Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - July 27-29
(Mini Edition)

Sorry, too busy with the book again for more than a quick run-down.

Title - Weekend Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
1. May 18 - 284,200 - 1,325,000
2. Die Hard 4.0 - 127,200 - 2,363,800
3. Ratatouille - 82,700 - 279,800
4. Transformers - 63,000 - 6,986,000
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 53,500 - 3,441,000
6. Evan Almighty - 33,800 - 128,100
7. Muoy - 21,100 - 112,500
8. Alone - 13,900 - 457,500
9. Attack on the Pin-up Boys - 9,200 - 58,100
10. Power Rangers - 4,900 - 89,600

Okay, a couple of brief notes.

  • MAY 18 is the first Korean film to land in the No. 1 spot in 12 weeks... since PARADISE MURDERED at the end of April.

  • TRANSFORMERS has now crossed the 7-million admissions mark. Very impressive.

  • Korean movies are down to 41% of the box office for the year... the lowest level at the end of July since 2001. Not so impressive.

  • RATATOUILLE was really, really good. Lots of funny jokes, but I was in awe of the film structurally, of the plotting and pacing.

  • It is beginning to look like my book's title will be changed to something else. Not sure if I will bother to change my blog name, too.
  • Sunday, July 29, 2007

    Host with HD Most

    This is kind of interesting. At the moment at DVD Empire, THE HOST is the No. 1 selling Blu-ray title. (Is just No. 4 among HD-DVDs, though).

    Kind of exciting the other day -- I saw my first Blu-ray discs on sale in Korea. At the Evan Records at COEX (same time I saw the Shin Sang-ok collection). It was a sad little collection, though, and I did not see THE HOST among those titles.

    Have HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players gone on sale in Korea yet? Last I checked they were not being sold here (at least not legitimately... in Yongsan, anything is possible).

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    Help Please! Looking for Flops

    Calling all readers! I could use your help. I am trying to put together a list of the biggest flops in Korean movie history (well, in the last 10 years or so, anyhow), but I am worried about forgetting something obvious (or even not-so-obvious but important). So if you feel like taking a moment to write in your suggestions, I would appreciate it very much.

    Of course there is RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL, NATURAL CITY and WONDERFUL DAYS. I have a list of other ideas, but I would be more interested in hearing what you all think. And it does not have to be just financial flops. Films that did so-so commercially but that you think were total dogs could count, too. Whatever you think fits.

    Many thanks for your help.

    Shin Sang-ok on DVD

    Like many Korean movie fan, I have greatly enjoyed the Korean Film Archives series of classic film releases. But with their latest DVD set, the Archives has really outdone itself. I am, of course, talking about the 5 DVD set of Shin Sang-ok movies that just went on sale a couple of weeks ago.

    For just 56,000 won at YesAsia (and less than 50,000 won at Even Records in COEX Mall) you get ROMANTIC PAPA, SEONG CHUN-HYANG, MOTHER & A GUEST, DEAF SAMRYONGI and ONE THOUSAND YEAR OLD FOX.

    Perhaps these are not Shin's most definitive movies -- the collection does not include any of his films from the 1950s -- but they are not bad at all. ROMANTIC PAPA was a successful home melodrama, and the first movie he produced from Shin Film Company. SEONG CHUN-HYANG was Korea's first color cinemascope movie. DEAF SAMRYONGI was actually made into a movie in 1929 by Na Do-hyang, but that classic is long since lost; Shin remade the film in 1964. (Incidentally, don't you wish the Film Archive would have retitled the film DEF SAMRYONGI? Could have made the film much hipper). And finally, ONE THOUSAND YEAR OLD FOX was a rare horror film that was an A-picture, made for first-run theaters like the Myungbo in Chungmuro.

    Shin Sang-ok, of course, was one of the most important directors in Korean movie history. He won five Best Picture and Best Director awards at the Asian Film Festival during the 1960s. He worked with the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest in Hong Kong. And most famously, he and his wife were kidnapped by North Korea in 1978, where they were forced to make movies until they defected to the West in Vienna in 1986.

