, confirming my general belief that it is a lot easier to be famous than successful in Korea.

Anyhow, filming is taking place at Seodaemun Prison, nestled in the narrow valley between Mount Inwang (Inwangsan) and Mount An (Ansan). The former prison closed in 1987 and has been a museum since 1992 or so, so it is a convenient site to shoot a prison story.

The story of BREATHE, as I understand it, is about a woman who falls in love with a death-row inmate. Or an inmate who falls in love with a woman at the prison. Or something like that. Said inmate is being played by the Taiwanese actor Chen Chang, known for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and THREE TIMES. Even though this is a fairly low-budget project, Kim apparently wrote the role with Chang in mind and, I was told, referred to the character in the script as "Chen" from the beginning.

These set visits are an odd bit of artifice in Korea. A horde of media types gather to watch a staged bit of fake film making, followed by a press conference where the director and actors tell you how great it is to work together, how much they have all admired each other's works, etc.

For the most part, the BREATH event followed the usual script. We crowded into the prison's narrow corridor to watch a couple of scenes. Usually the chaos of having so many journalists around means that the filming is faked, but I was told that Kim put film in the camera and wanted to use the stuff we saw. Given how Kim only has 10 days to shoot this movie (he usually really rushes his shoots), I would not be surprised.

The biggest "news" (such as it was) was watching how Kim Ki-duk interacted with the press. The man has had some well known spats with the Korean press over the years, especially last year when he bashed THE HOST (or sounded like it, anyhow), complained about how his movies are treated in Korea and threatened to stop releasing his films in Korea altogether. Kim received quite the smackdown for his little tirade (which, I am told, really chastened and upset him). For our event, though, Kim was quite polite, if a little passive-aggressive, talking repeatedly about how he considered this movie to be like an "export" into Korea (because his films tend to do better in France and Italy than here in their homeland).

Oh, and the press conference was held outside, where it was pretty darn cold, especially when you were just sitting around, not moving. My camera's batteries died before the conference began, but you can see the site below. Note, the Taegukgi flag was already hanging there, for reasons unrelated to the press conference or the movie.

On a few occasions, I have been lucky enough to actually visit actual sets when they were actually filming, which is much more interesting. I shared a bento lunch once with Kim Jee-woon and Lee Byung-hun (and producer Eugene Lee, who was kind enough to allow me to visit) on the set of A BITTERSWEET LIFE, in the basement of a well known hotel in the Cheongdam-dong area. It was remarkable for its laid-back atmosphere. The stars had side rooms set aside for them if they wanted, but for the most part, people just hung out, watching, talking. No big, private trailers for the stars to hide in.

Anyhow, big thanks to Sponge House, Cineclick Asia, Kim Ki-duk and everyone else for inviting me (us) aboard. I guess the aim is to have the movie ready for the film festivals in the spring or summer. I will save my comments/criticisms about Kim Ki-duk for then. But I hope this movie works out well for him.

Shakedown Shut Down

Well, that was unexpected. Grady Hendrix's blog for Variety, KAIJU SHAKEDOWN is closing down. I guess I won't be able to use Kaiju as an example anymore to convince The Hollywood Reporter (or whoever) to make KOREA POP WARS a fabulously well paid gig.

I have never met Grady, despite our paths having crossed a few times (at PIFF and HK Filmart and elsewhere). I'm sure he will be fine without KS, but here's wishing him the best anyway.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Korean Music Charts - January 2007

Absolutely shocking how poor sales were for December. I thought that Korea usually gets a Christmas bump, but it certainly did not this year. The top-selling album, the latest SM Entertainment holiday release, sold just 33,453 copies. The tenth-place album, Park Sang-min's latest, sold just 11,000 (last month, tenth place sold 20,000).

Foreign music sales were also pretty bad, although they were actually up a little from November.

Still no work on 2006 overall sales yet, but you can bet they are going to be pretty depressing. On the other hand, the advance word I am getting about digital sales (online downloads, mobile phone music, etc.) is pretty incredible. Last year, mobile and downloads were (officially) about $267 million, versus $118 million for CD and cassette sales. I say officially, because the math behind the numbers if pretty murky, with no one group responsible for all the rights or collecting all the money. Unofficially, that number could have been well over $400 million. And there are rumors that 2006 might have experienced another huge leap. I will write about those numbers as soon as I hear more.

