Looking Back on 2017 in the Korean Film Industry
Dec 26, 2017
- Writerby Christopher Weatherspoon
The Top Performing Films of 2017
This year’s domestic box office saw films from a wide variety genres landing in the top 10.
JANG Hun’s A Taxi Driver is the undisputed box office champion of 2017 selling over 12 million tickets and amassing a box office haul of nearly US $90 million. Set during the Gwangju Democracy Movement of 1980, the political drama rode the wave of political unrest and nostalgia that occupied Korean headlines for much of the first half of 2017. In second place with 7.8 million admissions, buddy-cop action film Confidential Assignment was the first big hit of the year. Released during the Lunar New Year holiday, the North-South Korean chase comedy caper film would remain at the top of the box office charts for much of 2017 before being dethroned by A Taxi Driver later in the year. Coming in third and fourth place are Chuseok sleeper hit THE OUTLAWS (6.88 million admissions) and The Battleship Island (6.59 million admissions), the latter which was released on a record number of domestic screens in late July. Rounding out the list are teen action comedy Midnight Runners (5.65 million admissions), legal drama The King (5.32 million admissions), Hyun-bin’s second hit of the year, The Swindlers (4 million admissions), historical siege drama The Fortress (3.84 million admissions) and Steel Rain (3.49 million admissions) coming in at 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 respectively.
Though late to the party, Lotte Entertainment’s big budget spectacle Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is already on its way to be a box office success, having already landed in 7th place after only being in theaters for one week.
Sitting just out of the Top 10, KIM Hyun-suk’s I Can Speak is the biggest sleeper hit of the year. Since its quiet Chuseok release, the comfort-woman drama has received both box office (3.28 million admissions) and critical acclaim.
The Actors of 2017
Don LEE (MA Dong-seok) has seen his stock rise dramatically in 2017. Often cast as a tough guy, the burly actor has the comedic chops to do well when cast against type as seen when LEE starred in family comedy-drama The Bros. LEE would later go on to star in two of this year’s top 10 hits: the action film THE OUTLAWS and fantasy epic Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds. NA Moon-hee is a veteran actress that has been appearing in film and television for more than 50 years. In her last outing, NA gave what would be a career defining role for many actresses, playing the older version of OH Mal-soon in the 2014 international smash hit comedy Miss Granny. However, NA’s portrayal of curmudgeon woman NA Ok-boon in this year’s sleeper hit drama I Can Speak may be best performance yet, having earned her the Best Actress award at several of Korea’s major award shows, including the Korean Association of Film Critics Awards and the prestigious Blue Dragon Film Awards. NA’s performance in I Can Speak also earned her a special humanitarian award from Amnesty International.
Film trends of 2017
For a country low in crime, crime thrillers have been very popular with South Korean audiences. 9 of the year’s top 15 grossing films belonged to the genre. Three of the films, Confidential Assignment, V.I.P. and Steel Rain involve another popular plot element: inter-Korean relations. With the genre performing well in theaters, the trend looks to continue in 2018 with the release of several crime-thrillers including Drug King, Golden Slumber, Duke, and the adaptation of the novel A Night of 7 Years.
Youngblood in the Indie Scene
With the release of many critically acclaimed indie and art-house films, several up and coming directors emerged this year with the potential to be Korea’s next generation of cinema auteurs.
KIM Dae-hwan’s generational-melodrama The First Lap was a darling with audiences. Selected as a Jeonju Cinema Project, the film would premier at the 18th Jeonju International Film Festival eventually having a very successful run on the festival circuit. The First Lap was invited to numerous festivals for competition including the Seoul Independent Film Festival, the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, and the Locarno International Film Festival where KIM was awarded the prize for Best Emerging Director. Another Jeonju Cinema Project, KIM Yang-hee’s coming of age drama The Poet and the Boy was invited to the Busan International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and the Korean Film Festival of Paris. Other popular indie and art-house releases of 2017 included actor NAM Yeon-woo’s first outing as director, the LGBT drama LOST TO SHAME, LIM Tea-gue’s feature directorial debut, military hazing drama The Seeds of Violence which was invited to the Cairo International Film Festival as well as the Mar del Plata and San Sebastian International Film Festivals, KO Bong-so’s chatty teen comedy Loser’s Adventure and Gina KIM’s VR documentary Bloodless, which won the Best Story Award in the Venice International Film Festival’s inaugural VR Competition section.