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  • Korean cinema regains its confidence in 2009/Analysis of the Korean Film Industry 2009
  • by Lisa HAN /  Nov 01, 2009
  •                                                                                                                                                               Haeundae
    In 2009, the green light was on for the Korean film industry and this year has proved that audience support for Korean film still exists in the marketplace. Although Korean film industry has been diagnosed as having a serious disease by investors due to negative earning rates in three consecutive years; -28.4%(2008), -40.5%(2007) and -24.5%(2006); the year 2009 heralded another turning point for the Korean film industry as it started regaining trust from the marketplace and the audience.
    During the period from January to October 2009, Korean films have already out-performed the box office record of the number of admissions and the total box-office revenue of last year. The accumulated number of admissions during this period was 66.33 million admissions, compared to 63.54 admissions last year, and box-office revenue amounted to 488.5 billion won, compared to 412.6 billion won last year. Furthermore, the market share of Korean films during the period was 52% and especially from August to October it has been around 60%. Until a year ago, the Korean film industry had been characterized by the expressions - recession, depression and crisis - but now positive words such as recovery, revival and leap are being used to describe its current status.
     
    Korean Film Industry Flattened the Bubble

     
    2006 was the year of the last peak for the Korean film industry. In that year The Host alone drew a record-breaking 13 million admissions, making history. Korean films attracted 97.91 million admissions in total with box office revenues up to 591.6 billion won and the market share of Korean films reached an unprecedented percentage, at 63.8%. In the year the competitiveness of Korean film was clearly dominant over the domestic market, the number of film produced and films released leapt from 80 to about 100 films.
     
    However, the Korean film industry entered into a recession period with late 2006 as the turning point. Seemingly, it has grown in size, but the collapse has started at the bottom. The rate of return turned out to be negative and the amount of export of Korean films dropped by a level of 1/3 compared to US$ 75 million in 2005. Wide spread piracy resulted in the collapse of the ancillary market including home video market and the market collapse caused another matter, unbalanced profit structure, in which the portion of cinema sales took 70% out of the total sales amounts. While the cost of P&A for releasing films reached the highest amount ever, the average ticket price dropped to 6,034 won from 6,172 won a year earlier. Thus, people called this growth in cinema sales a bubble.
     
    The core of the return of Korean film in 2009 is that the bubbles of the Korean film industry have flattened out and it has proved effective for the industry, which still sustained fundamentals for development. Furthermore, Korean film regained its cultural effect on the map of Korean culture and its potential in the market. Thus, although the piracy issue is still ongoing and the growth of ancillary market and the export of Korean film are at a standstill, the green light appears to be on for the Korean film industry.
     
    Korean Films Have Been Dominant in the Marketplace
     
    There is no doubt that Korean films have taken an initiative in the market in 2009. In comparison with last year, the market share of Korean films in February of 2008 was as high as 69.1% but suddenly dropped to 7.7% in May. The reason for the sudden drop was that Korean film failed to prepare a series of Korean films, betting all they had on one or two films to hit the jackpot. But, in 2009 the lowest point for local market share was 36.5% in March and the highest was 67.5% in September, and other major signals, such as the cost of production of hit movies, the size of distribution and the number of admissions, appeared to be in good shape compared to those of last year.
                                             A Frozen Flower                                    Goodbye Mom                                               Thirst
    Korean film opened this year with the impressive success of Scandal Makers in January. In February, there was an unprecedented hit in Korean film history, an independent documentary film Old Partner, and another independent film, Breathless, which were both widely highlighted on the world stage and refreshed the current of Korean film in April. After that, Thirst and Mother were invited to the 62nd Cannes Film Festival and proved that the ongoing aesthetic ambition of Korean cinema could co-exist with success at the box-office in May. In the summer season, My Girlfriend Is an Agent and Running Turtle hit the boxoffice consecutively and finally Haeundae and Take Off came to storm the boxoffice. After that, Goodbye Mom and Good Morning, President continued the rising current of Korean film into the fall season. In short, Korean films this year have been dominant over foreign movies all year long in all elements such as genre, subject, casting and the size of production and distribution. take off

    Downfalls of Hollywood Sequels
     
    Having expected that a number of Hollywood sequels will attack the Korean box-office in the summer season, the result eventually turned out to be lukewarm. While Terminator Salvation and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen stormed the box-office in the early summer, as the summer deepened, the fever streak began to fade. Those movies occupied 1,100 screens, which was a record-breaking number, but they couldn't outscore Korean competitors all summer long.
     
    It is worth mentioning that a Korean mid-sized distribution company ranked higher than other Hollywood direct distribution companies in the third quarter of this year. Meanwhile, in the foreign film market in Korea, mid-size films from non- English culture such as Slumdog Millionaire and Black were well received at the boxoffice and it showed that the preference and attitude of Korean audiences have gradually been changing.
     
    The Increase in Ticket Price Was a Key to Korean Film
     
    The increase in ticket prices was the biggest issue in 2009. Although some in the industry worried that audiences would move away from theaters if the price went up, the result showed that the increase of 1,000 won didn't cause any hostile reactions from the audience. While it was only 1,000 won, the increase brought about instant effects in the industry. As of July, 2009, the standard ticket price is still the same at 8,000 won, but the average ticket price is gradually going up from 7,007 won in July, to 7,191.6 won in August, 7,283.3 won in September, and 7,365.5 won in October. The increasing average ticket price will be beneficial not only to sales revenue in cinemas, but also to the improvement of earning rates for the Korean film industry.
                                                                                                                           Good Morning, President
    In fact, when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was released at the end of June, the movie reluctantly played the role of windbreaker against the resistance of the audience to the increased ticket price. As a result, 2 Korean movies, Haeundae and Take Off, were able to smoothly land at the boxoffice without any resistance. The increased ticket price also helped mid-size films improve their earning rates. What Is to Be Done? Some might question that this recovery in Korean film could be a temporary event or a misinterpretation of statistics. However, this recovery is based on clear contents because some hit films were accompanied by the support of the audience. Korean films renovated by new technology, new planning, new people and new subjects have accomplished a different level of results. Until the end of 2009, Korean film is expected to break 160 million admissions and reach 1 trillion won in total sales revenue. It clearly shows that Korean film industry has bounced back from recession at least in the cinema business. And, what is the solution for the entire Korean film industry? The year 2010 will be another test for Korean film industry.
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