Korean pics weak versus imports in '09

'Red Cliff II' ups Showbox to No. 1 distributor

SEOUL -- Local films' share of the Korean boxoffice fell 14.9% in January and February as imports like John Woo's "Red Cliff II" helped boost Showbox/Mediaplex into the top distributor spot over traditional leader CJ Entertainment.

A new Korean Film Council report shows that the Korean audience for homegrown movies shrank to 13 million for the two-month period despite a 7% uptick in the country's overall movie audience, a total 28 million tickets sold.

The decline in admissions for local films shrank the overall share for local films to 47.8% in the first two months of 2009, down from 59.5% a year earlier.

Only two Korean films sold more than 1 million tickets in the period: "City of Damn Nat" and the record-breaking documentary "Old Partner." Other local releases, including "Marine Boy," "Handphone" and "The Scam," drew smaller crowds.

Meanwhile, market share commanded by foreign language films -- including Woo's "Red Cliff II" from China and "The Secret of Moonacre," set in Victorian England but made in Hungary -- rose nearly fourfold to 16.5% in January and February, up from 4.2% in the year-earlier period.

"The fact ('Red Cliff') was based on the international best-seller 'Three Kingdoms' had a lot to with the success here," Showbox's Kim Ju-hwan said. "The film topped all reservation sites days leading up to the release and attracted 147,000 audiences on the opening day. The declining economy also helped, because the original novel appeals to many Koreans as a story of heroes who sought for wisdom in times of conflicts."

Showbox/Mediaplex distributed six films in January and February, led by "Red Cliff II" and local director Yu Ha's "A Frozen Flower," grabbing 27% of the market share, double the share won by historical industry leader CJ Entertainment, whose nine movies in release commanded 13.5%.

"Red Cliff II," which sold 2.7 million tickets in the period did well opposite the three big Hollywood films that opened in Korea in the same period: "Valkyrie" (1.8 million), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (1.25 million) and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" (1.23 million).

In a separate survey by local multiplex chain CGV, local films commanded 50.4% market share in February. CGV, which has 511 screens nationwide, said the share was due mainly to the success of low-budget independent film "Old Partner," which attracted 1.8 million viewers nationwide.