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Settling Korean Cinema 2021 & Forecasting 2022

Jan 04, 2022
  • Writerby KIM Subin
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Settling Korean Cinema 2021 & Forecasting 2022



In 2021, a total of 60.52 million moviegoers visited movie theaters. It is a slight increase from 59.52 million viewers in 2020. However, the era of having 60 million viewers is still unfamiliar compared to the boom that exceeded 200 million viewers for the seventh consecutive year before the COVID-19. 2021 was the year when all workers in the film industry struggled amid uncontrolled variables. As if to relieve the thirst of moviegoers, the lineup of movie distributors in 2022 is full of Korean films. 


The Efforts to Protect Movie Theaters


Escape from Mogadishu(2021), SINKHOLE(2021) 


The year 2021 dawned without any promise to end the Pandemic. As a result, on January 11, the total number of moviegoers was 10,776, the lowest since 2004. However, the mood at the end of the year was a little different. On December 15, it recorded 634,948 viewers, the largest daily audience number since the Pandemic. Over the year, variables related to COVID-19, such as the start of COVID-19 vaccination, the emergence and spread of mutant viruses, changes in social distancing stages, and restrictions on movie theater business hours, have continuously affected the theater business. Especially, the recent resumption of restrictions on theater business hours led by the government policies caused the film industry workers to appeal for countermeasures. Major multiplexes such as CGV, Lotte Cinema, and Megabox tried to reduce the deficit by raising ticket prices. Korea Film Council made several attempts to attract audiences, including distributing 6,000 won discount tickets. The theater industry also joined forces with paid media services to release Korean tent pole movies. While both sides guaranteed 50% of the production cost, Escape from Mogadishu and SINKHOLE were released, attracting more than 2 million audiences respectively, recording meaningful results. In particular, attracting a total of 3.61 million viewers, Escape from Mogadishu was recognized for its cinematic quality, becoming the most popular Korean film of the year, while sweeping so many awards, including the Best Film, the Best Director, and the Best Art Direction at the Blue Dragon Film Awards. 


Powerful Hollywood Movies & Good Fight of Korean TentPole Movies 


On the Line(2021), The Three Sisters(2021), Aloners(2021), Everglow(2021)  


2021 was a year when overseas blockbuster films were powerful. In 2020, Korean films accounted for 68% and foreign films 32%, but in 2021, Korean films accounted for 32% while foreign films 69.9%, showing the opposite pattern. The fact that 8 out of the top 10 box office films were foreign films shows the aspect. Among foreign films, Hollywood blockbusters, which had delayed their release, were released one after another, chosen by the audience. Spider-Man: No Way Home surpassed 6 million viewers in Korea on the first weekend of January 2022, recording the largest number of the audience in the shortest time among the foreign movies released during the Pandemic. According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned $1.217.54 billion (about 1.4494 trillion won) worldwide by December 31, serving as a hero not only in Korea but also in global theaters. The Eternals, the third top among the last year's releases, was particularly popular in Korea with the merit of the Marvel series and Actor Don Lee's appearance, followed by Black Widow, Fast & Furious 9 THE FAST SAGA, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Soul, and Cruella, making Top 10 in Korean box office hits.


2021 was also the year when special theaters such as IMAX were in the spotlight, proving the power only movie theaters have. The ticket sales and audience share of those premium theaters increased compared to 2019. The movie Dune, released in October, recorded sellouts every day at the IMAX theaters at the time of its release and surpassed 1 million viewers by re-screening at the IMAX theaters at the end of November. The popularity of large-scale blockbusters and special theaters proved the possibility of theaters in the Pandemic era and gave homework in terms of film diversity at the same time.


The number of Korean movies available in theaters decreased. Only two Korean films, Escape from Mogadishu and SINKHOLE, were ranked in the Top 10 in the box office. Although the films were released in the fourth stage of social distancing due to the re-proliferation of COVID-19, they attracted 3.61 million and 2.19 million viewers, respectively, serving as support for the theaters. Director Pil Gamsung's debut film Hostage: Missing Celebrity, and Directors Kim Gok and Kim Sun's crime thriller On the Line also surpassed 1 million viewers. Many Korean films delayed their release due to the theater conditions in the Pandemic or continued to be sold to the OTT market in 2021. Among them, independent art films such as The Three Sisters, Aloners, Everglow, Gull, A Long Way to School, and SNOWBALL received the spotlight, showing the power of good stories.


Active Roles of Creators in Chungmuro


Last Night in Soho(2021), Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon(2021) 


Following Korean content, 2021 was the year of keen interest in Korean film creators. The best example is that Actor Youn Yuhjung won the Best Supporting Actress for Minari at the Academy Awards in April. Five days after the prize-winning news was reported, Minari surpassed 1 million viewers, which is a rare case for diversity films. Director Bong Joonho served as the president of the International Jury of the Competition at the 78th Venice International Film Festival following the announcement of the opening of the 74th Cannes International Film Festival, where Actor Song Kangho participated as a judge. Director Hong Sangsoo's In Front of Your Face and Director Han Jaerim's Emergency Declaration were both invited to Cannes's Premier and Non-competitive section, respectively.