This MonthArtistAlbum NameRelease DateThis Month's SalesTotal Sales
1.VariousSM Town 1012.1233,45333,453
2.SG WannabeThe Precious History11.1633,42678,548
3.Big BangVol. 112.2133,34333,343
4.Lee Seung-chulReflection of Sound9.2726,01786,593
5.RainVol. 4 - I'm Coming10.1320,995106,110
6.Dong Bang Shin GiVol. 3 - O-Union9.2820,046349,317
7.BrianThe Brian12.1815,37615,376
8.Bobby KimVol. 212.1113,72313,723
9.Sung Shi-gyungVol. 510.1011,91294,328
10.Park Sang-minVol 1112.0111,00811,008
(source: MIAK)

Foreign Sales:
This MonthArtistAlbum NameRelease DateThis Month's SalesTotal Sales
1.Il DivoSiempre12.017,233
2.Richard Yongjae O'NeilLachrymae9.076,49819,454
3.VariousLove and Memory12.075,471
4.The BeatlesLove11.215,081
5.WestlifeThe Love Album11.204,629
6.VariousStep Up (OST)10.244,407
7.Shin YoungokLove Duets12.053,845
8.Jo SumiWith Love8.253,418
9.VariousWine: Music & Story10.193,404
10.Kenny GThe Most Romantic Melodies11.203,237

(source: MIAK)

Random Movie Notes - Vol 2, No. 1

  • A strange little news story over at Yonhap that did not generate much heat, but which seemed rather ominous to me -- South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun told his cabinet on Tuesday to investigate the nation's news media to see if they are colluding to bad-mouth his policies.

    Yeah, like the media needs to collude to find problems with Roh. It is the media's fault that Roh has alienated his base on the left, annoyed the right, and been so incredibly useless across the board (albeit with some minor improvements in decreasing corruption). Roh clearly has no idea how the press works, despite four years as president and however many as a public figure. Someone should tell him about catching flies with honey verus vinegar.

    Anyhow, lord knows the Korean press has its problems, but being bullied by the government is the last thing the press needs. Korean media needs more independence from government, not more control. But judging by Roh's plan to merge TV and telecommunications regulatory agencies, he obviously likes to control everything he can.

  • Funny article in the Korea Times about how Korea's top advertising queens are flopping on the big screen. As usual, the quality (or lack thereof) of the various films did not get much consideration. Considering how all those actresses (save Kim Tae-hee) have starred in successful movies in the past, it seems strange to me to blame their more recent failures and the actresses' poor acting abilities. Try taking a lesson from Go Hyun-jung and act in a few small-budget arthouse movies.

    (Which is why I have a bit of a soft spot for Jeon Ji-hyun... who, at the peak of her popularity, starred in THE UNINVITED. Not a good film, but at least she made the attempt).

  • Midnight Eye has its annual Best/Worst-of poll for 2006 movies. Yang Yonghi's DEAR PYONGYANG made several lists. Bae Doo-na's LINDA, LINDA, LINDA made a couple. THE HOST even made Tom Mes's list of best foreign films.

  • Thanks to Jon Pais over at Twitch Film for his kind words when he linked to this week's box office report.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Jan. 12-14

A remarkably weekend for parity, as the top six movies all sold over 340,000 tickets from Thursday night to Sunday night. I cannot remember the last time so many films did that well (well, over Christmas was pretty strong, but they had an extra holiday to add to the box office that weekend).

The dragon fantasy film ERAGON was the No. 1 film this weekend, selling 504,600 tickets since opening Thursday (about $3.4 million). Not a bad opening for a silly little B-picture.

200 POUND BEAUTY shot over the 5-million-attendance mark over the weekend, and is still doing quite well a month after its release. I think it is going to top 5.5 million... but I fear it will not match the 6.1 million of MY BOSS, MY TEACHER. Sigh. Would have been nice to depose that film from its perch as the top comedy of all time in Korea.

No. 3 went to HERB, with a decent 442,000. Kind of in the middle to be considered a success or disappointment. We will have to wait to see if the film has any legs. It if keeps chugging along, then I could see it doing quite well. Or it could drop like a stone.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM topped the 4-million line, a fairly impressive feat, too. MUSEUM is the biggest foreign movie in Korea since PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 last summer.

Even though DEATHNOTE 2: THE LAST NAME opened in No. 6, it sold 347,600 tickets, which is nearly 20% better than the first DEATHNOTE did back in early November.

