And as long as I am apologizing, sorry about slagging MY GIRLFRIEND IS AN AGENT last week. The film did not officially open until May 22. AGENT's seventh-place showing last week was all pre-sales and sneak previews. I should have noticed that, but apparently reading a calendar is too complicated for me.
This week, however, MY GIRLFRIEND IS AN AGENT opened strongly in No. 1, with nearly 4 billion won ($3.0 million) over the weekend on 555 screens. Credit Kim Ha-neul with giving the film some pretty broad appeal around the peninsula.
Other Korean films were SHADOW KILL (Geurimja Salin) in fourth, with 1.1 billion won ($815,000) over the weekend for a total of 11.8 billion won ($8.7 million). BREATHLESS (Ttongpari) landed in seventh at 204 million won ($151,000) for a total of 499 million won ($370,000).
BREATHLESS, btw, is the latest small film to break out of the arthouse ghetto, thanks to good reviews and strong word of mouth. I doubt it will do OLD PARTNER business, but it is still good to see smaller movies doing well.
It was also quite a week for international cinema in Korea -- BANLIEUE 13: ULTIMATUM of France was in fifth, THE LEGEND OF IP MAN of Hong Kong was in ninth and THE ADMIRAL of Russia was in tenth.
By the way, Park Soo-mee wrote a very interesting article about Academy-Award-winning films in the Korean market for The Hollywood Reporter. Basically, the point of the article is how, after years of poor box office, the big Oscar-winners have done relatively well this year. Park's key points:
With few exceptions--such as the Oscar winners "Chicago," which sold 1.4 million tickets here in 2003, and "American Beauty," which sold 400,000 tickets in Seoul alone in 2000--Oscar films that celebrate story, acting and craft typically are passed over for Hollywood blockbusters that showcase action, effects and animation.
On the whole, Korea's taste for non-mainstream films has thinned over the last decade, widening the gap between commercial film fans and art house fans, leaving little to no room on the marquee for Oscar films whose sensibilities often fall right in between.
So what is a film distributor to do? A Mary Poppins strategy of a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down -- the medicine in this case being artsy films, and the sugar being smut:
When local film promotion company Ruby Kino planned the Korean marketing for the March release of the Oscar winner "The Reader," the company had to find a way around a common pitfall.
The film, about an affair between a teenage boy and an older woman in post-war Germany, was seen as too radical for mainstream Korean tastes. No matter that Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her performance. Oscar nominees, even winners, have seldom become hits here.
To avoid the same lackluster commercial fate as many past Oscar winners, Ruby Kino needed a marketing strategy. It decided to focus on the film's nudity and the response was almost immediate.
"The Reader," which was scheduled to release March 26th on 150 screens, instead went wider--to 204 screens--and has sold an unusually large number of matinee tickets to Korean stay-at-home wives.