Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 20-22

It has been a long, steady climb, but at last, six weeks after being released, the low-budget documentary OLD PARTNER (Wonang Sori) is the No. 1 film in the land. OLD PARTNER pulled in nearly 3 billion won ($1.5 million ... yikes, what an exchange rate) over the weekend to bring its total box office to 9.4 billion won ($6.3 million).

Not bad for a $70,000 film that opened on just seven screens.

Additionally, Korean movies took in three of the top four spots on the chart this week, with HANDPHONE (Haendeupon) opening in third and THE SCAM (Jakjeon) in fourth.

Must be rather disappointing for HANDPHONE, making just 1.7 billion won ($1.2 million) despite opening on 443 screens; even with its great surge, OLD PARTNER is still on only 276 screens).

THE SCAM has now pulled in over 870,000 admissions and 5.8 billion won ($3.9 million).

Just one other Korean film on the chart this week, as SCANDAL MAKERS (Gwasok Seukaendeul) landed in ninth, bringing its total revenue to 52.9 billion won ($36 million). According to KOBIS, SCANDAL MAKERS is now at 8.1 million admissions, but remember that KOBIS does not track every theater in the nation, so SCANDAL MAKERS has probably done slightly better than that. The film is almost certainly now ahead of FRIEND to become the sixth-biggest movie ever in Korea.

The biggest non-Korean, non-Hollywood film, RED CLIFF 2, fell to 13th. In five weeks the John Woo epic pulled in 2.7 million admissions and made 18 billion won ($12 million).

Oh, and MARINE BOY is nearly done, too, landing in 12th, with 24,000 admissions to bring its total to 825,000 admissions.

From the It's-Funny-Because-It's-True Department

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hip Korea on Discovery

Well, the big debut of HIP KOREA is nearly here. Monday night at 9pm on Discovery Channel across most of Asia will see the premiere of HIP KOREA -- SEOUL VIBES, a documentary about Jung Jihoon (aka, the pop star Rain) and modern Korean pop culture.

I mention this because HIP KOREA is the first documentary I have been involved with. It was made by the production company Bang Singapore, which has made oodles of documentaries for Discovery and the other top cable channels.

The theme of the program is somewhat similar to POP GOES KOREA, examining the life of a pop star to see how his life was shaped by a culture and how he in turn influences that culture. In fact, I briefly profiled Rain in my book (just a short sidebar, but hopefully people like it).

So when the president of Bang Singapore, Keiko Bang, told me that she wanted to examine Korean culture through some of its top stars, it seemed like a natural opportunity to collaborate.

You can catch the promos here:

The show premieres on Feb. 26 in Taiwan, and in May in Japan. And in the fall in Europe.

May will see part two of HIP KOREA, a look at Lee Byung-hun, which I think will balance nicely with the Rain episode.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Old Partner -- Subtitles on the Move

The surprise hit documentary OLD PARTNER is now being shown with English subtitles at the Yongsan CGV theater.

In fact, this website claims to have the screening times... although I cannot confirm how accurate they are. But it is a fairly short film, so it plays pretty frequently throughout the day.

I don't know if it is still playing with subtitles at the Indiespace theater in Myeongdong. There is no sign of subtitles on the Indiespace website.

But if your Korean is up to speed, the director of DAYTIME DRINKING will be at the theater on Feb. 23 at 6:25 to talk about his movie.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Media for Pop Goes Korea

I just had fun recording a short radio segment for TBS radio here in Seoul -- 101.3fm or via the Internet at

The program will air on Sunday, some time between 11am and noon, although I was on for just 15 minutes. But it was a nice little interview and we covered a range of topics, including POP GOES KOREA (of course), this blog, the Gig Guide blog, and how you too can unlock your giant within (wait, no ... that last one would be Tony Robbins).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 13-15

Benjamin Button might be curious, but Korea's cow movie OLD PARTNER is still the biggest news in the local movie scene.

A month after being released, OLD PARTNER (Wonang Sori) had its best weekend yet, pulling in another 1.8 billion won ($1.3 million) from 270,000 admissions. The ultra-low budget documentary has now made $3.4 million. In fact, President Lee Myung-bak went to see the movie a few days ago, giving the movie a nice little bit of publicity (in fact, with that act alone Lee Myung-bak probably did more for the film industry than five years of Roh Moo-hyun).