This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
2.200-Pound Beauty12.14271101,6005,164,600
4.Deja Vu1.1118477,600272,100
5.Night at the Museum12.2124373,9004,193,300
6.Deathnote: The Last Name1.1121263,500347,600
7.Blood Diamond1.1112053,800173,700
8.Battle of Wits1.1120043,000187,000
9.Open Season1.0415017,300283,800
10.My Wife Is a Gangster 312.2819112,2001,624,900

(Source: Film2.0)

The weird thing that confuses/amazes me is that MAPADO 2 apparently came in at No. 11, with around 40,000 tickets sold nationwide -- despite that fact it will not be released until Thursday. Over 40,000 tickets sold just in advanced previews? There certainly does seem to be a buzz for the film, currently at No. 1 on Interpark's advance reservation site, accounting for 38% of reservations (ROBOT TAEKWON V is second with 31%, then you drop all the way down to 4.3% for the third-place film, 200 POUND BEAUTY).

MAPADO was most notable, to me, for having a poster campaign that in no way resembled the actual movie:

It appears that the same marketing team is responsible for MAPADO 2:

Friday, January 12, 2007

Japan Notes and Whatnot

Bong Joon-ho's THE HOST may have disappointed at the box office in Japan, but it apparently impressed more than a few critics. Kinema Junpo just released its poll of the top movie of 2006, and THE HOST was ranked No. 3 among foreign films.

Btw, this was not the first time a Korean film did well on the Kinema Junpo poll. THE PRESIDENT'S BARBER made No. 6 last year. (Coincidentally, both films star Song Gang-ho).

Actually, there is a whole bunch of interesting stuff going on the world of Japanese movies these days. Hoga Central has a nice look at the year's box office (which apparently had fewer huge hits and more middling hits last year).

Jason Grey has some information about the new Miike Takeshi remake of DJANGO (or whatever the heck that odd film is). You should check out the next story in his blog, too, about NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE Director Tsukamoto Shinya.

Midnight Eye has an interview up with manga creator and animator Katsuhiro Otomo.

And just for the sake of completeness, check out Ryuganji from time to time for all your Japan film news.

Han Style

The Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism just announced a new promotion called HAN STYLE, which focuses on Korean traditional culture. Han Style refers to six major aspects of Korean culture: Hangul (Korean writing), Hansik (Korean food), Hanbok (Korean clothing), Hanok (Korean houses), Hanji (Korean mulberry paper) and Hanguk Eumak (Korean music).

(A bit of the cheat on that last "Han", btw. "Eumak" is music, but since that lacks the "Han" thing, they called it "Hanguk Eumak", which is just "Korean music").

Anyhow, Ministry Kim Myung-gon has been talking about this for a while. When Minister Kim addressed the Seoul Foreign Correspondents Club in September to talk about the Ministry's huge aid package for the movie industry, he also spent a good while talking about Korean traditional culture.

He emphasized the need to develop and preserve traditional culture to keep the current success of the Korean entertainment industry strong. “Water without a source cannot flow far,” Kim said. “Likewise, if the foundation of the Korean Wave is weak, it will be little more than a passing fad.”

While I usually do not like government mucking about in the arts, this seems to me to be a fairly benign, even useful move for the MCT. Korean traditional culture is perceived as less "sexy" than much of its neighbors. I think a lot of that is because of how it is marketed these days. For example, the palaces in Seoul tend to be poorly maintained. (Linoleum floors? And moldy at that...). Tourist guides tend to be written in Korean for Koreans, then translated into English; as a result, they are mind-bogglingly dull and obscure. More stuff like JEWEL IN THE PALACE could be a big help... People are not going to love Korean culture because Korean culture is so innately super-cool-beautiful. Rather, people will take an interest in Korean traditional culture when that culture is a part of interesting, well-told stories and other artworks.

But I do wish the government and other Korean bigwigs would widen their idea of what "Korean culture" is. There is a whole world of cool stuff that happened in Korea between the end of the Joseon Dynasty and the 1990s, just as interesting and deserving of preservation and marketing as any gayageum or hanok.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Jan. 5-7

UPDATE: More analysis and a link added in the text

There was a real photo-finish this week for the top spot, but by a hair, 200 POUND BEAUTY finished back on top, just edging out NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM by 1,000 tickets. It was the fourth weekend out for BEAUTY, and the third for MUSEUM, surprisingly strong runs considering how strong the competition was. Or how strong the competition appeared, anyhow. Each year, heading into the holiday season, it looks like there will be a mad crush of films trodding all over each other, but each year one or two films rise above the fray, letting the other sink in the muck.

