Low Budget the New Answer for Chungmuro?

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Low Budget the New Answer for Chungmuro?

It's pretty nice hearing expensive films like 놈놈놈 (The Good, The Bad, and The Weird) -- 17 Billion won for production only -- manage to break even while maintaining quality, but the future for Chungmuro and its horrible 2008 might actually be on the horizon: low budget films with acclaimed stars.

We talked a little about Jang Hoon's quite promising 영화는 영화다 (Rough Cut) starring So Ji-Seop and Kang Ji-Hwan, and this is perhaps the best recent example. Critics liked it a lot (think like a "Kim Ki-Duk meets Ryu Seung-Wan" vibe and you're just about there), and despite not enjoying the ridiculously wide release of the aforementioned kimchi western, it did open over 450 screens, and already sold 1 million tickets. Now that would be nothing particularly special, if not for the fact the film cost a mere 650 million won (the two stars invested their fee back into the film). This, in layman's terms, means in a mere fortnight the film made 10 times its initial budget, passing its break even point in the process -- which obviously includes the very expensive marketing fee, usually around 1.5-2 billion per film, but considering the 700,000 tickets needed, probably closer to 1 billion here.

Think that's over? No way. Lee Yoon-Gi's upcoming 멋진 하루 (My Dear Enemy) has Jeon Do-Yeon and Ha Jung-Woo, but merely cost 2 billion; the next film by Kim Ki-Duk with Lee Na-Young and Odagiri Jo, 비몽 (Sad Dream), not surprisingly cost 500 million won; the maligned thriller 트럭 (The Truck) with Yoo Hae-Jin was under the 2 billion, and the (based on trailers, and perhaps the fact Park Chan-Wook helped writing it) insane 미쓰 홍당무 (Crush and Blush) just one billion. Won't be good news for those looking for bombastic blockbusters and their inflated budgets, but it might just be the future for Korean cinema.

[Daum] [NewsEn]

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Gloria ParkSeptember 30, 2008 6:19 PM

As a Korean-American with a limited knowledge of the Korean language, I'd like to express my gratitude for your translation of recent news regarding the Korean film industry. It's very interesting to see the current trend in Korean cinema toward low budget, more independent films that have denounced the excess of blockbuster entertainment in exchange for the realism and simplicity of day-to-day life. Korean national cinema theorizes that Korea's cinema is unique because of its contradictory blending of Korean and Hollywood elements. Interestingly enough, your article follows a tendency in the Korean film industry that seems to be slowly abandoning the Hollywood strategies that have become a part of its cultural identity, not to mention, the reason for films' success with modern spectators. Do you think, ironically enough, that by removing elements of Hollywood from Korean films, Korean national cinema will cease to exist? More importantly, though you have stated that these more low budget films make a significantly higher profit back than more expensive films, you have not commented on their success in the box office. Even though The Good, The Bad, and The Weird has become the highest grossing Korean film of 2008 to date, the second highest grossing film is the lower budget thriller The Chaser, which only cost 1.7 billion won to make, paling in comparison to the 17 billion won cost to produce The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, a "kimchi western," that serves as an homage to western director Sergio Leone, has succeeded in popularity but not revenue. As more and more independent films become prominent within the Korean film industry, do you think that Hollywood can finally conquer the domestic box office? Is the lack of Korean blockbusters leaving the Korean film industry vulnerable to domination from Hollywood?

XSeptember 30, 2008 7:43 PM

Problems are structural more than having anything to do with national identity. It's the same thing with those who used a "national" slant for the screen quota cut, which to many Koreans felt like hypocrisy (it was, in some ways). The point was not really that cutting the screen quota would eliminate cultural diversity and fail to protect Korean Cinema in a "national" sense, just that investors would be scared to invest in anything risky or left of the mainstream, which not only eliminates any sort of diversity, but is also why you've seen hordes of insipid star vehicles and quasi-blockbuster fare the last two years.

This is just an inevitable reaction of the industry. Things like the Chaser or 놈놈놈 can be used to make a point, but I'd leave auteurs/star directors (or new directors allowed the closest thing to carte blanche) out of the picture and focus on the mainstream productions instead. There's a lot of films spending very little, with stars either cutting their salary or re-investing it in the film or similar techniques, simply because the funding bubble is no more, and they have to struggle together to get out of this. You're going to continue seeing blockbusters with a decidedly national slant (Divine Weapon) or completely devoid of it (what Haeundae might become) simply as a way to fight off the Hollywood onslaught, but methinks the new focus will become 2 to 4 billion won productions for the time being, just until investors regain confidence. Then they can restart and make another mess, obviously.

As for box office, you can check it at the Databank I update every day, but Truck and My Dear Enemy started OK, and should break even, while the other two still haven't been released. Dream might do surprisingly well for a KKD film (I think probably something around 500k/1mil?), and Crush and Blush looks insane enough it might do decent numbers.