CJ CGV, South Korea's biggest multiplex chain, just put out its report on the movie business in 2008. And, not surprisingly, it was mostly bad news.
(Note: CGV's numbers may not be as official as the Korea Film Council's, but they are good enough for this post. KOFIC's official numbers should be out in the next couple of months.)
Nationwide attendance dropped 5.7 percent to 149 million, down from 158 million last year and 167 million from 2006's record-setting year. Although it is worth noting that even 149 million is still the third-best year ever for box office revenues in Korea.
Much more damning, however, was the dramatic fall in admissions to local films. South Korean movies accounted for just 42.5 percent of the box office, their lowest level since 2000. Ouch.
So out of 149 million admissions, Korean films took in just 63.4 million. That's down a whopping 41 percent from 2006, Korean movies' best year ever.
On the other hand, pretty good news for Hollywood, which had its best year ever in Korea, with 85.7 million admissions -- up 10 percent from last year, the previous best for non-Korean films.
As for the top films themselves:
1. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Korean) - 6.9 million
2. The Chaser (Korean) - 5.1 million
3. Mamma Mia - 4.6 million
4. Kung Fu Panda - 4.6 million
5. Gang Cheol-jung: Public Enemy 1.1 (Korean) - 4.4 million
6. Scandal Makers (Korean) - 4.3 million *
7. The Mummy 3 - 4.2 million
8. Iron Man - 4.2 million
9. Forever the Moment (Korean) - 4.1 million
10. Indiana Jones 4 - 4.0 million
(* Scandal Makers is still in theaters, and has already topped 5 million admissions, but this chart was just for 2008)
Korean movies were, once again, the most popular in the land and five of the top 10. And nine of the top 20.
Isn't the Korean market interesting, though? The Mummy 3 and Mamma Mia did better business than The Dark Knight. Hah! Given how well The Chaser did, I think you cannot argue that Koreans do not like dark films. But for some reason, Batman just does not resonate with Koreans as much as with Americans. Considering how well Transformers did last year (the best foreign movie ever in Korea) and Iron Man, maybe Koreans just prefer big metal heroes... which would bode well for the Robot Taekyun V movie.
So what is ahead for 2009? Heck if I know. But it is starting strong, with Scandal Makers still doing well and A Frozen Flower starting the year strong. Plenty of films are lining up for the annual Seollal lunar New Year rush. And I don't see anything too exciting coming out of Hollywood for the next few months (except possible Watchmen on March 5).
So there is a good chance that Korean movies will get a good start to 2009. Then you have the new Park Chan-wook film coming out in April, Bong Joon-ho's Mother in May, and Choi Dong-hoon's fantasy film Jeon Woo Chi later in the summer. The big-budgets films Laundry Warrior and Haeundae later in the year. Plenty of reasons to be optimistic in 2009.