Even MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER 3 hung on to its No. 3 spot from last week, proving the comedy to be a medium hit with some legs.

No real surprise on Im Sang-soo's THE OLD GARDEN, which opened in fifth. Well, I am a little surprised that Lotte Entertainment put the movie on 212 screens: that is one dull movie.

Really bad news for Go So-young, whose new film PROJECT MAKEOVER opened way down in eighth place. Eighth, despite opening on 304 screens. Her last film, the horror movie APT, did pretty poorly, too. Hopefully this will inspire Go and her management team to take radical measures before choosing her next film role... like, maybe finding a movie that is not terrible. Too outlandish a suggestion? Right, she will probably just star in a TV drama instead.

THE RESTLESS is still in the top-10, but barely. Seems like a good time to point out a Korea Herald story about this season's flops. (Like most Korea Herald stories, the link will only work for a week. After that, you'll have to pay for it, or else do a Google search and click the cached version). THE RESTLESS was certainly a Christmas turkey, along with I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OKAY, SEDUCING MR. PERFECT and ONCE IN A SUMMER. But like a lot of stories about blockbusters and bombs and things, the writer does not really talk about movie quality. Sure those films did not do well at the box office. But none of them were very good (actually, I am guessing at ONCE IN A SUMMER, but I feel safe in that guess). And judging by their opening weekends' box office, none did a good job of convincing audiences that they might be good.

The headline says it all: "Blockbusters flop as star marketing fails". I would argue that star marketing almost never works. The right actor can make a good film better, but they can barely ever stop a film from tanking. Korean audiences, in my humble opinion, have become pretty good at smelling crap coming from quite a ways away, and it has become increasingly difficult to fool them with marketing campaigns.

Look at the top films of 2006: THE HOST, THE KING AND THE CLOWN and TAZZA. What do each of those films have in common? All three are completely unlike each other, and very unlike any other films released over the past year. You can make market a so-so film into a middling hit, but "a big hit is always a surprise" (as a local producer likes to say). Television relies on familiarity. Movies require mystery -- they need surprise and a sense of expectations. At 7-8,000 won per ticket, the well runs dry a lot faster in the cinema than it does for free at home.

Good news from THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, even though it is no longer on the top-10. The Michel Gondry movie topped 30,000 admissions last week... not bad for a little film on just six screens.

This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
1.200-Pound Beauty12.14354147,5004,568,500
2.Night at the Museum12.21341146,5003,711,000
3.My Wife Is a Gangster 312.2834068,1001,408,100
4.Open Season1.0418838,900166,700
5.The Old Garden1.0421233,200150,300
6.Old Miss Diary12.2113931,600773,600
7.The Holiday12.148231,0001,264,000
8.Project Makeover1.0430430,800138,000
9.Casino Royale12.2117625,6001,076,400
10.The Restless12.2121115,0001,509,000

(Source: Film2.0)

FYI, if you are in Korea and waiting to see some Clint Eastwood, you will not have to wait much longer. FLAG OF OUR FATHERS has finally gotten a release date: Feb. 15. No date chosen yet for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Hopefully a couple of Academy Award nominations will inspire Warner to get it into the theaters.

Oh, and the latest Frank Miller comic book to become a movie, 300, has a release date, too. March 15. Mark your calendars, because that looks like it should be a pretty crazy film.

(Note: I am not promising a good movie. Just a crazy one. See the trailer to see what I mean. Or check out the comic book. Or some sample art from the comic. Here for more.)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dramatic License

A fun look at the year ahead in Korean historical dramas here.

Historical dramas have done quite well on Korean television over the years. Sure, there has been a little ebb and flow, but overall historical dramas have been among the highest-rated shows for around a decade now. Starting with TEARS OF THE DRAGON (1996-8 on KBS) set in the transition period between the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, the first big historical drama to catch people's attention. TEARS went from the story of the general Yi Sung-gye, who rose up against the Goryeo Dynasty to become king himself, to Yi's fifth son Bang-won, to Bang-won's eldest son, the womanizing Yang-nyeong. Finally Yang-nyeong renounces his crown to become a commoner, leaving the throne to his younger brother Hyo-reong. Hyo-reong then becomes a monk, leaving the throne to his nebbish younger brother Chung-nyeong.

