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Koreans Like Going to the Movies (Part II)

November 23, 2009

Korea is looking to have a record breaking year for movie watching in 2009.  They’ve already broken records for each quarter of the year, and look to continue the streak in the 4Q of the year.  The more impressive feat in my opinion is the rise in the share of domestic films.  Through the end of October, Korean films accounted for 62.8% of market share, which is a significant increase from the usual 50-55% mark.

Besides actually heading to the cinema, the most wired country in the world is also breaking their movie download records.  After being available for download on Cine21, Take-Off [국가대표] broke the 100,000 mark in 7 days.  The previous record for downloads in the first week was less than half of Take-Off‘s number, set by Portrait of a Beauty [미인도], starring Kim Min Sun.

I’m a big fan of foreign films, including Korean movies, which I find to be a nice change of pace to the Hollywood garbage that we’re fed in the US.  The catch-22 with trying to increase Korean film ticket shares is that Korean studios need to develop blockbusters in order to compete with the US titles (i.e. Harry Potter, Transformers, GI Joe, etc.)  They did accomplish the feat with Haeundae and Take-Off, but this made the films seem more Hollywood than Korean.

Either way, I find this kind of stuff pretty fascinating.  So I decided to take a look at the movies that contributed to the box office success in 2009.  Please note that I’m only looking at box office numbers, so there are quite a few movies that I’m dying to see which are not included in the list.  The cutoff I used was 1 million tickets sold to just pick a round number.

A Frozen Flower [쌍화점]

This was technically released in 2008, but on 12/30 so it boasted its success in 2009, holding onto #1 in the box office throughout January, totaling close to 4 million tickets sold.  The film starred Joo Jin Mo (Dream), as the King of the Goryeo dynasty and Jo In Sung (What Happened in Bali) as his bodyguard, along with Song Ji Hyo (Goong) as his queen and told the story of their love triangle with the backdrop of Goryeo dynasty’s political tension with the Yuan dynasty.

The movie not only enjoyed box office success, but critical acclaim as well, being consider for Korea’s entry to the Acamedy Awards.  A Frozen Flower was written and directed by Yoo Ha, and is definitely on my 2009 movie watch list.

Old Partner [워낭소리]

As the sleeper hit of 2009, Old Partner is a documentary about a man and his cow.  The film shows the life of farmer Choi Won Gyuoon and his wife Lee Sam Soon, and their relationship with their cow.  The cow has aged with the couple and becomes man’s best friend.  When the cow is diagnosed with cancer, farmer Choi is forced to enjoy his last year with his cow.

Grossing 3 million ticket sales, Old Partner is the most successful documentary and independent film to date.  (It held top box office honors for the latter 2 weeks of February.)  It was also the first Korean movie to take part in the Sundance Film Festival.  The movie will has been sold to Taiwan and will have a limited release in Japan next month.  The film has launched an interest in the independent film market in Korea, even inspiring a seminar on the marketability of indie films at PIFF.

I love documentaries and this is one movie that I didn’t know about until I started doing this post.  It’ll definitely be added to my must watch list.

City of Damnation [유감스러운 도시]

Directed by Kim Dong Wan (My Boss, My Teacher), City of Damnation is a fairly typical Korean gangster movie, starring Jung Joon Ho (IRIS) as a traffic cop who dreams of becoming a detective.  He gets his chance when he’s given the chance to go undercover into a gang. Conversely, Jung Woong In (Queen Seonduk) is a gang member who infiltrates the homicide department to protect his gang leader.  (Is this a comedy version of Infernal Affairs?)


The Scam [작전]

The Scam stars Park Yong Ha in a film about the Korean stock market.  (Huh?  Is this Story of a Man?)  He plays a hapless investor who dabbles in day trading, but hitsthe jackpot when he earns money from a company that is fronting a mob.  He is forced to join the mob to help with a plot to steal $60 million won from the Korean stock market.  The film also stars Kim Min Jung.

The movie was given pretty good reviews and the first time director Lee Ho Jae nabbed the Best New Director at Grand Bell.  The film sold more than 1.5 million tickets.

After Story of a Man, my opinions of Park Yong Hwa has been turned upside down.  And his grin in the poster is pretty reminiscent of my favorite drama of 2009.  It’s not in my genre but I may catch this one.

Private Eye [그림자 살인]

Taking the box office top honors in April is Private Eye, a story about the first Joseon era private detective (Hwang Jung Min.)  The detective along with a medical student (Ryu Duk Hwan) sets out to solve a murder mystery.  The debut film by Park Dae Min, received glowing reviews from critics and went on to sell almost 2 million tickets.