We also could meet Korean actors and staff members in many films in various languages. The Eternals, Actor Don Lee co-starred in, and Last Night in Soho, Director of Photography Chung Chunghoon participated in, were released, while Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, starring Actor Jeon Jongseo, entered the competition section at the Venice International Film Festival. Although the casting news has not been officially announced, Actor Park Seojoon is taking on a new challenge by listing his name on IMDb credit for The Marvels, while Actor Yoo Teo was cast in Past Lives, which is invested and produced by A24 that produced Minari

Meanwhile, OTT content made by the creators, who have strengthened their careers in Chungmuro, was also widely loved. Squid Game established itself as Netflix's top box office series, with 142 million households watching it for 28 days after its release. Subsequently, Hellbound and The Silent Sea drew attention, and the names of the creators who have strengthened their careers in the film industry, including Director Hwang Donghyuk, Director Yeon Sangho, Art Director Chae Kyungsun, and Music Director Jung Jaeil, were mentioned worldwide.


Korean Films That Will Fill Theater Screens


The Point Men(2021), Bogota(2021) 


In the new year, masterpieces of Korean films are about to be released. According to the 2022 lineups revealed by distributors, Director Yim Soonrye will return with The Point Men, starring Hwang Jungmin and Hyun Bin. It is the story of a diplomat and an NSA agent trying to save a Korean kidnapped in the Middle East. Director Kim Sungjae's Bogota, who directed Minority Opinion, is a crime movie set in Bogota, Colombia. Both films suffered difficulties in overseas filming due to COVID-19 but were listed in the new lineup in 2022. Director Han Jaerim presents the aviation disaster movie Emergency Declaration. It is a blockbuster that required more than 20 billion won for its production, and Jeon Doyeon, Song Kangho, Lee Byunghun, and Kim Namgil form an ensemble. After Escape from Mogadishu, Director Ryoo Seungwan returns quickly with Smuggling, a crime film of the two women set in the 1970s. Kim Hyesoo, Yum Jungah, Jo Insung, and Park Jungmin will appear in the film.


We can also see the new films of film masters. Director Park Chanwook's Decision to Leave is a story that begins when a detective who investigates the death case in the mountain meets the wife of the deceased, starring Park Haeil and Tang Wei. Director Hirokazu Koreeda presents Broker, a story based on 'Baby Box,' which leaves a baby behind. Korean actors such as Song Kangho, Kang Dongwon, Bae Doona, Lee Jieun, and Lee Jooyoung star in, raising expectations. Director Choi Donghoon completed Alie​n, a story that unfolds as the door of time opens between the end of Goryeo and 2022 when aliens appear. Expectations are high only with the names of the cast, including Ryu Junyeol, Kim Woobin, Kim Taeri, So Jisub, Yum Jungah, Jo Woojin, and Kim Euisung.


New films with unique concepts will also add vitality to the theater district. Director Kang Yikwan's Virus (working title), starring Kim Yoonseok and Bae Doona, is set in the world where an unidentified virus spreads, which kills people who feel love within a few days. Director Kim Yonghwa's new film The Moon (working title) is the story of a man left alone in space and a man on Earth desperately trying to save him, starring Sul Kyunggu and Do Kyungsoo. Director 's WONDERLAND features an artificial intelligence service that allows video calls with people who do not exist in the world. Park Bogum, Suji, Gong Yoo, Tang Wei, Jung Yumi, and Choi Woosik will star in the movie. Director Kang Hyungchul's new film High Five is a story about five people who accidentally gain superpowers. They bump into those who covet their superpowers. Lee Jaein, Yoo Ahin, , Ra Miran, and Kim Heewon star in the movie.


We can also expect the release of the sequels of the box office hits. Confidential Assignment, Hyun Bin and Yoo Haejin starred in. attracting 7.81 million viewers, will return with Confidential Assignment 2: International. Daniel Henney participates in a joint investigation as an agent from the US FBI in the film. Honest Candidate, which surpassed 1 million viewers in the Pandemic era, continues its sequel on the subject of the protagonist's return to politics. In The Pirates: Goblin Flag, the sequel to The Pirates, new cast members such as Kang Haneul and Han Hyojoo continue the adventures of the pirates in the Joseon Dynasty. Director Park Hoonjung is directing The Witch 2: The Other One, following The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion. Director Kim Hanmin completed the trilogy of Admiral Yi Sunshin, including Roaring Currents: The Road of the Admiral, Hansan, and Noryang.


What will the debut films made by actors look like? Actor Lee Jungjae will make his directorial debut with Hunt. It is a spy action film that takes place as NSA agents chase after a North Korean spy director sent to South Korea, starring Lee Jungjae and Jung Woosung. Actor Jung Woosung also directs Guardian and plays the main character in the movie. Guardian depicts the protagonist's struggle to protect only one person.


In addition, Director Kang Jekyu's 1947, Boston, Director Yoon Jekyun's Hero, Director Lee Wontae's The Devil's Deal, Director Lee Haeyoung's Ghost, Director Min Yonggeun's Soulmate, Director Kim Taegon's Silence, Director Lee Yosup's Acc​ident, and Director Kim Hyungjoo's The Match have been announced to be released. The film industry workers and audiences are waiting in unison for the films to arrive safely on the screen.

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