You might have heard of Chung-nyeong by his royal name. Sejong. 'Tis a little famous in Korea.

Since then there have been too many big historical dramas to count, such as LADIES IN THE PALACE (Yeonin Cheonan, on SBS, 2001-2... which I could swear was once known as WOMEN WHO RULED THE WORLD), EMPEROR OF THE SEA, JEWEL IN THE PALACE, ... and of course JUMONG and HWANGJINI airing at the moment.

For a look at 2006's historical dramas, there is this short Korea Herald story. (Actually, there are better stories, but I so enjoy looking at the Herald's "premium" content for free...) Anyhow, a bigger story, about JUMONG and future series is here at the Korea Times.

I watch a fair amount of Korean movies and TV each year, and listen to a lot of music... but I would be lying if I said that many TV dramas are very interesting to me. I do hope that this will change, though. I am very happy to see OCN and Home CGV starting to broadcast original dramas. Hopefully this might shake things up, like HBO did to the mainstream networks in the United States in the 1990s. And some of the new generation of production companies are certainly ambitious.

The new Bae Yong-joon series, LEGEND, is going to cost around $40 million for 24 episodes (it was supposed to be $30 million, but has experiences a lot of cost overruns, especially for the sets). For that kind of money, we are getting close to the cost of an American TV series. Hopefully the production values will reflect that, and get more cinematic, less soap-opera-ish.

Oh, the company making LEGEND is also slated to make a 4-volume, 80-part version of CITY HUNTER. There will be four 20-part series, each set in a different city (Seoul, Tokyo, New York and France). The company, SSD, has a lot of good folks working there who are trying to learn from the best TV guys around the world.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Extelecommunicating Heretics

For a country with as much broadband Internet as Korea and that watches as much television as Koreans do, you would think that Internet TV would be a natural match. IPTV has been the next big thing in many territories about the world, with 1,300 IPTV channels being broadcast around the world (or so Wikipedia tells me).

South Korea's IPTV, however, has been stymied for years, thanks to the never-ending turf wars of various government ministries -- mostly the Ministry of Information and Communications and the Korean Broadcasting Commission, although the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy has also been involved and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism stepped in recently, further muddying the waters. Since IPTV represents the convergence of several fields (Internet technology plus TV broadcasting, plus telephony, plus who-knows-what-next), each field's individual regulator and policy body now wants the power over all IPTV.

Also complicating things was the Cable TV industry, which worries that IPTV could put them out of business. Korea's generally dodgy Cable business has been trying to upgrade its service, moving to HD digital, but last I checked, they were having serious technical problems (standard definition is okay, but HD is not working yet). So rather than get their own house in order and complete with the telecoms for customers, the cable industry has been furiously lobbying the government to prevent IPTV from taking off.

Now why, you might ask, should I care about IPTV? After all, Korean TV networks have streamed content over the Internet for years. But streaming is not the same thing as broadcasting.

IPTV also brings us closer to Triple Play, that converging of TV, Internet and telephone into one single package (even Quadruple Play, if you can combine mobile phones). Instead of having to pay for three separate services, you will just have one company providing all three. Theoretically for a lot less money than the three services cost separately.

Korea's mighty telecoms have been straining at the bit for years for the chance to move to IPTV. Everyone in Korea already has a mobile phone, and most people have Internet and cable TV, so it has been increasingly hard to find room for growth.

Hanaro Telecom finally got tired of waiting for the government to get its act together and last summer launched HanaTV. Which of course pissed off regulators to no end. But so far HanaTV is just Video on Demand, not full IPTV, and the government can see what is coming, so HanaTV has been left alone. KT has also started IPTV trials.

Finally last month, the government put forward legislation to create a new regulatory body that would combine telecommunications and broadcasting and sort out the whole mess.

Well, be careful of what you wish for. Especially when you have leadership like the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Because the law that Roh is pushing would create a new regulatory body MORE controlled by the president's office. Under the new bill, the president would appoint all five members of the new regulatory body's standing committee. This committee would be responsible for, among other things, appointing the presidents of the three public TV stations (KBS, MBC and EBS). Considering how overpoliticized the media already is in Korea, adding more politics to the mix is not a good idea.

In the IPTV age, why is the state involved in controlling broadcasting at all? In the past, the argument was that the airwaves belong to the public, so content should reflect the public good. But IPTV is not constrained by the limits of the open airwaves. You can have hundreds, thousands of Internet-broadcast channels. Year by year, the cable channels are getting better ratings and are posing better competition.