    And just to add a wonderful coda of the absurd to his life (as if North Korea were not enough), he moved to Hollywood in the 1990s, where he made the THREE NINJA movies.

    When I met him at the Pusan Film Festival in 2000, after a screening of his FLOWER IN HELL, he was not at all apologetic about making kiddie films in Hollywood. he said matter-of-factly that he quite enjoyed making movies with good equipment and multiple cameras and the like, which more than made up for the lack of artistic freedom (and commercial indifference) in South Korea.

    Also notable was how at that informal Q&A after the screening, Shin moved effortlessly between Korean, English and Japanese, answering whatever questions in whatever language they were posed.

    Btw, Shin's first movie contribution, VIVA FREEDOM, on which he served as production designer, was the first movie issued by the Film Archive. You can still find it online and around Seoul.

    Now if only someone will publish Shin's 1958 film A FLOWER IN HELL...

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - July 20-22

    Well, one minor mystery solved. A few weeks ago, Mike noted in a comment that my chart's admissions for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END had actually fallen between weeks. I was interested in the difference, but did not follow up.

    However I just figured it out. About three weeks ago, Film 2.0 changed how it compiled box office data. Instead of compiling the charts themselves, the Film 2.0 crew decided to start using the official KOBIS data. KOBIS is much more accurate, but it does not track all the screens in Korea. At the moment, it claims to account for 94% of the nationwide box office. I guess this means I will be using KOBIS, too (although I will use the studios' numbers when they send me those stats).

    Anyhow, once again Hollywood dominated. The movie listings at my local multiplexes basically looked like Die Hard, Die Hard, Transformers, Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Alone, Transformers, Die Hard, Cut. Not a lot of variety going on.

    DIE HARD 4.0 (I prefer that title to the American LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD) opened fairly strong, with $10.9 million, which is the biggest ever Fox film in Korea. Whatever that means.

    HARRY POTTER, TRANSFORMERS, blah blah blah...

    Much more interesting, though, was the No. 4 film, ALONE (called SIAM here, for no good reason I could see). ALONE, a horror film from Thailand, opened pretty strongly -- about $2 million or so. I was quite impressed. ALONE's directors (there are two) had a pretty successful previous film in SHUTTER, but still, for some obscure Thai horror movie to come in fourth? Nice. I hope we will see more international films like that.

    Title - Weekend Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
    1. Die Hard 4.0 - 698,500 - 1,465,100
    2. Harry Potter a Side Order of Phoenix - 427,800 - 3,001,600
    3. Transformers - 386,800 - 6,508,600
    4. Alone (Siam) - 137,400 - 295,800
    5. Cut - 71,000 - 529,700
    6. Power Rangers Magic Force - 31,100 - 66,000
    7. Black House - 6,800 - 1,314,600
    8. Descent - 3,500 - 227,900
    9. Lady Chatterly - 2,100 - 9,300
    10. Shrek 3 - 1,300 - 2,819,600

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Naver Say Naver Again...

    Hey, for the first time, the Korean Internet world seems to have noticed my presence. Very exciting. And rather unexpected.

    If I may explain... On Friday, I will be giving a presentation at Kyung Hee University, as part of some seminar and other things in a day of Hallyu (the Korean Wave). The university asked us presenters to write a little paper, basically going over what we will talk about at the seminar. No big deal, was happy to do it.

    But apparently the university gave out copies of our papers to the local press... trying to stir up interest in their event, I guess. In any event, this morning I started getting phone calls from some friends and acquaintances in the entertainment industry, asking about the mean things I had written.

    My first response was "Huh?"... partly because it takes a while for my brain to get moving in the morning, and partly because I had not expected the press to take an interest in my little paper. But mostly because I wrote a fairly positive story about the local entertainment biz.

