Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: February 2011

Asia Leads World Box Office 2010

A few years ago, when I was writing for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, I remember trying to convince the powers-that-be to put more resources into Asia because Asia’s box office was much bigger than most people realized. I did some math and figured out that in 2006, Asia represented a little over $6 billion at the box office, compared to about $8 billion in Europe and $11 billion in North American.

Despite those numbers, I would say THR’s focus was about 70% America, 20% Europe, 5% Asia, and 5% everything else (just a rough estimate). Clearly those ratios do not really match up, but I could tell that nothing was going to change any time soon, which made leaving THR much easier.

(For the record, I loved the people I worked with, but was frustrated by the bureaucratic inertia and the lazy thinking by the higher-ups).

Well, those trends have just gotten more pronounced. The Motion Picture Association of America just released a report on 2010’s world box office, and Asia is stronger than ever. Europe (including the Middle East and Africa) has grown to $10.4 billion, and Asia is now $8.7 billion (and Latin America is a blistering $2.1 billion). Of the growth since 2006, 40 percent has come from Asia.
World Box Office 2010

America and Canada have grown to $10.6 billion from $9.2 billion, but most of that is from 3D — regular 2D box office actually fell to $8.4 billion.

In case you are interested in such things, the USA/Canada market had its best year in terms of admissions in 2002, when it sold 1.57 billion tickets, as opposed to 1.34 billion in 2010 (the worst year in the past decade).

Of course, as far as the movie publications are concerned, the big issue is not box office but marketing spending — how much the Asian movie companies are spending on publicizing their movies outside of their home territories. And that is not much. Additionally, the numbers out of much of Asia are pretty opaque: China has swung way too much over the years, and who knows what is going on in India. But Japan remains the world’s No. 2 movie market, and Korea is close to $1 billion.

Clearly, the person whose business strategy more closely aligns with global spending (maybe these guys?) is going to make a lot of money. But for now, most people’s focus remains on America first, and the West in general second. Asia gets a lot of lip service, but continues to be really underrepresented

Hee Sisters on Their Way

The ’70s disco group Hee Sisters are about to have an anthology released by Beatball Records. And remixed by DJ Soulscape, too. This could be a lot of fun. You can hear an overview of some of their songs, along with a bunch of cool pics and other images in this Youtube video:

Dreaming of Dream High

Over at, my new story is up, about the Korean TV drama DREAM HIGH. I was fortunate enough to have a good talk with DREAM HIGH’s executive producer Jimmy Jung (who is also the president of the Korean music company JYP Entertainment) about the program, how it came about, and JYP Entertainment’s plans for producing programs in the future. Here is an excerpt:

Actually, despite people’s preconceptions, combining singers and TV dramas is an old formula, one that JYP Entertainment learned with their megastar Rain. Rain acted in three TV dramas when he was first with the company, most famously Full House, the show that became a hit all over Asia and helped propel the young singer to the next level. “Through Rain’s three TV series, I learned how TV is a great promotional tool,” said Jung. “There are so many so-called hallyu stars in Korea, but compared to stars who only act, stars who can act and sing and dance have a much stronger position.”

Movies, Democracy, and Media Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

– Kind of amazing that, as I write this, there are two Korean films on Andrew O’Hehir’s top movies of 2011, including the No. 1 spot for Lee Chang-dong’s POETRY. Sure, it is early in the year, but I still think that is impressive.

– Currently with a rating of 84 on Metacritic, POETRY is tied for fourth-best rated film in American theaters at the moment — tied with SECRET SUNSHINE (Lee Chang-dong’s previous film). That’s pretty cool, too.

(click on the pic to see larger)

– Interesting stats about movies in Europe in 2010 over at the European Audiovisual Observatory. Overall attendance dropped 2 percent, but different territories varied wildly — Italy leapt 11%, and France had its best year since 1967, but Germany was down 13%, and Spain down 11%.

What was especially interesting for me was the national cinema share in each country. In Korea, domestic movie share has always been a big deal (at least since I started covering its cinema), and it was pretty amazing to see local films steadily rise from around 20% when I first arrived there in the 1990s to a high of 65% in 2006 (and since then, hovering around 40-50%).

Over in Europe, however, no country’s domestic cinema took in over 36% of the box office (except for Turkey, with an impressive 52%). Italy and the Czech Republic both had good years, with local films rising from the low-20’s to 32% and 35% respectively. France was down slightly, but still pretty good at 35.5%. Spain had just 12%.

(You can also click here to see a chart with all the data).

– Very happy to see Mubarak step down. But still so very far to go before Egypt begins to get any real freedom or democracy. Still, that was an important first step. I just hope things work out for them.

– In a related vein, there is a very interesting article by Konrad Lawson at Frog in the Well comparing what is happening now (protests, torture, democracy) in Egypt and the Middle East to Korea’s democracy movement of the 1980s.

– A lot of people talk about media bias, left or right, usually depending on how right or left you are (btw, what a torpid way of viewing life or yourself). But the more I read and work with news aggregators, the more I think the biggest bias in the media is story bias — that is, writers and editors continually try to push events and analysis into easily digestible, high-conflict stories. So a complicated event turns into a decently nuanced analysis in the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times or whatever. But then the news aggregators (like Drudge, Gawker, Newser or whoever, the options are endless these days) get ahold of that original story, find the juiciest quote or idea, and play that up in large fonts and active verbs. And before you know it, everyone is screaming at each other, all over again. Could it be the way we consume news is pushing bias (or at least our perceptions of bias) more than the writers and editors themselves?

(Of course, I am only talking about real news outlets, not silly propaganda/argument machines like Fox, MSNBC, or Huffington).

Yun Jung-hee Profile

There is a great feature on the great Korean actress Yun Jung-hee , star of 330 films or so over the past 44 years, in today’s New York Times. Totally worth a read.

Yun is the star of Lee Chang-dong’s film POETRY, which opens this weekend in the United States. She talks a fair bit about Korean cinema in the 1960s, as well as living in Paris (where she’s lived for nearly 39 years) and being married to pianist Kun Woo Paik.

Film Festival Notes

My latest column is up at the Korean Content website — this one is an overview of some of the Korean films coming to film festivals over the next few months. There are eight Korean movies at Berlin this year (not including all the movies at the European Film Market), and more coming to Fantasporto, Udine, and more.

Egypt Chooses the North Korea Option?

A depressing day in Egypt today, as Mubarak sent his thugs out to beat the freedom out of the Egyptian people. For a while, I was hoping Mubarak might accept reality and slink out of town. But now? I fear he is going to choose the North Korea option — preferring to burn the country down about him rather than give up power.

Shutting down the Internet, closing down the stock markets and business. Basically reverting a country back to the Stone Age (save for its modern weapons). Even if the rulers get the boot, they and their supports turn into an insurgency of chaos and mindless violence. How many times have we seen odious regimes all over the world make that choice, over and over again?

Maybe Milton had it right — “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” Or, at least for far too many people, better to reign in hell than not to reign at all.

But I hope I am wrong. I guess we will see Friday…

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