This is not just some abstract, technocratic debate. Koreans have proven, over and over again, that they far prefer receiving their entertainment content over the Internet, rather than buying packaged goods. CD sales have dropped nearly 75% since 2000 (down to barely $100 million), but Internet and mobile phone music sales might have topped $400 million last year (2006 figures are not available yet, but those are the early estimates I have heard). Video game boxes (like Playstation and Xbox) are barely an afterthought compared to Internet gaming. DVD sales never took off in the first place, and have since declined a lot.

The Korean movie industry has been overreliant on theatrical revenue for some time. Over 80% of most movies' revenue comes from the theaters (in the United States, DVD sales are often bigger than theatrical revenue). And more diverse revenues for TV producers would not hurt either. So IPTV has the potential to be a major boost for movies and TV.

In many ways, the future of the entertainment industry could be linked to this new law. But Roh, once again, has shown himself more concerned with asserting his power and the power of his office rather than taking the steps needed to empower the Korean people and their cultural industries. I do not mean to sound all high-and-mighty or rant too much, but it is so annoying small-minded politicians so intent on mucking things up once again.

(Btw, sorry for not writing much these days. But the book is taking up more and more time these days.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Dec. 29-Jan. 1

Okay, I was surprised. Really, really surprised. For a second weekend in a row, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM was the big winner in Korea, beating out 200 POUND BEAUTY and (incredibly, in my opinion) MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER 3. Considering how well some really terrible sequels have performed in Korea, and that most of the reviews for GANGSTER 3 were fairly positive, I thought this film would do great. But instead GANGSTER 3 opened only in third place.

MUSEUM, on the other hand, just kept steamrolling over the competition, actually doing better on the second Friday. Because I find the day-by-day breakdown rather interesting, let me show you how MUSEUM has done since it was released Dec. 20:

Dec. 20 - 48,500
Dec. 21 - 86,510

Dec. 22 - 129,500 (Friday)
Dec. 23 - 315,180
Dec. 24 - 389,940
Dec. 25 - 385,400
Dec. 26 - 115,250
Dec. 27 - 124,620
Dec. 28 - 126,050

Dec. 29 - 160,090 (Friday)
Dec. 30 - 315,310
Dec. 31 - 349,260
Jan. 1 - 326,120
Total - 2,871,750

At the rate it is going, it looks like NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is going to become the most successful foreign comedy in Korean history. At the moment, I believe that title is held by SHREK 2, which had 3.3 million admissions. I certainly cannot think of anything that did any better... unless you include action films with comedy overtones, like MR. & MRS. SMITH.

In general, foreign comedies do not do nearly as well as action movies. The Austin Powers movies barely made a ripple here. (After all, how could you translate all those sex puns?) (Or why would you want to?). MEET THE FOCKERS did not do much. BRIDGET JONES DIARY 2 had 1.5 million admissions. DEVIL WEARS PRADA had something over 1.7 million. And? I cannot think of anything else. So congratulations to Bill Stiller, I guess. Or to person who thought of animating a dinosaur skeleton during the winter vacation. Or something like that.

200 POUND BEAUTY is still doing well, now nearing the 4-million-admissions mark. And I do not see anything slowing it down any time soon. Im Sang-soo's THE OLD GARDEN almost certainly will not be a big draw. The following week HERB might do well (Koreans do seem to love heartwarming stories about the mentally retarded/disabled), or Leonard DiCaprio's BLOOD DIAMOND. At any rate, it seems safe to say 200 POUND is going to top 5-million admissions before its run is done.

Funny to see CASINO ROYALE in another tie this week. And with a different film than last week.

Good to see SCIENCE OF SLEEP continuing to do well. We need more offbeat films that like doing well here.

This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
1.Night at the Museum12.21363213,6002,871,800
2.200-Pound Beauty12.14396186,2003,804,900
3.My Wife Is a Gangster 312.28420110,700872,200
4.The Holiday12.1417562,0001,175,000
5.The Restless12.2133550,0001,408,000
6.Casino Royale12.2127549,200913,900
6. (tie)Happy Feet12.2116649,200609,900
8.Old Miss Diary12.2117639,000601,500
9.The Science of Sleep12.2155,20023,000
10.Little Miss Sunshine12.2162,4009,600

(Source: Film2.0)

'Rock for Peace,' Out
Peace of Mind, In

Talk about your changes of heart. One of the earlier posts I wrote at this blog was about an international rock concert to be held in Pyongyang of all places. The concert, to be called "Rock for Peace," was going to be held in early May, and "hundreds" of Western bands were applying for the show, the organizer told me, including Mike Doughty and Death Cab for Cutie. Seriously.