    So I hit the Internet and found a couple of stories. The worst was definitely the Segye Ilbo, who totally misunderstood what I wrote. And (surprise, surprise) did not bother contacting me. Niiiice. Very professional. Granted, I gave my paper a cheeky little title ("The Zombie Wave"), but not for any special reason... because I could not think of a decent title and because I was just joking around.

    In any event, where there is news, there is a Naver discussion (Thanks to the Marmot for pointing it out to me). As of 11pm, there were over 1,200 comments... Rather remarkable, especially for little old me. It was mostly the usual Naver mix of complaining, joking and what not, but I was surprised how many people seemed sympathetic to what I said (even though much of it was taken out of context).

    FYI, for any Naver or Newsis or other folk dropping by, my presentation is mostly about how the Korean Wave and Korean pop culture has been perceived by the Western media. It is much more a critique of Western journalism in Korea than it is an analysis of Korean pop culture.

    FYI2, I am not American. I write for American magazines, but I am not American. Not that there is anything wrong with that...

    PS: Hi Mikstipe. Nice blog... and thanks for the kind words.

    Saturday, July 21, 2007

    Gwangju Massacre at the Movies

    CJ Entertainment is releasing its big summer blockbuster on Wednesday, a $10 million saga recounting the Gwangju Massacre of 1980 called MAY 18. The Korean title, HWARYEOHAN HYUGA (or "Splendid Vacation"), refers to the code name the military had for their operations in Gwangju at the time.

    The Gwangju Massacre (also called the Gwangju Uprising) has been tackled several times in the media, mostly in the 1990s. The most significant was probably in Kim Jong-hak and Song Ji-nah's television series SANDGLASS, which was one of the highest-rated television shows of all time. In movies, there was Jang Sun-woo's A PETAL, Lee Chang-dong's PEPPERMINT CANDY (probably the best one, although I found it a bit too fatalistic for my liking)... And in the early 1990s, there were films with a more political approach, such as the Changsan Gotmae group's O GUMUINARA (Oh Dreamland) in 1988, Kim Tae-yeong's HWANGMUJI (The Wasteland) in 1990 and Lee Chung-gook's BUHALUI NORAE (Song of Resurrection) in 1991.

    Anyhow, this version of the Gwangju Uprising story is rather different than all of those. In fact, MAY 18 is pretty much completely apolitical. Instead, it focuses on spectacle and a few interpersonal relationships of some people caught up in the upheaval. Rather like TITANIC, really. Only less political. And less subtle. And less accurate.

    The basic set-up of the film is basically fine -- protesting students get beaten badly by soldiers, leading to a general uprising of the people of Gwangju.

    And I was really impressed by the re-creation of Gwangju in 1980. Not that I was there then. But Gwangju was the first city where I lived in Korea, back in 1996, and many of the events of the movie take place on the same streets I walked. The YMCA is still there, the main intersection in front of city hall. The whole historical look of the movie was my favorite part.

    Coincidentally, 1996 was also the year that former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo were put on trial for treason, mutiny and graft. Their trials were inexorably linked to the Gwangju Massacre, and pretty much every day of the trial there were riots down in Gwangju. Big riots. With plenty of tear gas. So watching the events unfold in MAY 18 was really evocative for me, almost hauntingly so.

    But the first big showdown on May 20 -- the main set piece of the film -- is way off. At least as far as I know, the military's attacks at City Hall featured mostly bayonets and clubs (lots of good information at GUSTS OF POPULAR FEELING, here and here). Just a few shots were fired that day.

    But in MAY 18, you get a gigantic hail of gunfire, mowing down hundreds. Considering how the director has said his whole reason for tackling this subject was to educate the younger generation about what happened in Gwangju in 1980, that excess is pretty disappointing.

    Of course, hundreds of people who die at Gwangju, many of them by gunfire, but the bullets were not really flying until a few days later when the military retook the city.

    That exaggeration, though, is in keeping with the generally shallow portrayal of events. Although the movie tries hard to be apolitical, its understanding of events and motivations is quite shallow: soldiers=evil, Gwangju people=good. Like watching a STAR WARS movie.

