Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: April 2009

Korea Weekend Box Office – April 24-26

Sorry to be late with the box office this week. Traveling to the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy had me a tad busy.

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.

Pop Goes Korea’s European Vacation

Okay, not really a vacation. But I have been invited to the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy this year, to enjoy their selection of Asian films and to talk about POP GOES KOREA. Not a vacation, but not exactly work, either.


Whatever it is, I am very excited to be attending. The very nice people at Udine have invited me for years… But it always seemed like I was too busy in late April to go. Mostly because of all the writing I had to do in preparation for Cannes. This year, though, I am Cannes-free, and the book is done, so it seemed like a really good time to go.

I have no idea what to expect. I know I am a writer, not a filmmaker (although I am a writer about filmmakers). But I have been told there will be copies of my book for sale (at a discount) at the festival book store. So if you are planning on attending Udine, I would be happy to sign your copy.

Korea Weekend Box Office – April 17-19

Nicolas Cage’s KNOWING was really the top film in Korea last weekend? Really? That’s kind of depressing. And with 462,254 admissions (3 billion won)?

Also depressing is the big opening of MY GIRLFRIEND IS AN AGENT (7-Geup Gongmuwon). But considering it opened on “just” 225 screens, I guess the theater owners were smelling a dog.

In general, a really bad week for Korean movies. Just three in the top-10, with SHADOW KILL (Geurimja Salin) in No. 2, MY GIRLFIREND IS AN AGENT in No. 7 and WHY ARE YOU HERE IN OUR HOUSE? (Uri Jibe Wae Wassni) in No. 8. Overall, the Korean share of the box office has fallen to 44.6 percent.

Although in the absence of Korean films, it was not all Hollywood — BANLIEUE 13: ULTIMATUM from France was third and THE LEGEND OF IP MAN from Hong Kong was in fifth.

There Will Be Blood (in the theaters)

Aha — at last Jun Ji-hyun’s BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE has a date for the Korean cinemas. June 11, at least according to Cine 21.


And so does Hong Sang-soo’s new film, JAL ALJIDO MOTHAMYEONSEO — it comes out May 14.

Korea Weekend Box Office – April 10-12

SHADOW KILL (Geurimja Salin) stayed on top of the box office for another week, now topping 1.1 million admissions. The historical thriller took in 2.5 billion won ($1.85 million) to bring its total to 7.5 billion won ($5.55 million).

In second, once again, was FAST & FURIOUS. New title URI JIPE WOE WOTTNI landed in third (that is the film left blank in the KOFIC chart below).

In fifth was the debut of the Japanese title SUSPECT X. NEW IN TOWN and THE UNINVITED were the other new titles this week, none of which made much of an impact.

Mo’ Movies, Mo’ Subtitles

Okay, this link is a few days late, but here is a reminder that there are more and more opportunities to see Korean movies with English subtitles these days.

The Cinus theaters in Myeongdong and Gangnam are both offering Korean films with subtitles, thanks in part to a support program by the government. Cinus has more information about the theaters and the movies with subtitles here. Unfortunately, if you want to find out the times the movies are playing, you need to be able to use the Korean-language website.

A reminder also that the latest International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul is underway, running until April 16. All the movies are being screened at the Artreon Theater in Shinchon, and I think they all have English subtitles (nearly all?).

Oh, and if Russian cinema is your thing, the Seoul Cinematheque is having a big festival of Russian movies until April 26. Most of them have English subtitles. The Seoul Cinematheque is located at the edge of Insa-dong, on the fourth floor of the Nagwon Arcade (map).

Korea Weekend Box Office – April 3-5 (Plus 1st Quarter Stuff)

Korea was one of the few territories in the world were FAST & FURIOUS opened and was not the No. 1 film last weekend. Instead, audiences flocked to the new release of local film SHADOW KILL (Geurimja Salin), giving the film 3.2 billion won ($2.4 million) over the weekend, for a total of 3.7 billion won.

FAST & FURIOUS 4 came in a distant second, making 1.4 billion won ($1.1 million) over the weekend, for a total of 1.6 billion won.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE slipped to third, making 982 million won ($744,000), for a three-week total of 5.5 billion won ($4.2 million).

Except for the No. 1 film, there was not a lot of Korean films at the box office last weekend. Next came MISSING (Siljong) way down in eighth with 304 million won ($230,000) to bring its three-week total to 3.9 billion won ($3.0 million).

A SADDER STORY THAN SADNESS (Seulpeum-boda Deo Seulpeun Iyagi) came in 10th with 85 million won ($64,000), for a total of 4.7 billion won ($3.6 million).

Beneath the top 10, OLD PARTNER (Wonang Sori), the cow documentary, was in 13th with 42 million won, for a total of 18.8 billion won ($14.2 million).

OVERSPEED SCANDAL (Gwasok Seukaendeul) is still in a few theaters, good enough for 19th, making 7.2 million won for a total of 53.7 billion won ($40.7 million).

TOKYO SONATA, down in 29th, never took off in Korea. It earned just 3 million won last weekend for a three-week total of 18 million won ($18,000).

SHORT BUS, now in 31st, by contrast has made 121 million won ($91,600) over its four-week run.

DAYTIME DRINKING never took off either, coming in 33rd. It made 1.7 million won for a two-month total of 170 million won.

According to KOBIS, Korean films are at 45.1% of the boxoffice for the year.

But KOBIS is not the only boxoffice game in town. The latest monthly numbers from CJ CGV just came out, too. For the first quarter of 2009, CGV says that the boxoffice numbers are very similar to 2008 — 35.74 million admissions so far in 2009 compared to 35.79 million last year.

Korean film attendance is still down, though, with 46 percent of tickets going to Korean movies so far in 2009. Last year at this point it was around 55 percent, about the same in 2007, and it was over 70 percent at this point in 2006.

Most years Korean movies start out strong, then get pummeled by Hollywood in May and June, before bouncing back later in the summer and the year. Last year, the Korean film industry basically rolled over and played dead from April to June (with the low point coming in May when Korean movies had just 8 percent of the boxoffice).

This year, however, could be very different, with films by Park Chan-wook coming at the end of April and Bong Joon-ho at the end of May.

Ruining a Good Thing — Internet Edition

And in the latest from the Department of Just Not Getting The Point, the Korean Communications Commission plans to introduce a new, mandatory ID system for the Korean Internet. Brilliant. Because demanding national ID numbers to use just about every nook and cranny of the Internet in Korea has worked so well thus far, why not expand it?

Hrm… Article was dated April 1. Any chance it was a really bad April Fool’s Joke?

Chosen by the Chosun

Good news for POP GOES KOREA — I just received my first serious mention in the Korean press. A nice little article about the book (and me) in the Chosun Ilbo. The article concentrates on my feelings about Korea’s music scene, which is a nice angle, I guess. If I have a moment, I might translate a bit of it later.

Sadly, no links in the story to this blog or the Korea Gig Guide. But they mentioned POP GOES KOREA and my publisher, so that is quite decent.

(Warning: The article is accompanied by a photo. And while not quite NSFW, I would not recommend looking directly at it.)

UPDATE: Hey, the Chosun just posted the English translation of the story, saving me some work. Not terribly accurate (in regards to what I told the reporter, or even the Korean-language original), but nice to see something in English so I am not complaining.

Best of all, I am told that my book was spotted recently at Kyobo Books, both in the Gwanghwamun and Gangnam branches. There are not many in stock at the moment, but a new shipment is supposed to be arriving in a month.

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