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.
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.
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.