Korean Screen Quota Reduced From July

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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)?

[Source: Film2.0]

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jon paisJanuary 26, 2006 12:48 PM

Some say the FTA would benefit both countries, generating tens of billions of dollars of trade between the US and the ROK. By contrast with Korea's other industries, the film industry is relatively small. So from a strictly economic standpoint, eliminating the screen quota may make sense. Is the gov't still standing by remarks tossed around earlier, that the quota would be reinstated if attendance figures for locally-produced films were to plunge? I highly doubt it--I'm sure that once in place, there's no turning back. As you say, it's obviously not a level playing field. The MPAA won't be content until it's wiped out the indigeonous film industry of virtually every nation from the face of the planet. And I thought some 200 nations just approved a bill that was supposed to prevent this from happening. The US and Israel were the only countries to vote against it, with a few abstentions. Oh, well. And how about the theatres NOT owned by the studios? Don't they have a financial incentive to show American films, since they get ot keep an additional 10% of the receipts? Whatever happens, I have faith in the Korean film industry and I'll do all I can to support it, I hope all Twitch readers keep buying those Korean DVDs! Does the Roh administration plan on injecting a little more dough into the industry now that they have betrayed the filmmakers? I thought I read last month that the minister of culture promised the quota wouldn't be changed this year...One last thought--if the quota isn't necessary any longer to prop up the industry, why is it that every emerging film industry in the world looks to Korea as a model? I've seen reports on the industries of countries as diverse as Canada, China, France and Australia, and they all hold up South Korea's revival as a model. I read somewhere that it's the only film industry in the world since the Vietnam War that has been able to regain its market share once Hollywood has overtaken it. I guess that's an apt metaphor, since trade is war. Lastly, you say that Hollywood controls 80% of the world market, but what about at home? Probably less that 2% of the films screened in the States are foreign, and of those most are in English. We've talked about this before, I'm sure, but I hardly know anyone who'll watch a film with subtitles. Meanwhile, if a film DOESN"T have subs, I feel weird. One last note-Todd mentioned in the BUBBLE post the difficulties sponsors of film festivals face, one of the challenges being attracting filmgoers who've already seen bootleg DVDs of the movies being offered. I feel guilty in a way too, because I buy the Korean DVD's from YesAsia, and when Oldboy or The President's Last Bang arrive a year or two later for a limited run at a cinema 30 minutes away, I usually don't have any interest in going. On the other hand, if the films came out sooner, and the theatres offered the DVD, I'd probably see the film and purchase the video, too. Getting back to the Korean film industry, I think they need to look at the other markets like the US does--for example, Hollywood makes loads off the DVDs while Korean manufacturers lose out due to pirating. It seems to me that if they started coming down hard on bootleggers, studios could start to see a profit from at least that end. Maybe the good thing that comes out of all this will be that the studios will have to begin looking at some of these issues and try to pressure the administration into getting serious about intellectual property rights.

Kurt HalfyardJanuary 26, 2006 3:49 PM

All I've got to ask is Where does D-War fit into all of this?


xJanuary 26, 2006 4:29 PM

Shim Hyung-Rae is a power in world cinema. He ain't afraid. :-P