South Korea Sees String of Homegrown Hits in First Quarter of 2013


South Korea (Director and screenwriter: Muel O)

In 1948, as the Korean government ordered the Communists’ eviction to Jeju Island, the military invaded a calm and peaceful village. Townsfolk took sanctuary in a cave and debated moving to a higher mountain. Cast: Min-chul SUNG, Jung-won YANG, Young-soon OH, Soon-dong PARK, Suk-bum MOON, Kyung-sub JANG. International Premiere

A diverse range of films, from human comedies to indie flicks, dominated the industry with few Hollywood imports making a mark.

SEOUL -- After South Korean films sold a record number of tickets last year -- 114.6 million out of a total of 194.9 million -- the first quarter of 2013 was also off to a strong start with a string of homegrown box office hits.

Of the 55.6 million moviegoers that flocked to theaters this year so far, 38.5 million were for local movies, according to the Korean Film Council.

Miracle in Cell No. 7 became the eighth homespun movie ever to break 10-million admissions -- a rare feat for a comedy, as previous works to reach the milestone were usually action blockbusters. Still ranking high at the box office with over 12.7 million admissions, it was also sold to various Asian countries including Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand.

The lucky streak for homespun films continued with the star-studded inter-Korean spy thriller The Berlin File, which earlier this month became the most-watched local actioner with over seven million admissions. The film’s success was followed by the noir gangster thriller New World, which continues to do well in theaters, having sold over 4.5 million tickets as of April 2. The latter was released in the United States earlier in March, and was also sold to Asian and European regions.

Meanwhile the Korean indie cinema scene, which failed to see notable successes with the increasing polarization of the film industry here, saw the Sundance-winning Jiseul climb to No. 10 in the charts over the weekend of March 29. The film has so far drawn close to 60,000 viewers, which would be equivalent to 60 million admissions for mainstream movies. The last time Korean indie films did so well was back in 2008-2009, with award-winning hits such as Breathless, which drew in some 123,000 viewers, and Old Partner, which, like Jiseul, was also invited to show at Sundance and broke records at home with close to three million admissions.

Warm Bodies, the Hollywood zombie romance, became a rare import on March 17 to top the box office, which, prior to that point, had been dominated by local fare for 77 consecutive days. Other non-Korean movies faring well in theaters were headlined by Korea stars -- in particular G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation, starring local heartthrob Lee Byung-hun, climbed up the box office over the last weekend in March.

On the other hand, Stoker, directed by local icon Park Chan-wook and starring Nicole Kidman, received much press coverage, but the mystery thriller remained limited to niche genre audiences and attracted just over 377,000 moviegoers since opening in theaters on Feb. 28.