    One thing that really leapt off the screen at me was just how cliche and simple the story was. Just like WELCOME TO DONGMAKGOL, in terms of having happy, apolitical villagers living their innocent, happy lives, when suddenly they are set upon by evil forces beyond their control. Which makes me wonder how much of DONGMAKGOL was anti-American and how much was just crappy writing.

    (On the other hand, if you like that sort of writing, you need not wait long for more -- the movie version of THE BRIDGE AT NO GUN RI looks like it will be more of the same when it is released in October).

    I also found the movie a little confusing. Considering how director Kim Ji-hoon said that he wants the movie to educate younger people who do not know about the Gwangju Massacre, that is a little disappointing, too. As a fan of history, I am all for examining the past, warts and all. I just wish Korean artists showed an interest in looking at the past with more subtlety and insight.

    To be honest, I have no idea how well this movie is going to be received by people in Korea. CJE is convinced it will open big (thanks to its usual huge advertising blitz, the kind of thing that CJ is great at), but how the movie sustains in subsequent weeks will determine how it ends up performing. Much like THE HOST last year, I could see MAY 18 piggybacking off of Hollywood fatigue and capturing much of the local box office. Who knows?

    (Btw, many of the historical photos here come from the POPULAR GUSTS blog, with many thanks).

    UPDATE: I just found Don Kirk's article about the Gwangju Massacre, his memories of those events and the movie here. He was one of the journalists there, and you can even see him in a couple of photographs from the period.

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    PiFan and Stuff

    Even though the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival goes until Saturday officially, Thursday night saw the closing ceremonies and awards handed out. And the big winner was the Thai thriller “13” (also known as 13 BELOVED) taking home the two top prizes.

    Directed by Chookiet Sakveerakul, "13" won both the Best of Puchon prize, awarded by the Puchon Choice jury, and the European Fantastic Film Festival Federation Asian Award.

    As far as attendance goes, this year's PiFan looks like it was the strongest in years -- the percentage of seats sold was the highest in five years (which is as far back as I have data for). So that looks pretty impressive.

    Anything else? It was a fun week. The weather was the best I can remember at PiFan. Only a couple of days of rain, only a couple of days of brutal heat... but mostly quite nice. Great weather for sitting outside and having a beer. Writing for the Cine 21 dailies was an odd experience, but quite enjoyable.

    Professionally, meeting Benson Lee of PLANET B-BOY was certainly the best bit of serendipity for me. He gave me plenty of information that is going straight into my book. Also, his film is really, really well done. Totally worth watching.

    And I finally got to see MIRROR MASK, which pleased me no end.


    In other, non-PiFan news:

  • TRANSFORMERS appears to now be the biggest foreign film ever in Korea. It just topped 6 million admissions on Thursday (or about $40 million), beating LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING. Just 21 days after its release, the metal mayhem movie is still in 367 theaters, so it should keep climbing for a while.

  • MAY 18's release has been moved up a day. It will be getting a full, nationwide release on July 25 now (at least I think the old press releases said July 26). CJ Entertainment is convinced they will get a great opening weekend, but everyone there seems unsure of how the film will do in the weeks after that. Anyhow, I hope to blog about the movie in the next day or so.
  • Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - July 13-15

    No surprise that the latest HARRY POTTER opened in No. 1 this week. And with $12.1 million, that is by far the strongest opening yet for POTTER in Korea.

    Not only did POTTER have 834 screens, but TRANSFORMERS is still going strong, with 661 screens. So together the two movies really dominated screens in Korea last weekend (although this Film 2.0 chart adds up to over 2,000 screens, well above Korea's official number of less than 1,900, so apparently a few screens are getting double-counted).

    I would complain more about this domination by just two films, but POTTER had the per-screen averages to justify it. Maybe everyone else was in Bucheon for the film festival...

