"Miracle in Cell No. 7" (Lee Hwang-kyung), $86.5 million
This sleeper hit took the South Korean film industry by surprise when it became one of the most watched films in local cinematic history with 12.8 million admissions -- in a country with a population of 50 million. Most films that have reached the milestone admission score of 10 million are star-studded, big-budget actioners, and so Miracle in Cell No. 7 was an unexpected success -- it is a small drama starring Ryu Seung-ryong, who had hitherto only played supporting roles, that cost a mere $3.16 million (3.5 billion won). It is also notable that a smaller firm Next Entertainment World (NEW) handled the distribution. The I Am Sam-meets-TheGreen Mile story went on to enjoy international sales as well, selling to multiple Asian countries.
"Snowpiercer" (Bong Joon Ho), $63.38 Million
South Korea’s most expensive film to date, the ambitious $40 million project by local giant CJ Entertainment pushed the boundaries for the Korean film industry. Acclaimed Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho’s English language debut, Snowpiercer stars such big international names as Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, and Ed Harris, and was sold to a record 167 countries -- the most ever for a Korean title. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, moreover, presented new possibilities for local filmmakers in the increasingly globalized industry.
"The Face Reader" (Han Jae-rim), $62.48 Million
Featuring A-listers including Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer), Lee Jung-jae (New World), and Kim Hye-soo (The Thieves), The Face Reader made headlines for its star-studded cast. It was bound to be a box office smash as Koreans have shown a penchant for dramatic period dramas on both the big and small screens in recent years. This film gives a unique spin to one of the country’s most dramatic historical events in the royal court of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
Iron Man 3 (Shane Black), $67 Million
Iron Man 3 opened in Korean theaters a week before the United States and proved to be a great success -- one of only two foreign films that made Korea’s top-10 box office list for 2013. The two previous installments of the franchise drew 4.3 million and 4.5 million admissions respectively, while Avengers, also starring Iron Man/Tony Stark, brought in 7 million to become the most-watched foreign film in 2012. Robert Downey Jr. visited Seoul to promote Iron Man 3 despite wide reports of North Korea’s nuclear threats around April. The actor also celebrated his 48th birthday while he was in town.
"The Berlin File" (Ryu Seung-wan), $49.56 Million
Though The Berlin File, an inter-Korean spy thriller shot in Germany, was not invited to the Berlinale as many onlookers expected it might be, it nevertheless became one of the most-watched homegrown actioners of all time. It was one of the year’s most anticipated films, as Han Seok-gyu, who played the lead in another inter-Korean spy intrigue that is considered Korea’s first blockbuster, Swiri, appeared opposite in-demand actor Ha Jung-woo (The Murderer, a.k.a. Yellow Sea). It also marked the comeback of popular actress Jun Ji-hyun (a.k.a. Gianna Jun).
"Secretly, Greatly" (Jang Cheol-soo), $46.1 Million
Secretly, Greatly proved that stories involving North Korean spies never get old to the South. Yet much of the film’s box office success can be attributed to its lead actor Kim Su-hyun. He became a household name through the 2012 smash hit TV series Moon Embracing the Sun, which recorded viewership ratings as high as 42.2 percent nationwide. Moreover, it is notable that the film is based on an Internet cartoon series, in tune with the recent trend of Korean film increasingly turning to online content for adaptation material.
"Hide and Seek" (Huh Jung), $37.6 Million
This crime drama by first-time director Huh Jung was another surprise hit, as it drew in 1 million viewers within just 64 hours of its release. The strong performance is especially impressive as it is backed by a smaller distributor and lacks a star-fueled cast and crew. Son Hyun-ju, a middle-aged actor better known for TV roles, plays a successful businessman who finds his family threatened by a mysterious figure with a knack for breaking into homes. It received both critical and popular acclaim for portraying urban indifference and crime.
"The Terror, Live" (Kim Byeong U), $37.84 Million
The mainstream film debut by indie filmmaker Kim Byeong U was the closer for the 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. It also made headlines for starring highly sought-after actor Ha Jung-woo (who starred in another box office hit, TheBerlin File)
“Cold Eyes” (Cho Ui Seok, Kim Byung Seo), $37.39 Million
A rare local title to be co-directed, this film drew much attention for starring an A-list cast including actress Han Hyo-joo, who starred in 2012’s smash hit Masquerade, heartthrob Jung Woo Sung, who played a villain for the first time in his 20-odd-year career, and award-wining actor Sol Kyoung-gu. Also a rare adaptation of a foreign film (the Hong Kong crime thriller Eye in the Sky produced by Johnnie To), it went on to be invited to international film festivals, including a gala presentation at the Toronto Film Festival.
"World War Z" (Marc Forster), $36.62 Million
World War Z is one of just two non-Korean films to make the year’s top 10 highest-grossing films list. Although the film’s producer-cum-lead actor Brad Pitt visited Seoul to promote the film, he did not hold an official press conference. Instead, he took part in a televised interview by Tiffany, a member of the internationally popular K-pop girl band Girls’ Generation, at a local palace. Local fans were excited to see Pitt in Korea for a red carpet premiere, which was the first in two years since his last visit here in 2011 for Moneyball.
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