The top film last weekend was BENJAMIN BUTTON, making 3.05 billion won (about $2.17 million) since its release on Feb. 12.

Very close behind in No. 2 was the South Korean film THE SCAM (Jakjeon), with 2.98 billion won ($2.13 million).

At No. 5 was MARINE BOY. The big action film is probably one week away from being surpassed by OLD PARTNER, despite having a budget roughly 50 times bigger. Yeah, that's schadenfreude I'm feeling, too.

(If Marine Boy, Modern Boy and Oldboy got into a fight, who would win?).

Btw, Korean movies are now up to 46.5 percent of the box office for the year. Things seem to be getting better, at least at the moment.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bloody Good News -- Last Vampire

Hey kiddies, good news about Jeon Ji-hyun's BLOOD: LAST VAMPIRE live action film. It looks like the film is finally getting close to being released. Asmik Ace, its Japan distributor, is advertising the film will hit theaters in Japan on May 29. And June 12 in the UK.

And with the film's release getting closer, we have a teaser trailer and artwork showing up, too.

And here is some artwork:

If I find out about its release date in Korea (or North America), I will post it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Please Do Have a Cow -- With English Subtitles

Good news for Korean movie fans in Seoul -- Indiespace (aka Spongehouse Myeongdong, formerly the Joongang Cinema) is playing the documentary OLD PARTNER with English subtitles.

OLD PARTNER is about an elderly couple in Gyeongsang Province and their 40-year-old cow. The film opened on Jan. 15 on just seven screens, selling just 5,575 tickets in its opening weekend. But word of mouth was strong, and the next weekend OLD PARTNER moved up to 10th, growing to 23 screens. The next weekend it was also in 10th place, but expanded to over 50 screens.

The film must have then passed some sort of tipping point, because last weekend the film was the fourth-biggest third-biggest movie in Korea. Now on 167 screens, the film pulled in 162,000 admissions over the weekend, bringing its total to 302,000.

(Note: KOBIS has updated its weekend statistics since I last wrote my box office story. SCANDAL MAKERS has been downgraded to fourth, after apparently being a little overoptimistic about its weekend performance).

Thanks to Gusts of Popular Feelings for the info. He also talks about some of the problems the couple from the film have been having since the movie became popular.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 6-8

Trying something a little different this week for the box office chart. Straight from the nice folks at KOFIC, I present:

Korean film MARINE BOY was the top film in the country last weekend, with a decent but hardly overwhelming 2.8 billion won (about $2.1 million).

It was the weakest showing for a No. 1 film since HELLO SCHOOLGIRL back at the end of November (or maybe even MY WIFE GOT MARRIED, but at the beginning of November). In MARINE BOY's defence, the film only opened on a modest 395 screens -- HELLO SCHOOLGIRL and MY WIFE GOT MARRIED were shown on over 450.

(UPDATE: Sorry, but KOBIS and KOFIC have since updated their data. MARINE BOY did mediocre business, but not as bad as it looked a few hours ago).

The John Woo film RED CLIFF 2 came in second, with 1.81 billion won ($1.3 million), bringing its total thus far to 16.6 billion won. After just two weeks in release, RED CLIFF 2 has already done far better than the first RED CLIFF, which barely topped 11 billion won last summer.

SCANDAL MAKERS (Gwasok Seukaendeul) is still going strong, in third spot, having now earned over 51 billion won. With its 7.9 million admissions and still going strong, it looks like the film is going to top 8 million before it is done. Right now it is the 8th biggest film ever in Korea, with WELCOME TO DONGMAKGOL, FRIEND and D-WAR getting closer and closer.

Is the Korean ox movie, OLD PARTNER (Wonang Sori) getting some traction? The film climbed to No. 4 last weekend, as distributor Indie Story puts it in more and more cinemas. In fact, over the three-day weekend, OLD PARTNER made more money than it did in the previous two weeks combined. I doubt it is going to explode like THE WAY HOME did in 2002, but still, kind of interesting to see such a small film doing okay.

New Korean release KITCHEN flopped badly, opening just in 10th, despite being on 228 screens.