    Title - Weekend Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
    1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 1,427,700 - 1,815,100
    2. Transformers - 815,000 - 5,606,900
    3. The Cut - 257,400 - 328,100
    4. Black House - 51,000 - 1,291,300
    5. Descent - 37,100 - 214,100
    6. Taxi 4 - 16,100 - 144,700
    7. Shrek 3 - 11,200 - 2,813,900
    8. Ocean's 13 - 9,800 - 1,373,700
    9. Live Free or Die Hard - 3,700 - 8,900
    10. Lady Chatterly - 3,300 - 4,400

    PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3 dropped out of the top 10 this week, so unfortunately I was unable to unravel the mystery of its magically dropping box office. If I have time later in the month, I will try to ask someone at Disney.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    PiFan - Day 3

    So we are well into this year's Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, and so far things seem to be working fairly smoothly. I have had no problems getting tickets and experienced no lineups... although that might be because I got my tickets early at the CGV theater. I am told Boksagol had more lines.

    So far I have mostly hung out with the usual crowd -- Mario from Fantasporo, Derek from Variety, PiFan organizer Thomas, Johannes Schonherr and his Teutonic hordes. Good times.

    Opening night was okay. The opening ceremonies were the shortest I can recall at PiFan, at barely 30 minutes long. Very much appreciated, especially after the 100-minute government suck-up at last year's opening. Best part at this year's opening (besides getting to say "hi" to Kang Soo-yeon and Ahn Sung-ki) was this odd Korean trio, three girls playing on traditional instruments. But they did not play traditional music, they played SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW and ONE MILLION ROSES (the famous Russian song that is popular in Korea and Japan). No idea why they chose those songs.

    Opening party afterward at Tiger World, as a couple of commenters pointed out earlier, was pretty dubious. But opening parties always are. Later, at the "2-cha", was much better... just sitting outside, drinking beer and eating decent food. Very civilized. Hopefully there will be more of that tonight.

    As for movies... Being a recovering geek, I felt compelled to check out the GETTER ROBO movie (better known as STAR AVENGERS to North American types). Basically it was three episodes from the 1998 TV revival. And it was pretty bad. Animated in the style of the original series, but with the story deeply warped and changed. It looked like the animator took STAR AVENGERS and added liberal amounts of PRINCESS MONONOKE and tentacle porn (although not so much as to make the series interesting).

    Then I checked out a couple of documentaries by Yves Montmayeur, one about Christopher Doyle and one about Korean directors. It was okay, but nothing revelatory. After the films, there was a chat with Montmayeur, Park Chan-wook, Ryoo Seung-hwan, and Min Kyu-dong... Aside from a couple of amusing, self-depreciating jokes by Park, again there was not much to talk about. It was not a bad event at all, but it did not exactly advance our understanding of the Asian movie scene.

    Would like to say more, but I am off to a press conference now. Some fun films this evening, and hopefully some beer, too.

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - July 6-8
    (Transformers Blather Edition)

    What an amazing weekend for TRANSFORMERS. Its first weekend was fairly impressive, but its second weekend was one of the strongest follow-ups ever in Korea. Certainly the strongest second week for a foreign film.

    In its second weekend, TRANSFORMERS scored 1.49 million admissions nationwide, which was almost the same as the previous weekend. It might have even been stronger. When was the last time a blockbuster improved on its attendance in the second week? Right, never. Those big Hollywood films usually plunge, down 40-60% after their debuts.

    In fact, TRANSFORMERS topped the 4-million-attendance mark in just 11 days, and already has sold 4.2 million tickets. At this rate, the robot rumble seems all but assured to smash the current record for top foreign film in Korea, which is LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING at 6 million. Which would be a pretty significant record to break. With Korean hits topping 12 million admissions, 6 million is quite a gap (and that is for foreign films distributed by Korean companies... general opinion is for foreign films distributed directly by the foreign company, 5 million is the peak). Once TRANSFORMERS breaks that record, international distributors will have to re-evaluate the importance of Korea.

    In addition, TRANSFORMERS nearly maintained its stranglehold on the nation's movie theaters -- down a tick to 73.8% of all the tickets sold in Korea, from 75.5% last weekend. Not even THE HOST can boast that.

