'May 18' breaks Korean film b.o. slump

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SEOUL -- Breaking Hollywood's 12-week dominance of South Korea's boxoffice, "May 18," a dramatic retelling of the 1980 Gwangju Massacre, earned about $9.8 million over its five-day opening. It marks the first Korean film to take the top weekend spot since "Paradise Murdered" opened at No. 1 here in April.

CJ Entertainment's epic about the killing of protestors by South Korean paratroopers scored the strongest boxoffice opening of the year, with 1.44 million admissions through Sunday. That topped the 1.41 million admissions earned by "Voice of a Murderer" in its five-day opening in February.

After three brutal months of Hollywood domination, Korean films' share of the boxoffice has slumped to 41%, its lowest level since 2001.

This has been a mixed blessing for CJ, which also is the distributor of Hollywood blockbuster "Transformers." The Michael Bay hit topped the 7 million admission mark over the weekend and has grossed about $48.2 million to date, toppling "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and its roughly 6 million admissions to become the most popular foreign film ever in Korea.

"Basically, we're happy with the numbers," a CJ spokesman said of their homegrown hit. "More important is the reaction of the people who've seen it. We have really good word-of-mouth and think 'May 18' will get 5 million admissions at least. But it could do a lot more."

Most summers in Korea see Hollywood come out strong in May and June, only for Korean movies to reassert their strength as the summer goes on. But this year, Hollywood movies have been stronger than usual and domestic films weaker.

Now, more strong Korean films could be on the way, with Showbox's $33 million "D-War" opening Tuesday and Studio 2.0's horror film "Epitaph" opening Wednesday.
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