Monday, December 08, 2008

Pop Wars and Economic Skirmishes (and Random Ramblings)

Hard to say if the global economic downturn is affecting Korea's media market much: popular sentiment here was already pretty dismal, long before Wall Street started to crash and burn.

Even during the record-breaking days of 2006, many producers complained that all the money was just going to a couple of big hits and that average films were being hammered. Which I always found a pretty crazy argument. You're telling me movie attendance can go from 42 million to 160 million in 10 years, but business is bad?

Then when attendance declined in 2007 and this year, the industry really got scared. A lot of apocalyptic talk. Producers trying to move into theatrical musicals (the big growth field in the Korean cultural industry these days). You would think it was the end of days.

So far, though, I have not heard about any interesting projects being canceled because of financing problems (key word, "interesting"). Sure, Park Kwang-hyun's FIST got the axe (along with the entire Motion 101 production company), but that was a most unusual situation (who knows what is going on with parent company Orion?). Plus, I would argue, the movie did not look very interesting.

In fact, from what I can see, there are a lot of interesting projects proceeding quite nicely. All too early to talk about, but there is still plenty of ambition and creativity in the pipeline. And it seems that there is still plenty of foreign money ready to come into Korea. Not in the form of presales, like a few years ago, but for investing and co-productions.

So the biggest problem remains that same problem that the industry has had for several years -- developing new talent. There is no problem finding financing for the Park Chan-wooks and Kim Jee-woons of this world. Where life is toughest is for the budding talents trying to make a name for themselves. The new blood that is so needed to keep an industry fresh and full of life.

  • And to give you an idea how much things are changing, you now have movies and short videos being made just for mobile players (DMB phones, those hand-held screens you see on the subway). Sure, there is no money in that yet, and no one has made a project for mobile that has been a big hit. But it is certainly a sign that yet another medium in Korea is being transformed by the digital age.

  • Just to give you some statistics... According to the latest box office report by CJ CGV (no link, sorry), attendance is well off this year from the last two years -- through November, Korea had 134.9 million admissions, down from 141.5 million last year and 150.4 from the record-breaking 2006. That is down 10 percent over the past two years.

    But what is really interesting to me is where attendance is down. For example, Seoul attendance is down only slightly from 2006, and actually up a little from last year. It is the countryside where attendance has plummeted.

    Not coincidentally, local movie attendance is way down (since the countryside is much more interested in Korean films than Seoul is) -- 98.5 million admissions in the first 11 months of 2006, but 56.8 million this year. That's a plunge of 42.3 percent. Yikes.

  • Btw, for all you screen quota fans out there, even with the plunge, Korean films have still accounted for over 42 percent of all admissions this year, still above the old quota's 40 percent. So no blaming the reduction of the screen quota on the industry's current mess.

  • Btw 2, according to KOBIS, there have been 91 Korean films released this year. About the same as the last couple of years. I am surprised, though, because the story I heard earlier in the year was that many fewer films had been made and released in 2008. Certainly in the first half of the year, very few Korean films were released. I guess they caught up since the summer. Or maybe KOBIS is not accurate. I need to find someone to explain this to me better.

  • Only one South Korean film at Sundance in January (at least in the competitive sections):
    Old Partner/South Korea (Director: Chung-ryoul Lee) - A humble octogenarian farmer lives out his final days with his spitfire wife and his loyal old ox in the Korean countryside. North American Premiere.

  • What's this rumor I heard about a prominent producer taking the money and running? I just called his/her office and the phones were working and the employees were coming in (so the worst stories are untrue). But if it is basically true, it is kind of amazing. I just hope things work out for the employees there.

  • Hong Sang-soo will be one of the three filmmakers making a digital short film for the Jeonju International Film Festival this year.

  • Lately, I have been spending far more time than I would like in Seoul's trendy Gangnam district. But one thing I have been pleasantly surprised by is the number of Indian and ethnic restaurants there. Definitely a good sign for Korea, that it is getting more and more diverse restaurants. Heck, there is an Indian restaurant around the corner from my house (which is not, I assure you, in a hip neighborhood at all).

  • On the other hand, could there be more coffee shops down in Gangnam? Four Coffee Beans just on this one stretch of road by the subway station. Plus all the Starbucks, Twosome Places, Tom & Tom's, etc... Crazy.
  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    i vaguely recall from various naver articles (accuracy is debatable) that there are 101 releases in 2008. either 41 films or 41% were not leftovers from the past. sounds like the countryside viewers will need to be lassoed back with another Marrying the Mafia (orig cast only) or May 18th :P