    FYI, TRANSFORMERS is also playing on 893 screens. Also pretty incredible, especially for a second weekend. I know a lot of people are calling for restrictions on the number of screens a single film can appear on, but I am not so sure that is a good idea. TRANSFORMERS also had the strongest per-screen average by far, indicating that people were getting to see what they wanted to see. It is not like there was pent up demand to see something else. Is it the theater owners' fault that audiences here have such uniform tastes?

    Title - Weekend Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
    1. Transformers - 1,490,200 - 4,202,100
    2. Black House - 139,400 - 1,169,300
    3. The Descent - 102,600 - 123,100
    4. Taxi 4 - 85,400 - 99,200
    5. Ocean's 13 - 71,000 - 1,332,500
    6. Shrek 3 - 58,000 - 2,792,700
    7. Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End - 13,500 - 4,548,300
    8. Secret Sunshine - 7,000 - 1,594,000
    9. Love & Other Disasters - 5,300 - 262,000
    10. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time - 4,300 - 50,800

    Note: It appears that Film 2.0 has changed the way it track box office data. Instead of providing weekend information for Seoul and nationwide cumulative admissions, we now get nationwide for both. Which makes sense. Good for Film 2.0 if they can pull that off all the time.

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    PiFan 2007

    It is getting pretty close to this year's Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, or "PiFan" as it is known. Although PiFan is always quite enjoyable, this year I will be experiencing the festival more in depth than usual because I have been asked to write for their daily publication. I am not quite sure what that will entail, but I guess I had better figure it out pretty soon.

    You can read about PiFan at its website here.

    (Strangely, this poster was originally red. No idea what uploading it caused a color shift into purple/blue. If anyone has any theories, please let me know).

    In case you do not know, PiFan is a Fantastic Film Festival -- meaning a festival specializing in fantasy and related genre films (science fiction, horror, just plain weird). In fact, there are a lot of festivals of this sort in Europe (see their Federation here), but they seem to be less common in this part of the world. Japan had two (in Yubari and Tokyo), but both have fallen on hard times and are pretty much done.

    Anyhow, Bucheon is not far from Seoul, and the festival is quite worth checking out. The all-night screenings can be particularly fun (if a tad grueling). I am personally more a fan of the older film retrospectives. Lots of stuff for everyone.

    Note: You need to be a little bit careful because some of the films will not have English subtitles... in particular the Japanese giant robot films and the Dario Argento movies.

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - June 29-July 1
    (Mini Edition)

    Pretty amazing -- TRANSFORMERS pulled in 75.5% of the box office last weekend. Three out of every hour tickets sold were to a Michael Bay movie! The mind reels.

    Title - Weekend Seoul Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
    1. Transformers - 337,209 - 1,313,278
    2. Black House - 39,820 - 825,034
    3. Ocean's 13 - 24,920 - 1,153,541
    4. Shrek 3 - 16,295 - 2,677,564
    5. Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End - 4,168 - 4,510,855
    6. Captivity - 3,474 - 180,811
    7. Secret Sunshine - 3,674 - 1,570,121
    8. Hwang Jin-yi - 3,477 - 1,167,290
    9. Never Forever - 3,348 - 76,751
    10. Love & Other Disasters - 3,477 - 244,430

    Funny to see films Nos. 6-10 pretty much in a dead heat.

    Sorry for the lack of updates at the moment, but as I have said before, the book is in its end stages. Just finished another chapter... uploaded some pics to the publisher.

    And, just because this was not tough enough, I decided to raise the level of difficulty by breaking my wrist and elbow. Well, just a little. Actually, I fell and hurt myself three weeks ago now. Thought I had a little hairline fracture on the Ulna, right at the wrist. It was annoying, but I could handle it (and type). But on my follow-up visit, the doctor notices the elbow was cracked, too. So now I have a really big splint on my entire arm. It does not even hurt anymore... just makes me feel like an idiot.


    Best theory/summation yet on the end of the THE SOPRANOS is here.