The big draw of the  movie is undoubtedly Hwang Jung Min, a fabulous actor who’s considered to be one of the top film stars of Korea.  The critically acclaimed You Are My Sunshine (with Jeon Do Yeon) put him on the map and garnered him multiple Best Actor Awards.  I like Hwang Jung Min a lot but I don’t think this is my type of movie.  I’d rather watch his drama Accidental Couple.  Pass.

My Girlfriend is an Agent [7급 공무원]

Touted as the Mr and Mrs Smith (blerg) of Korea, My Girlfriend is an Agent starred Kim Haneul (On Air) and Kang Ji Hwan (Rough Cut) as the 2 secret agents who were once lovers, but end up butting heads on the job.

The film which cost over $4 million USD to make (a hefty sum for Korean movie) sold over 4 million tickets making it the 3rd highest grossing film of 2009 after Haeundae and Take-Off.

Although I do like Kang Ji Hwan (who took home the Grand Bell Best New Actor award), this is totally not my type of movie.  I’d rather watch Love is Blind.  Pass.

Insadong Scandal [인사동 스캔들]

Insadong Scandal stars Kim Rae Won in his last project before heading off to the army, playing a con artist in the Korean arts world.  He’s hired by an arts dealer (Uhm Jung Hwa) to restore a piece from the Joseon dynasty.  But he’s up to no good and works with a gang of misfits to con Uhm Jung Hwa, all the while getting chased by a cop (whom he had a relationship with in the past.)  Sounds like a convoluted version of the Oceans series?

The film sold 1.2 million tickets.  I love, love, love Kim Rae Won, so I’ll probably end up watching the movie when I start having withdrawl in the next 2 years.  But this is definitely one of those movies you suck up and watch because your favorite actor is in it.

Thirst [박쥐]

Director Park Chan Wook‘s film, Thirst, tells the story of a priest turned vampire through a government experiment.  He falls into an affair with a childhood friend’s wife (Kim Ok Bin), and shows the despair he goes faces having to live as a vampire while trying to grasp onto his remaining humanity.

The priest is played by Park Chan Wook‘s favorite heavyweight, Song Kang Ho, who’s starred in multiple blockbusters throughout the years:  The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, Secret Sunshine, The Host, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and JSA.

Thirst won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, which is basically the bronze medal at Cannes.  Park Chan Wook is probably the most well known Korean director outside of Korea, based on his Vengeance trilogy.  The film sold over 2.2 million tickets in Korea.

I’m a huge fan of Park Chan Wook and was really sad to miss the film while it was playing in the theaters.  This is probably #1 on my 2009 movie watch list.

Mother [마더]

The South Korean entry for the Academy Awards, Mother, tells the story of a mother’s (Kang Hye Ja) love for her son (Won Bin.)  A small town acupuncturist lives with her unemployed and mentally slow son.  He’s accused of murder and confesses of the crime, ending up in jail.  His mother refuses to believe his guilt and looks for the killer herself to redeem her son.

Directed by Bong Joon Ho (The Host), the film sold 3 million tickets.  Interestingly, this was Kim Hye Ja‘s first feature film and won her quite a bit of praise, including the Best Actress (Foreign) award at the most prestigious Chinese film festival and a Best Actress nomination at the Grand Bell Awards.

This is another one that I regret missing in the theaters and look forward to watching.

Running Turtle [거북이 달린다]

Running Turtle is an action comedy starring Kim Yoon Suk as a lazy small town detective who runs into a fugitive killer (Jung Kyung Ho!!) in his crimeless town.  The detective makes a promise to turn his life around to his daughter and makes it his mission to catch the killer, who’s able to outsmart his every move.

The film grossed over 3 million in ticket sales (4th highest in 2009) and saw Kim Yoon Suk receive a nomination in the Best Actor category for the Grand Bell Awards.  He was definitely the big draw for the movie, having been in hits such as The Chaser, The Happy Life, and Tazza.  But my main draw will be my current crush, Jung Kyung Ho of Smile, You.  (Just as a side note, Jung Kyung Ho also nabbed a Grand Bell nomination in the Supporting Actor category for his work in Sunny.  A 2008 film with Soo Ae.  The award shows in Korea doesn’t use a calendar year for the entries.)

Bronze Medalist [킹콩을 들다]

Inspired by a true story, the sports movie stars Lee Bum Soo as a retired weight lifter, who reluctantly takes on a coaching job for an all girls middle school weight lifting team.  Jo An (Everybody Cha Cha Cha) also received good reviews for gaining 20 pounds and playing a middle school weight lifter.

