Local melodrama <Architecture 101> prevailed over the big-budget Hollywood film <Battleship> to take the top spot at the box office for the month of April. Produced by Myung Films and distributed by Lotte Entertainment, the film has performed far beyond observers’ expectations. Its total box office take, lasting from March 22 to the last week of May, amounts to 4.1 million admissions, which is a new box office record for Korean melodramas.
<Architecture 101> is the second feature film by director LEE Yong-joo, whose debut, the 2009 horror film <Possessed>, won critical praise but stumbled badly at the box office. The film is told in two parts, with the narrative moving back and forth between the two time periods. The first part, set in the mid-1990s, is a story of first love between two university students Seung-min and Seo-yeon (LEE Je-hoon and pop star Suji) who live in the same neighborhood and attend the same architecture class. The two form an unusual bond, but fate prevents them from becoming romantically involved, and they fall out of contact. The second part of the film is set in the present, and stars UHM Tae-woong and HAN Ga-in as the adult versions of these two characters. Seo-yeon visits the architecture firm where Seung-min is working, and asks him to redesign her childhood home in Jeju Island.
The film has captured viewers’ attention and earned critical plaudits with its restrained style and well drawn characters. Viewers in their 30s also responded to the nostalgic depiction of 1990s Korea and the Seoul neighborhood of Jeong-reung.
Three other Korean films also managed to earn decent returns despite stiff competition from Hollywood. <The Scent>, an erotic thriller directed by KIM Hyeong-jun (<No Mercy>), drew sneers from critics but sold over 1.1 million tickets, ranking #4 in the April box office. The film tells the story of a detective (PARK Hee-soon) who finds himself investigating a murder in which -- unbeknownst to his colleagues -- he was personally involved. The presence of a mysterious femme fatale character played by PARK Si-yeon adds to the confusion over the case.
<Over My Dead Body> is a comic heist film by debut director WOO Seon-ho. The plot centers around a biotech researcher, a woman whose father was murdered, and a man attempting to commit insurance fraud whose lives get tied up in the case of a stolen semiconductor chip and a missing corpse. Released on March 29, the film sold just under 1 million tickets in total, and placed sixth among the April box office rankings.
Finally <Eungyo>, by the respected director JUNG Ji-woo (<Happy End>), opened on April 25 and notched 630,000 admissions in its first week on release to rank at #7 in the April rankings. Overall, the film has sold 1.3 million tickets. Based on a well-known novel, the film stars PARK Hae-il in heavy makeup as a 70-year-old poet who develops a lonely obsession for a 17-year-old high school girl named Eungyo. Actress KIM Go-eun is being mentioned by many critics as a top contender for the best new actress of the year.
It was a strong month for foreign films as well, although the 2.2 million tickets earned by <Battleship> was below the blockbuster expectations that surrounded the film before its release. <The Avengers> sold a massive 1.8 million tickets in its first week, on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of 2012 to date. More surprising was the strong performance of French film <The Intouchables>, which has sold 1.8 million tickets since its March 22 release to become one of the highest grossing European films in recent memory.
Finally, among specialty/art-house releases, special mention should be made of the performance by the low-budget documentary <Talking Architect> by director JEONG Jae-eun (<Take Care of My Cat>). For independent documentaries of this type, a box office score of 10,000 admissions is usually considered to be a major success. However <Talking Architect> rode positive word-of-mouth to sell a total of 36,500 tickets since its March 8 release. The director is now in the process of shooting a second architecture-themed documentary, based on the renovation of Seoul's City Hall.