How Korean Pop Culture Beat 'Star Wars' in Two Asian Countries

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Still 3 John Boyega - H 2015
Courtesy of © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved.

Although it has dominated the box office over wide swaths of the globe, 'The Force Awakens' was no match for the "Korean Wave" in Vietnam and South Korea.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the box office in virtually every major film market on the planet.

But there were two notable holdouts — Vietnam and South Korea — where local movies were more powerful than The Force and won the weekend for the underdog home teams (The Force Awakens has also yet to open in Greece, India and China).

At the South Korea box office, CJ Entertainment's mountaineering adventure drama The Himalayas grossed $8.7 million from Thursday to Sunday, topping The Force Awakens' $7.9 million performance over the same period.

Directed by hit-maker Lee Seok-hoon — his previous adventure epic, The Pirates, was the country's fifth highest-grossing movie of 2014 with $64 million — The Himalayas portrays a series of real-life mountaineering tragedies that transfixed South Korea in 2004. A local affinity for outdoor adventure sports, along with stars Hwang Jeong-min and Jung Woo, seemed to help Himalayas connect in a way that Star Wars couldn't quite match. Force Awakens' is tracking well behind Avengers: Age of Ultron, which opened against less formidable local competition last summer and achieved a record-smashing $28.2 million in its first weekend.

Vietnam's Star Wars-beating movie also happens to be South Korean in provenance. Although Disney didn't release box-office figures for The Force Awakens in Vietnam, the studio noted that its movie didn't take the top spot. That title was claimed by comedy-drama Sweet 20, a remake of 2014 South Korean hit Miss Granny. Like the original Korean film, Sweet 20 tells the story of a woman in her 70s who magically finds herself in the body of her 20-year-old self after having her picture taken at a mysterious photo studio. Going head-to-head with Force Awakens, Sweet 20 pulled in a commanding $554,845 — in its second weekend, no less — for a cumulative total of $1.9 million, according to the film's Korean producer CJ E&M (the company has announced additional remakes of Miss Granny for Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, India and Germany). 

The holdouts suggest that if there's any force to rival The Force, it might be just be the so-called "Hallyu," or Korean pop culture wave, which continues to dictate trends across much of Asia.

Disney, in fact, is already on board: the studio has recruited former South Korean boy band member Lu Han to be the face of its official Force Awakens campaign in China.