The first time director, Park Gun Yong, was nominated for the Best New Director award at the Grand Bell Awards, and the movie was one of the films in running for Korea’s entry to Academy Awards.  The film sold almost 1.3 million tickets.  I go back and forth on feel good sports movies.  I do love what this movie celebrates, a group of middle school female weight lifters!  This is on the maybe list.

Chaw [차우]

Uhm Tae Woong (Queen Seonduk, Resurrection) and Jung Yoo Mi (Que Sera Sera) star in the summer monster thriller about a man-eating boar, aptly named Chaw.  A small town discovers ripped off body parts of a dead girl, whose grandfather is a famous hunter.  The story follows the search for the animal with a party that includes the grandfather hunter, a cop (Uhm Tae Woong), and an ecologist (Jung Yoo Mi).

The film was the summer blockbuster horror flick, grossing over 1.7 million tickets sold.  This again isn’t really my genre but I’m willing to give anything with Uhm Tae Woong and Jung Yoo Mi a try.

Haeundae [해운대]

Directed by Yoon Je Kyun (Sex is Zero) and promoted as Korea’s first disaster film, Haeundae literally took the box office by storm from its release on 7/23.  With a cast boasting big names (Sol Kyung Go, Ha Ji Won, Park Joon Hoong, Uhm Jung Hwa, and Lee Min Ki), it tells the story of a tsunami hitting the coastal city of Pusan.

The film has sold close to 12 million tickets, only trailing The Host, The King and the Clown, and Taegeukgi.  Although it has seen box office success and was nominated for the Grand Bell Best Picture Award, it also has received mixed reviews from critics.  With one of the criticisms being the lack of believability in its special effects.  To note, Haeundae cost about $13M USD to make, compared to the $200M that it takes to make a US blockbuster.

I hate disaster blockbusters.  The last one I actually watched in the theater was Armageddon and I hated every minute of it.  Pass.

Take-Off [국가대표]

Take-Off was the other big winner of 2009, selling over 8 million tickets.  Released just a week after Haeundae, it swapped first place with its rival in the box office for 6 weeks after its release n 7/29.

The film is based on the true story of the first national ski jump team in Korea.  In 1996. the small town of Moju in the Jeolla province is hard at work trying to complete in the bid for the winter olympics, when they realize that they don’t have enough athletes to be considered for the running.  Enter Bob (Ha Jung Woo), a Korean-American alpine skier to form the first national ski jump team with 4 other non-athletes.  (Yes, very much Cool Runnings, which I enjoyed immensely.)

Take-Off’s director, Kim Yong Hwa, won the Grand Bell Best Director Award this year, which was the only win for the film.  If I watch a sports movie this year, it’ll be this one.  It’s still playing at the nearby theater, so I might make this into our family Thanksgiving movie… we’ll see.

Ae-ja [애자]

Choi Kang Hee (My Sweet Seoul) takes on the titular role of Aeja, a one time “Tolstoy of Pusan” who runs into some bad luck after moving to Seoul.  She ends up with a cheating boyfriend (Bae Soo Bin) who leaves her with a mound of debt and has a hard time getting her writing career off the ground.  The movie is mostly a story about a mother (Kim Young Ae) and daughter’s relationship.

The film received excellent reviews and gained the support of fans, selling over 1.9 million tickets.  Both actresses earned nominations at the Grand Bell, with Kim Young Ae winning in the Best Supporting Actress category.

This is definitely on my must watch list, Bae Soo Bin!!, and it’s a movie that I will be watching with my mom.

My Love By My Side [내 사랑 내 곁에]

Ha Ji Won is the lone actor bringing in 2 movies with over 1 million tickets sold in 2009.  My Love By My Side tells the sad tale of a man (Kim Myung Min) who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease disease and a new wife (Ha Ji Won) who must watch the man she loves wither away in front of her eyes.

This is the movie that made Kim Myung Min lose 20 kg and forced him to act with only his eyes for a good chunk of the movie.  His performance won him the Best Actor honors at the Grand Bell.

I’m not a huge fan of melodramas so it’s not terribly high on my watch list.  But I do like both actors, so I’m sure I’ll be watching this sometime soon.

Good Morning President [굿모닝 프레지던트]

I’ve talked quite a bit about this movie in multiple places, so I won’t go into too much details.  But in Jang Dong Gun‘s return to the big screen, Good Morning President is doing quite well at the box office, recently surpassing the 2.5 million tickets mark.

I really don’t care if the movie sucks.  I’ll watch Jang Dong Gun in just about anything.


Before the end of the year, I’ll probably do a best of the rest round-up for 2009.   Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the movies here, and/or your plans for 2009 movie watching.  So comment away!

Via Joynews, Hancinema

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