Not exactly the kind of Lunar New Year gift I expected, but I'm sure some big suits in Hollywood are having a party right now. If you've been following the debate concerning Korean Cinema's screen quota (which stated theater owners had to show Korean films 146 days a year), you know how much ink has been wasted with the pro and cons, the against and for's, and all the consequences (positive or negative) of changing this long-lasting rule. Some argue the screen quota was one of the catalysts of Korean Cinema's rebirth in the mid 90s, some others say it's merely a trick Chungmuro pulls to enjoy an advantage over competitors, and that it's against the spirit of free trade.
Well, all those discussions will be put to rest soon, it seems, as the Finance Ministry announced the Screen Quota will be reduced from 146 to 73 days, starting from July 2006. Kwon Tae-Shin said, on a recent forum about the matter, that Chungmuro was just showing selfishness, as the fate of Korea's FTA talks with the US stood on the line because of the screen quota issue, for years now. Although I don't think film people in Chungmuro will take this as the end of their fight, it's very unlikely (ok, let's say impossible) the decision will be reconsidered.
It's the end of an era for Korean Cinema. Now, in certain ways, they're on their own. 73 days is still a significant number, but it almost becomes an insignificant rule. You either have a strong quota, or an excuse to parade around the idea that all the parties involved will agree with this compromise. I thought I'd react angrily, as I always felt bringing culture to the same level as trade goods like cars, bananas and teletubby dolls is a little insulting, but hey, I don't create and abolish laws. And, especially, I don't have economic interests in pursuing the matter (which is something both parties, Chungmuro and the pro-abolishment group have). If you ask me, I'd have a screen quota for every mature film industry, a good 50% for domestic films to combat the Hollywood monster and its imperialist tentacles. I'd also abolish block booking -- Hollywood's practice of selling 'movie packages' with one big hit and several small films, often straight to video, creating pressure on foreign buyers and expanding their market share as a result. I think the idea that abolishing the screen quota will help free trade is silly at best, as we're faced with one country controlling 80% of the world film market, and other realities like Korea, Bollywood, France and China trying to combat that.
Yet... I wasn't moved, go figure. Chungmuro is strong enough they'll rebound from this, as shown by 2005's box office. And, obviously, many of the multiplex chains in the country are owned or controlled by Korean film companies, so that's another big factor to consider. Of course the real problem is the long term future of the industry, but short term, very little will change. What do you think? Is this a positive or negative change for cinema in Korea (foreign and local)?