Rock for Peace was being organized by one Mr. Jean-Baptiste Kim, a former South Korean who fled to Europe some 30 years ago who was now firmly a supporter of North Korea. Mr. Kim and his concert plans had gotten some significant press all over the world, including in the Guardian, Yonhap and numerous news wires and blogs.

Now, however, it looks like the show is history. Or at least Mr. Kim's role in organizing it is. After 10 years of "serving" the DPRK, Mr. Kim has had a Paul/Saul-like seeing of the light:
I have been providing theories of excusing myself and DPRK regime which ignoring the facts of ordinary lives in DPRK. My behaviours of last 10 years are against my own belief but I continued walk on this road because I needed an exit for my anger and hate toward South Korea. I required ordinary North Korea people to be sacrifices of national security in my theory but I did not participate their miserable lives myself. I must confess myself that I am such coward and one of the most hypocritical figures in modern Korean history. My fictitious behaviours are also against my religious conscience as I am a Roman Catholic and I ask lord a forgiveness.

As part of Mr. Kim's change in outlook, he is canceling the Rock for Peace concert:
I also need to announce that ROCK FOR PEACE will be suspended along with myself. It was my passion to bring rock festival into North Korea but I decided not to continue on this project because I know full details of the event, the reasons, the purposes, the backgrounds, everything. The reason why I abandon the event is because the event was politically designed which gives more pains to ordinary people but more benefits to the regime.

I must admit that I am not surprised. I had made some calls when this story broke (my wise editor was quite dubious about the whole project from the get-go, and insisted I get more verification about it), and was told this idea of this concert was "bad intelligence." A call to the North Korean embassy in Sweden (where this whole project was being coordinated) only found some confused, skeptical officials (not a cheery sounding bunch at all, but surprisingly accessible).

And talk about your New Year's Resolutions:
In 2007 this new year, I became 40 and I need to admit that it is now the time to forget all things behind of the curtain. I shall erase all my bad memories about South Korea and must face the new future of my children and children of Korea. I should not be the victim of anger, should not be the sacrifice of hate as long as it makes North Korean ordinary people becoming another sacrifices of my own. I today officially declare that I stop all supports for DPRK regime and will do the same supports for North Korean ordinary people instead.

Here's to hoping more people in 2007 can put the past behind them and move on, like Mr. Kim has.

Anyhow, be sure to check out the Voice of Korea website for the latest. And if you are in London and need a mobile phone, stop by Mr. Kim's store.

Monday, January 01, 2007

You Cannot Judge a DVD by Its Cover

Sometimes even legitimate DVDs in Korea can be rather dubious. Case in point, I recently bought a discount copy of the 1937 version of KING SOLOMON'S MINES, the Alan Quatermaine adventure that has been made into numerous movies over the years. Or at least that is what I thought I bought. Right there on the cover, it mentioned Paul Robeson (the main reason I bought the DVD in the first place), Cedric Hardwicke and Roland Young.

But when I popped the DVD into my player, something strange happened. No Hardwicke. No Robeson. And the whole film was definitely in color.

It did not take me long to realize that, despite the packaging, I was in fact watching the 1950 version of the same movie, the version that starred Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger.

(Strangely, however, the box did have the correct Academy Awards listed on it, the two won by the 1950 version.)

So how could this happen? Well, Korea has a relatively limited copyright period for movies, just 50 years. Anything older than that is fair game for anyone. Any movie you see that was made before 1957 (as of when I write this post) can be released on DVD by anyone without paying royalties or asking permission. Korea is full of such titles, usually in the 4-5,000 won range. And that kind of money does not pay for a lot of editorial oversight.

Korea's shortened copyright period does have its positive side, though. The Korean Film Archive has been releasing a couple of classic films each year on DVD, in really nice versions, with subtitles and notes and things. For a lot of these old films, the copyright is in dispute or unknown or otherwise problematic, so having titles come into the public sphere is a big help.

There is an out-of-date list of these movies in English here. A complete list in Korean is here. If you want to order any titles, you can try Seoul Selection. Sadly, they do not have a separate section for classic movies, so you will have to search around. But you can start here for the Archive's latest.