Korea 2013 in Review: Psy, Dennis Rodman and Box Office Records
SEOUL — Psy continued to make headlines in South Korea and beyond in 2013. During the year, he announced and unveiled his follow-up to the 2012 global hit "Gangnam Style," including a dance-off at the inauguration ceremony of South Korea's new president Park Geun-hye.
But other media and entertainment industry developments also made headlines in the Asian country. For example, the new head-of-state — the Asian country's first female president — supported the film and TV industry more vocally as the local box office recorded new admission records and filmmakers increasingly looked to gain more international notoriety, in particular via collaborations with China.
Meanwhile, Dennis Rodman's visit and cyber attacks by mysterious hackers put North Korea on the radar. Here is THR's closer look at the big news and trends that affected the Korean entertainment industry in 2013:
South Korea's New President Makes An Impact, Meets Jeffrey Katzenberg
Park Geun-hye came into office in February. The election of the daughter of late former president Park Chung-hee, her election also marked the first instance of hereditary power in modern-day Korea.
In a decision that proved popular with people in the sector, she pledged to increase funding for the arts and entertainment industry. She also expressed support for the sector by pushing a "creative economy" agenda. And she met with Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg to discuss possible collaborations. The 61-year-old also made appearances at the Busan International Film Festival and the Korean film festival in London.
The Korean government has also promised to increase funding for the animation industry with the release of such international titles as The Nut Job. The co-production between Korea and Canada will get the widest-ever release for a Korean film in North America in January.
Psy Unveils 'Gentleman'
Psy proved to be the man of the year again in terms of media coverage in Korea, attending or gracing everything from the presidential inauguration ceremony to cosmetics campaigns and stamps.
In April, the singer finally announced his follow-up single to "Gangnam Style." "Gentleman" also caught on with over 600 million views on YouTube to-date, even though Psy at the end of the year said the new song wasn't really him.
Hollywood stars who visited Korea in 2013, from Matt Damon to Robert Downey Jr., mentioned the global impact of Psy's "horse dance," and Psy himself made many year-end lists around the world, including a nomination for "greatest moment" at Wembley Stadium, London in 2013. Fans can look forward to hearing his new studio album which he promises to be "truer to his color," in 2014.
K-pop Takes Center Stage
While Psy has always been one of the mavericks of K-pop, the more "conventional" Korean singers, G-Dragon in particular, made headlines near and far by gracing the stage in Los Angeles alongside Missy Elliott and sweeping prizes—most notably the grand prizes at the Style Icon Awards, Korea's largest fashion event, and the Mnet Asian Music Awards, the region's largest music awards ceremony.
That event was attended by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Paris Hilton in 2013.
Korea Reaches out to China
As China's fast expanding film market continues to attract the world's attention, South Korea is among the countries looking for collaborations. They are already taking place on a state, metropolitan and corporate level.
Most notably, the culture ministries of the two Asian countries in 2013 signed a treaty that will allow Korea-China co-productions to be considered homegrown fare in both China and Korea. This is expected to help Korean cinema make headway into the Chinese market that is marked by quotas.
Korean entertainment giant CJ Group has been opening more theater chains around China and also announced plans for the largest ever film collaboration with Chinese partners.
…and China Looks to Korea
Some of the biggest box office hits in China in 2013 were co-productions with China, including Bunshinsaba 2 and A Wedding Invitation. They are the result of Chinese filmmakers' decision to reach out to Korea for talent, including to get original scripts from writer-directors and VFX know-how from experts.
With the Korean Film Council operating a business center that allows Korean and Chinese filmmakers to meet in Beijing, partnerships are expected to continue in the new year.
Tech Revolution and Evolution
Korea has the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world, and not surprisingly, it has seen the launch of a rather sizeable smartphone film festival. The annual event began accepting international submissions in 2013.
More recently, moviegoers in Korea saw the country's first feature-length film shot entirely on a smartphone get a theatrical release, while more films are being promoted via mobile services.
Digital films are now the national standard. Korean cinemas have gone completely digital with the last remaining theater replacing its analog projector with a digital one in 2013. Movie theaters continue to evolve in Korea. Most notably, CJ CGV's 4DX multi-sensory chairs and climate controlled rooms have become a top export item.
Box Office Records
2013 marked yet another record year for Korean cinema, with theater admissions surpassing 200 million for the first time. In 2012, the total came to only 195 million.
With the release of more box office hits in December alone, the number of theatergoers in Korea stood at 211 million as of Dec. 30. This makes Korea, which has a population of 50 million, the country that watches the most movies per person in the world with an average Korean seeing about four films each year.
The box office record can be attributed to the success of a string of homegrown films, as eight of the year's top 10 grossing films were Korean, and the growth of multiplex theaters.
Smaller Films Fight Back
The Korean film industry in 2013 grew faster than ever, with the release of the country's most expensive film ever, Snowpiercer, being one driver. Major studios have seen most success, but smaller companies and independent films have tried to reach more viewers.
Ten smaller Korean production companies have teamed up to launch a joint investment/distribution company, while indie filmmakers have also expanded their use of online and in-flight distribution channels. The organizers of the Busan Film Festival also created a distribution company to give more exposure to art-house films.
Meanwhile, Korean cineasts are determined to move the center of film-related activities from Seoul to Bsuan, so that the southern port city can thrive outside of the Busan Film Festival period in October. Tom Cruise, who insisted on holding the red carpet premiere for Jack Reacher outside of Seoul, received honorary Busan citizenship in 2013.
North Korea on the Radar
North Korea never ceases to fascinate the global and South Korean media, and two of the year's top 10 box office hits in South Korea, The Berlin File and Secretly, Greatly, were about North Korean spies. Another buzz-making film was Project Cheonan Ship, a documentary produced by veteran Chung Ji-young that challenges the South Korean government's claim that Pyongyang is accountable for the 2010 sinking of a navy vessel that left 46 sailors dead.
2013 also saw reports of cyberattacks on major South Korean media companies and banks by North Korean spies.
Last but not least, Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korean capital Pyongyang — and his unfounded hope to meet Psy there — made some of the biggest headlines in Korea and beyond with his positive comments about North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un. He called him "a friend for life."