South Korean Cinemas Empty Out Following Massive Shipwreck

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
 Twentieth Century Fox

SEOUL – South Korean theater admissions dropped about 30 percent over the weekend as the Asian country mourned the victims of a massive shipwreck. Meanwhile, television networks have canceled entertainment programs to report ongoing rescue efforts, and viewership rates for current events TV shows have gone up.

According to the Korean Film Council, cinemas across Korea attracted just a little more than 1 million admissions over the weekend of April 18-20 — down 30 percent from the previous weekend's (April 11-13) score that was close to 1.5 million — following a ferry disaster on April 16 that has left hundreds missing at sea.

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Normally cinemas attract the highest admissions on Saturdays, with an average of 600,000 to 800,000 moviegoers. There were as many as 1.88 million moviegoers across the country on Saturday, Feb. 1, during the Lunar New Year break. Admissions plummeted to 435,000 on April 19, marking the lowest figure on a given Saturday so far this year. Onlookers note that the drop is due to the ferry disaster.

A ferry carrying 476 passengers sunk on April 16 near the southwestern coast of Korea, leaving 87 dead and 215 missing. The shock has been considerable especially since the majority of victims are 15- to 16-year-olds who were on a school trip. Though massive rescue efforts have been underway for six days, rainy weather and strong currents have handicapped the process.

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Korea has one of the world's highest rates of moviegoing; in a country of 50 million, local theater admissions surpassed 213 million in 2013. Local theater giant CJ CGV recently became the fifth company in the world to bring in 100 million admissions.

That did not stop The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, from becoming one of the most successful smaller films to open in the country. According to the Korean Film Council, the film by Wes Anderson brought in 613,908 admissions, topping the box office for "diversity films" — a separate ranking system for art house and independent films here — for the fifth consecutive week.

Meanwhile, major television networks including the four main terrestrial channels and many cable channels have canceled airing popular entertainment programs to broadcast news about the disaster. Viewership rates for current affairs programs have gone up over the weekend, with the figures up considerably for KBS2's In-Depth 60 Minutes and KBS1's Midnight Debate — Live.

In addition to TV programs being canceled, other entertainment events including film premieres, concerts and festivals have been called off. The Jeonju International Film Festival, however, will open as scheduled and run May 1 through May 10.

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