Homegrown pics top Korea

Account for 60% of territory's b.o.

South Korean movies ended 2006 stronger than ever at the boxoffice, topping 60% of the territory's boxoffice revenue for the first time in the modern era, according to early estimates by the local film industry.

It was a year with many records. Boxoffice receipts topped $1 billion for the first time, reaping an estimated 960 billion won ($1.03 billion), up 7% over last year. Attendance passed 152 million for the year, the best since 1970. And about 118 Korean films were released in 2006, up from last year's 83 titles and the most since 1976.

Those gains, however, came exclusively from the domestic industry, whose revenues were up 17% from last year. Foreign films declined by nearly 6%.

All told, Korean films accounted for about 64% of the boxoffice, followed by the U.S. with 30.8%, Japan with 2.4% and China with 1%. Coming in under the 1% mark were France (0.51%) the U.K. (0.46%) and Hong Kong (0.31%).

Top Hollywood performers included "Mission: Impossible 3," with 36.2 billion won ($38.9 million); "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Curse of the Black Pearl," with 29.2 billion won ($31.4 million); and "The Da Vinci Code," with 21.0 billion won ($22.6 million).

Korean movies are expected to do even better once the final 2006 numbers are in, given how local films perform better in regions outside Seoul, where boxoffice numbers take longer to compile. In the capital, local films accounted for just over 60.2% of admissions, compared with a high of 73% in the southeastern province of North Gyeongsang.

Last winter, Lee Joon-ik's "The King and the Clown" came out of nowhere to break Korea's boxoffice records with a story about clowns and homosexuality in the Joseon Dynasty courts, with 12.3 million admissions and an estimated gross of $83 million. The record did not last long, however. At the end of July, Bong Joon-ho's monster movie "The Host" broke records again, with 13 million tickets sold for a gross of about $88 million.

Other hits include "Tazza: The High Rollers" with 6.8 million admissions and "My Boss, My Teacher" with 6.1 million.

Despite the record-high revenues for Korean films, most producers remain pessimistic about the industry's overall health, noting a growing winner-takes-all trend. Although there were more and bigger hits in 2006 than ever before, a 40% spike in the number of productions saw average revenues decline significantly from two years ago and the number of films that lost money soared.

Because of this, the number of productions is expected to fall back to more typical levels in 2007, perhaps to fewer than 80.