2013 was a record year for Korean film but the industry is showing no signs of slowing down in early 2014. YANG Woo-suk’s debut The Attorney opened in December and led the charts through most of January until finally making way for a blockbuster Hollywood animation and four major local releases timed for the Lunar New Year holiday, which this year fell on January 31st. Business was particularly strong over the holidays as the January 31-February 2 frame was the biggest weekend of all time at the local box office, with attendance reaching 4.95 million admissions.
The top draw over the last two weeks, though it finally ceded its crown over Lunar New Year, was Disney’s massively popular animation Frozen. Following a strong debut three weeks ago the film rose 20% and 32% in subsequent weeks, topping a million admissions on all three weekends. Though the film has been a huge earner for the mouse house around the globe, with USD 864 million and counting, its performance in South Korea was particularly notable as it has easily outstripped Kung Fu Panda 2’s 5.07 million admissions from 2011 to become the most successful animated film of all time in the nation. The film has attracted 6.49 million viewers to date, with more on the way.
CJ Entertainment’s Miss Granny had a solid opening two weeks ago but word of mouth kicked in for the family comedy as it rose 106% over the Lunar New Year frame. Having banked 4.52 million spectators in two short weeks and now commanding first place, the film could still go much further. Though most of the new local releases were designed to appeal to a wide array of viewers, Miss Granny, with its high concept conceit and balanced elements looking to satisfy families, has been the most warmly welcomed by audiences, boasting a performance similar to last year’s Lunar New Year hit Miracle in Cell No. 7.
At number three on the chart was The Attorney, which added 1.65 million tickets to its total, which now stands at 11.22 million admissions. Over the weekend, the SONG Kang-ho led courtroom drama overtook KANG Woo-suk’s Silmido (2003) to become the eighth most popular Korean film of all time. The hit film may still rise one rung higher on the all time chart before it finishes its run.
Less popular though still drawing in reasonable numbers were Lotte Entertainment’s Hot Young Bloods and NEW’s Man in Love, which drew 1.57 and 1.50 million viewers, respectively. Hot Young Bloods, a colorful high school comedy set in the 1980s countryside, appealed to younger viewers with its premise and lead stars LEE Jong-suk and PARK Bo-young, but the 80s setting which Lotte had hoped would entice older viewers wasn’t enough to draw them to theaters in large numbers. The romantic drama Man in Love, starring HWANG Jung-min, featured gangster and family elements in its bid to appeal to as many spectators as possible, yet this was not immediately clear with the film’s marketing, resulting in a lackluster debut. However, word of mouth allowed the film to gain ground over time. The film is now posting much higher numbers than Hot Young Bloods and will soon overtake it, though it is unlikely to finish with a big haul.
Fairing most poorly among the new domestic releases was the Joseon era action comedy The Huntresses from Showbox/Mediaplex. Following a long delay (it was originally scheduled for last Spring) the film only drew 449,445 spectators. Granted it has only been on release for one week unlike the other films on the chart but negative reactions are unlikely to help it going forward. Also fairing poorly in its debut was the animation The Nut Job, a co-production between Korea’s Redrover and Canada ToonBox Animation. The modestly budgeted feature did well in North America but was shut out by Frozen in Korea as it only amassed 329,985 spectators during its first week.
In limited release, the new Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis had a strong first week with 50,128 admissions while French Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color garnered a strong 36,282. KOREEDA Hirokazu’s Like Father Like Son added another 23,791 to bring its total over the 100,000 viewer mark, a notable achievement for any film on limited release.