Wanted: Local hero for Korea b.o.

Industry down as homegrown films slump early in '07

Halfway through 2007, much of South Korea's film industry lies between depression and panic, as boxoffice revenue from local films has dropped more than 22% from 2006 despite a record output of new titles.

Overall January to June box-office receipts from the 93% of the country's theaters reporting through a computerized network fell 2.5% to 417.6 billion won ($451.5 million), data from the Korean Film Council shows.

Darker data supplied by Korea's biggest theater chain, CJ CGV, shows nationwide attendance down 11% in the same period.

Both KOFIC and CJ agree that the most significant decline comes from Korean films, as numerous producers reported that this year has been the most miserable for local movies in years.

The 47% of the boxoffice going to Korean films in the first six months of the year represents the local industry's smallest share of ticket sales since 2001, when they earned just 42% of the nationwide take.

"The severe loss suffered by Korean films from last year to now has meant not only depressed producers and financiers but laid-off staff and an unstable state of domestic distribution," international producer and sales agent Paul Yi said. "It's almost as bad as the situation in 2000-01, when we were witness to the largest blockbuster busts ever."

Despite the drop in revenue thus far, Korea is still on track to record its second-highest ticket sales in history — after 2006, when January-June boxoffice jumped 29% over the same period in 2005 on the strength of such hits as "The King & the Clown," which sold 12 million tickets.

But this year, there have been no record-breaking hits, and only one film, "Voice of a Murderer," has topped 3 million admissions.

However, none of Korea's top-grossing directors have released films in the opening half of the year, and they are working on big projects for release in 2008.

According to the KOFIC data, Korean films' January-June revenue plunged to $209.9 million from $271.6 million, while ticket sales to Hollywood movies soared 20.1%, to $206.2 million.

Despite the dramatic slowdown from last year's growth spurt, Korean films still retain the largest share of the boxoffice, at 46.7%. U.S. films hold second place with 45.4%, followed by European movies (3.7%), films from China and Hong Kong (2%) and Japanese films (1.6%).

In addition, the same number of films as last year has passed the 1 million-admissions mark, and Korean films accounted for six of the top 10 movies at the boxoffice.

The 66 Korean films released so far this year well outstrip last year's record-setting 51 releases, a number the industry consensus says was too great for the first half of a year in a market that cannot support more than 70-80 films annually.

The silver lining to production cutbacks expected to take effect between now and December is that the rate of new releases should fall sharply.

"I think this is a good opportunity," Studio 2.0 CEO Kim Seung-bum said. "All the new investors are leaving the market, leaving only the 'real' players."