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Ko - production in Busan
  • Something Different to Hollywood
  • by JEONG Han-seok /  Nov 02, 2015
  • Chronology of Korean-style Film Franchise
     
     
    When we talk about film franchises, we automatically assume a couple of pre-existing conditions. First of all, they should be effective commercial brands to be franchises. That is why most franchises are amusement films with strong generic features. Another crucial thing for successful film franchise is attractive characters that stay in the audience’s mind and trigger interest. Therefore it is only logical that film franchises are often composed of a few installments, so that the brand value should be commercially maintained.
     
    In this regard, Hollywood films never fall short of such series, including Marvel’s films, the Harry Potter, X-man, Twilight, Lord of the Rings series, and so on. If you go further beyond, you then have the Batman and Star Wars series. Then, in Korean cinema, how have the trends and contexts of film franchises been and are still being developed? Let us look through their brief history.
     
    The Birth of Korean Film Franchise: Police, Gangster and Ghosts
     
     
    In the 1990s, when the term “film franchise” was still very new in Korean cinema, a comic detective story, which modeled from similar Hollywood films of the 80s, appeared on the screen: Two Cops (1993) by KANG Woo-suk. It was before the big companies (“chaebol”) arrived in the Korean film industry. Two Cops is a film planned and directed by KANG, who was the figurehead of Korean commercial cinema throughout the 90s. The film was a great success and led to the production of Two Cops 2 (1996) and Two Cops 3 (1998), becoming a brand name that conquered the 90s. As film franchises are to be based on a very high level of commercial planning, considering entertainment value and popularity, it seems convincing to call Two Cops the first form of Korean film franchise.
     
    In the late 90s and early 2000s, two distinctively different Korean film franchises appeared. One is the gangster comedy series including the My Wife Is a Gangster (2001) and Marrying the Mafia (2002) series, and the other is the Whispering Corridors (1998) series, which is a mixture of the coming of the age genre and horror genre.
     
    The My Wife Is A Gangster series is made of three installments produced between 2001 and 2006. A comic touch was added to the main structure of a female gangster boss who is also a splendid fighter. 5 installments have been made for the Marrying the Mafia series between 2002 and 2012. It was a comedy molded around the structure that every member of a whole family is a gangster. These series were often referred to as 'mediocre comedies for holiday gatherings' rather than as film franchises. They were often criticized as cheap, mindless popular movies that lower the quality of Korean cinema.
     
    The Whispering Corridors series was launched pretty much at the similar time as the gangster series, but received quite a different response. This series belongs to the horror and fantasy genres, and the narrative is based on the very oppressive educational system in Korea, which became so popular that later created a cultural syndrome. It was a unique Korean film franchise, inspired by its own culture and social issues. The most highly evaluated among the series is the second one, which is Memento Mori (1999).
     
    In the 2000s, KANG introduced a new film franchise, the Public Enemy series. 3 installments have been made between 2002 and 2008. The biggest appeal of this series was the powerful character played by SUL Kyung-gu. In the first installment, the protagonist is a policeman, who is rather dull but has a strong sense of justice. In the second and third of the series, the main character is a prosecutor instead of a policeman, but the lead is always played by the same actor. The protagonist's personality that can't stand the unfairness of the society and cannot help but fight for justice remains the same despite the characters' different occupations, and creates the most outstanding trait of the franchise.
     
    Era of Planned Film Franchises
     
     
    Recently an important change has been noticed in Korean film franchise. In the past, they were rather accidental or not full-scale. Since the 2010s, however, big scale film franchises have been strategically planned, aimed at long series from the beginning. A good example would be Veteran, which is sure to become the best box office performer of 2015 with more than 10 million viewers. As the director RYOO Seung-wan has confessed, among the films that Veteran models after is the Lethal Weapon series from the 80s, which has made a great interaction of interesting characters, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
     
    Veteran's Do-chul played by HWANG Jung-min is also a very interesting character. He produced the hottest line of the year, as he tells his corrupt colleague: "We lack money, but not pride," which was witty and also very much poignant. He looks somewhat awkward and silly, but he is best of the best when it comes to the police work ethic, and finally restores justice when he fights against the “chaebol” offspring. RYOO, who is the director and producer of the film, aimed at something similar to Lethal Weapon. He wants to create a film franchise by putting HWANG in the forefront, making a comic and active cop series. 
     
    Lastly, it is time to introduce the two recent detective films which brought the real craze for film franchises in Korea. One is the Detective K series which features detectives in the Joseon era. Detective K : Secret of Virtuous Widow, a 2011 hit, was followed by 2015 sequel Detective K : Secret of the Lost Island and as both made fair success, the series has landed in a stable position as a symbol of Korean film franchise. It has also been going viral that the vampire motif that appeared towards the end of Detective K : Secret of the Lost Island would be the main idea of the next in the series. KIM Myung-min, the main character, has also shown his support to the idea of extending to a franchise, saying "I want to play the lead through the series' 10th installment."
     
    What first stands out in the Detective K series is the director's past career. KIM Sok-yun used to be a TV sit-com producer. Therefore these films show an episodic arrangement which is said to be the virtue of sit-com comedy. In addition, the presence of the main characters is unquestionable. The performance of KIM and OH Dal-su, and their great harmony in this film franchise is often praised to be outstanding.    
     
    It is very interesting that THE ACCIDENTAL DETECTIVE, another detective film featuring a comic detective team, has decided on going franchise, modeling after the Detective K series. Like the Korean title Detective: the Beginning clearly indicates, it is only the beginning of a long series. Of course the success of the series should largely depend on the success of the original, and as the original has shown a fine performance, the franchise development seems to happen. It is about an amateur detective who is also a power blogger (KWON Sang-woo) and an experienced detective (SUNG Dong-il) collaborating to solve murder cases. It also seems to be the latest trend in Korean film franchise.
     
    Korean film franchises are likely to keep up with cheerful characters or their lively harmonies. Small or mid-sized comic genre films will still prevail. Therefore well structured scenarios and good actors will play the central role. Korean film franchises are taking a different approach from mega budget Hollywood film franchises involving heroes and fantasy. At least in terms of commercial success, the good performance of the Detective K and THE ACCIDENTAL DETECTIVE series will make a favorable ground for more film franchises.
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