'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Inspires K-Pop, Fuels Merchandise Frenzy in South Korea

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Still 18 Kylo Ren - H 2015
Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios

The hit song "Lightsaber" by K-pop group EXO is the most visible example of how The Force has gripped the country.

During his Seoul tour last week, director J.J. Abrams said he sought the advice of South Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho for ensuring the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the Asian country — but there seems to be little to worry about as the film dominates presales here ahead of its release Thursday.

The seventh film in the franchise is leading advance-ticket sales by accounting for 40.9 percent as of Tuesday morning, according to the Korean Film Council's KOBIS database. It is also topping presales at top local cinema brands CJ CGV and Megabox, cashing in a total of more than $800,000 two days before its opening.

Two of the season's most anticipated domestic releases lagged quite far behind in presales, which is unusual for a country where local films usually dominate: Himalayas (CJ Entertainment) ranked second in presales at 21.2 percent, while The Tiger (new), starring Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, Lucy), followed in third at 11 percent.

Meanwhile, the Star Wars craze is building to a fever pitch with a nationwide merchandise frenzy. Shinsegae Department Store partnered with Disney and began selling T-shirts, backpacks and other fashion items, of which more than 80 percent have been sold out since sales began Nov. 27. A spokesperson for top retailer E-Mart said it has sold almost half of the 300-odd types of Star Wars-themed bedding and stationery in just six days. Lotte Mart and top online mall Auction also are offering limited-edition toys and office supplies, for which there is escalating demand.

The enthusiasm for the franchise also extends to the local pop music scene. K-pop boy band EXO, which has a cult following across Asia, released a single, Lightsaber, in collaboration with Walt Disney Company Korea. The music video for the song has recorded more than 5.8 million views on YouTube as of Tuesday, ever since its release last month. The band also serves as honorary ambassador for promoting the film in Korea.