For the record, half of the top 10 was Korean this week, and Korean movies so far in 2009 are taking in 45.9 percent of the box office. And the rest is not all Hollywood -- so far this year, European films have comprised 13.7 percent and Hong Kong/China has 12.5 percent, while Hollywood has 25.6 percent. Very safe to say those numbers will not hold up, once Hollywood started releasing its big guns, but an interesting way to start the year.

(NOTE: All numbers updated this afternoon. But the basic points of the post basically hold true).

Monday, February 09, 2009

POP WARS in London (Links, that is)

Philip Gowman at London Korea Links was nice enough to review POP GOES KOREA -- and I am very proud to say that he kindly gave the book five stars (out of five, I presume). Truly a wise and wonderful man, that Mr. Gowman.

Philip has a good-sized review and covers a wide range of issues from the book. He also calls POP GOES KOREA "lively", "stimulating" and "unrepentant" (at various points in the post... hope I am not taking those words too out of context). If I may excerpt a choice summary of his review:
Yes, this book might not be what fans are expecting, but there’s plenty of stimulating entertainment here for pop culture consumers as well as those who make a living in the industry, and cultural studies academics studying a phenomenon which might never have existed. It’s a book which you will want to read a second time.

Very nice. I am such a good mood now that I think I will not worry about the dweeb of a splogger who has been ripping off this site (at least for a couple of days).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

K-Propping Up K-Pop

Big news from the Korean government about plans to support the music industry -- the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports has announced a $95 million plan to improve Korea's K-pop industry, both at home and around the world. That money will be spent over the next five years "to expand the music market to 1.7 trillion won by 2013 from last year’s 844 billion won, advancing it to the world’s top 10.”


First of all, I have no idea how they came up with the figure of 844 billion won ($610 million). CD sales in 2007 were just 75 billion won retail. Maybe you could come up with that figure if you added CD sales, digital downloads (around 300 billion won) and Karaoke sales. Maybe. Regardless, whenever I see the government set mindless targets -- world's top X -- that have no real meaning, I get depressed.

Secondly, do we really need yet another music awards show? Korea already has plenty of such shows. But until Korea develops actual music artists (meaning the kind of people who write their own songs, perform them for real using instruments and everything), I do not see how award shows signify anything terribly important.

Much more interesting and potentially useful, imho, is the attempt to create a credible music chart for Korea. Certainly one of the most useful things the Korea government did for the movie industry was forcing it to keep track of nationwide movie admissions. In general, transparency and accountability are a key foundation for any industry. When I was writing for Billboard, I found it ludicrous that Malaysia's music industry could put together a music chart for Billboard but Korea could not.

On the other hand, what would such a chart track these days? CD sales are pretty irrelevant in Korea now -- down to just 75 billion won ($55 million) in 2007 down from around 400 billion won around 2000. Are they going to make some sort of chart that tracks digital downloads and streaming? That could be really useful and interesting.

You know the telecoms would scream bloody murder before they fork over that information. But the movie theaters in Korea put up the some resistance to divulging their sales information to the government, and ultimately, making that information public was invaluable for improving Korea's film industry. So if the government does manage to make sales information reliable and public, that would be great for the industry.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Korea Weekend Box Office - Jan. 30-Feb. 1

Just a fast rundown of the boxoffice this week. I am out of the country at the moment, so not much time. Sorry about this.

Rank - Title -- 3-day Gross / Total Gross (won)- Screen

1. Red Cliff 2 -- 2,672,370,000 / 12,900,080,000 -- 464
2. Valkyrie -- 1,719,815,000 / 9,247,254,500 -- 393
3. Inkheart -- 1,389,766,500 / 1,692,005,000 -- 301
4. Scandal Makers (Korean) -- 1,410,811,500 / 48,986,343,900 -- 326
5. City of Damnation (Korean) -- 1,376,723,500 / 8,281,765,500 -- 401
6. Changeling -- 510,605,500 / 2,063,340,500 -- 217
7. A Frozen Flower (Korean) -- 503,269,000 / 24,528,820,400 -- 312
8. Madagascar2 -- 356,815,000 / 7,233,141,500 -- 215
9. Alpha Dog -- 288,798,500 / 415,375,500 -- 207
10. Old Partner (Korean) -- 235,352,600 / 602,229,800 -- 58

All data courtesy of KOFIC.